A few weeks ago, I came across the first hard copy of The Daily Princetonian that I’d saved. (For reference, my bookshelf is now overflowing with copies.) It was from October 2014; I was a first-year, and I’d written my second-ever column for the ‘Prince.’ It was a piece on the official repeal of grade deflation, and a columnist from the Yale Daily News had even quoted me, complimenting my writing. The Prince had been the first extracurricular I’d joined, and I already had two print bylines. I was so proud.
I can’t say I’m necessarily proud of every single piece I’ve written over the years (but hey, all press is good press, right?). I’ve certainly learned a lot since freshman year, both in my writing and life experience. But I am unequivocally proud of how we’ve served our community, from the dining hall workers to students affected by recent immigration policies to the township of Princeton — in spite of ceaseless attacks on the free press. Now, more than ever, we need college journalists to help counter this culture.
I am proud to look back on the narratives we’ve shared, the communities we’ve brought forth, the individuals we’ve held accountable. I am proud of the people who joined the ‘Prince’ without any prior experience and are now some of the best, most impassioned, hardest-working student journalists I have had the honor to work with. It is inspiring and humbling to see so many people constantly push themselves to write two, three, four stories a week, spend full nights ’til 2 a.m. in the newsroom, or edit stories in class and over the holidays.
We introduced some big changes not only in our content but also in our leadership structure — most infamously, dare I say, with the Editorial Board. Our newsroom was barraged with anonymous calls; our columnists with derogatory, misogynistic, racist comments. This was alarming, so I personally thank those who not just supported us as individuals and journalists, but also chose to personally engage with us to understand the decision.
After all, journalism is — and should be, first and foremost — a public service, and that requires accountability. Just like any other institution, any other media organization, we need to be held accountable, and thus I’ve appreciated pushback of all forms over the last year.
But, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the emotional toll being a journalist takes on a person. On one level, society at large is mistrustful of media as a whole, with the proliferation of misinformation and news media that report out of a pursuit of clicks — and hence money — more than the pursuit of the truth. In fact, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, only 41 percent of Americans trust news media. But on another level, the subjects we’ve reported on this year are difficult, particularly for those who have personal connections, be it to sexual assault and gender discrimination, Title IX and the Honor Code, the loss of an alumnus veteran or a beloved classmate. On top of all that, the news cycle takes no days off. Through personal crises and professional ones, sickness and health, reading period and the holidays, a dedicated staff never relents.
So to you all, the staff and editors of the 141st Board, I say thank you.
Above all, the newsroom has become a “safe space” for so many people on this campus, as one staffer put it. This makes me proud and grateful, to have helped engender a culture and environment — with other editors — to make an often high-stress, fast-paced work environment into a place where people can come and feel like they belong, regardless of the time of night or whether they’re working on a story. Frankly, such a place is rare at Princeton. Everyone is welcome, and that’s what has made this community so special, and what has made working at this paper for almost four years now such an honor and a privilege.
In today’s day and age, a school newspaper should not turn down or away interested, earnest people who want to make a contribution. We need to lower the barriers to entry for journalism because we need good people to invest in journalism for the sake of journalism. We have welcomed and mentored anyone who has expressed willingness to work hard and learn, and I cannot wait to see what some of these people will accomplish this next year.
Allow me to offer some advice, first to student journalists: Our convictions rise from our values, and guide our reporting. A recent conversation I had with a ‘Prince’ reporter — a friend of mine whom I admire very much — reminded me that opinions do have a place in journalism, beyond the editorial page. Thus, I hope to remind you to hold on to your convictions, for they do not hurt your work; in fact, they can make it better. Judge your work not by arbitrary standards of objectivity or impartiality; rather, judge it by standards of fairness, balance, ethics, and veracity.
But my greatest hope — for all of our community, not just journalists — is a realization of our shared humanity, and our ability to inspire, to make a positive impact, to effect real change. This applies to all of us, inside and outside of the media. That drove me this past year, and I hope that will drive you throughout your time at Princeton and beyond.
I will end with a sobering reminder: Our work is far from over, and the conversation continues. We reported on abuses of power, but those same abuses of power occur within our own circles — within newsrooms and classrooms here and across the country. We need to share the responsibility, to hold others accountable. And I am hopeful that our community will continue to do that in 2018.
With that, I mark a bittersweet departure from 48 University Place back into mainstream society, and I pass on the torch to Marcia Brown ’19 and the 142nd Managing Board. I am incredibly humbled, and incredibly excited.
Sarah Sakha is editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian. This letter represents the views of the editor-in-chief only; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.