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COVID could have shuttered the ‘Prince.’ Instead, we found our purpose.

<h5>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h5>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Nearly a year ago, I asked our staff to make ten predictions for 2020, which we wrote down and stuffed in an old bottle.

Among the questions whose answers we guessed: How many articles would we publish over the following 365 days? Who would Princeton name as its next Commencement speaker? Would Alexander Road reopen by 2021?

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We were to uncork our impromptu time capsule this month. The unveiling, however, will have to wait. For the past nine months, the bottle and sheet rolled within have presided over an empty newsroom, which remains closed indefinitely.

This year, COVID-19 threw our purpose into question. Bereft of a daily broadsheet since March, The Daily Princetonian had no choice but to pivot. More than two hundred students answered the call.

For the first time in our 144-year-history, we now publish primarily online. But that’s only one facet of the work we have begun. We chronicled how COVID-19 upended the Princeton we knew. We brought to light the challenges that the most vulnerable in our community face and shared stories of profound resilience.

We elevated perspectives the ‘Prince’ has long neglected. Among many other pieces, we traced how the Black Justice League’s 2015 sit-in inspires student activists today, recounted the fight that won women equal access to the eating clubs, and revealed why efforts to increase diversity within asset management implicate Princeton.

Above all else, we have sought to tell the truth. That commitment requires more of us than just reporting the facts. To render Princeton as all students, especially those of marginalized identities, live and experience it, the ‘Prince’ must be inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist.

Last May, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa ’86, whose own government continues to persecute her, spoke at the University’s virtual Commencement. Six days had passed since a white police officer murdered George Floyd.

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“This is a time when creative destruction takes new meaning,” Ressa said. “You are standing at the rubble of the world my generation created. The upside? Your class will be among the first to have a freer hand to imagine and create the world as it should be — more compassionate, more equal, more sustainable.”

The world as it should be. Telling the truth — the full truth — means we believe in that ideal. 

But in truth, the ‘Prince’ has never represented many communities it ostensibly serves. This year, we worked to rectify our institutional shortcomings. With guidance from Anita Ortiz ’93, we devised a wide range of goals, which span from our recruitment practices to how we pitch articles. Next month, the ‘Prince’ will launch a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion board to act upon them.

These efforts are vital to our truth-telling mission. For that reason, I am thrilled Emma Treadway ’22, a leader whose kindness and dedication uplift the people around her, will serve as our 145th Editor-in-Chief. Treadway and her Managing Board are poised to make the ‘Prince’ a paper for all Princetonians. 

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In July, Soledad O’Brien, who addressed our staff last spring, argued that a “MeToo moment” had arrived for journalists of color. “Black and brown reporters,” she wrote, “are letting viewers, listeners and readers know that the absence of reporting on communities of color is why it took shocking videos of police killings to awaken them to police brutality.”

O’Brien’s point illustrates the obligation incumbent upon all media organizations, including the ‘Prince.’ If we are to be an independent, accountable, accessible, and representative newspaper, our staff must reflect the diversity of Princeton’s campus, and our coverage must encompass Princeton’s many communities. That’s the purpose we found in 2020.

To ‘Prince’ staff: Working with you has touched me more deeply than anything I have ever experienced. In your care for your work and for one another, you have taught me how to believe in an undertaking bigger than ourselves. Thank you.

To ‘Prince’ readers: As we seek to tell Princeton truthfully, we depend on you to hold us accountable. I urge you to make the ‘Prince’ your paper — to let us know when we have succeeded and where we have fallen short.

One day, when our newsroom has reopened, I trust someone will find our message in a bottle, the predictions we made for 2020. I do not recall how many articles we expected to publish, who we guessed would speak at my Commencement, or whether we thought Alexander Road would reopen (it did).

But those answers are beside the point. When future students unravel that crumpled sheet of paper, I am confident the ‘Prince’ will be a more diverse, equitable, and truthful newspaper than it was when we speculated what 2020 would bring. To know that is enough.

Jonathan Ort is the 144th Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian; this letter represents his views only. He can be reached at eic@dailyprincetonian.com and on Twitter at @ort_jon.

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