By Bob Kuhn, President of Trinity Western University
This is the first time that I have ever written or made a public statement about the Trinity Western University student newspaper or responded to anything printed or published by it. Instead, I have taken a relational approach with newspaper staff, being supportive where I can (or silent where I cannot). My reasons for doing so are probably self-evident. Firstly, I prefer dialogue and the discovery that can take place as a result. Secondly, anything I might say would risk misunderstanding or allegations of “administrative” control. So I responded with reticence to the request that I write something about Mars’ Hill Online. But after some thought I concluded that it is important for the President of the University to support the student newspaper wherever possible.
Trinity Western University has come a long way since 1962, and so has its student newspaper. Changes, not just in name, have taken place over the years. Some seasons in the relationship between University and student newspaper could be characterized as confrontational and not very constructive. In a day when collaborative approaches are much preferred over adversarial skepticism, where a climate of mutual respect and trust is considered by most to be productive and beneficial for all, and at a time when the daily hardcopy “newspapers” are taking a thrashing at the hands of Internet news sources, perhaps it is time to review where we are and where we might go.
Perhaps a typical way to review this topic is to answer the questions: What? Why? How? (subsumed in these one-word headings are the questions: Who? When? Where?). The following summarizes a few of my thoughts in answer to these questions.
The mission of Mars’ Hill, “as the official student newspaper of Trinity Western University, is to inform and entertain its readers, cultivate awareness of issues concerning the TWU community and provide a forum for purposeful, constructive discussion among its members in accordance with the Community Covenant, Statement of Faith and Core Values of the University”. This four-part purposive statement reveals the reason for the newspaper’s existence – what it is intended to be – as well as who it is intended to serve. The mandate, so to speak, of the newspaper is to “inform”, “entertain”, “cultivate awareness of issues”, and “provide a forum for purposeful, constructive discussion”. Well stated. And both broad enough to allow for substantial creativity, while narrow enough to be relevant to its intended audience. But in the heat of journalistic fervour (or any creative endeavor) it is easy to forget one’s audience. That is, each publication and publisher must not only answer the question, “What is our mandate?”, but also, “For whom”. The mission statement refers primarily to serving members of the TWU community.
Who is the Trinity Western University community? Of course, at its core (for purposes of this publication) are the students. But I would also suggest that alumni, faculty and staff are constituencies included in our community. And this, taken together with the fact that an increasing number of online students may rarely step on one of the Trinity campuses, highlights the importance of Mars’ Hill Online. How else can the student newspaper fulfil its mandate without recognizing the importance of electronic access to its product? This means of publication/delivery does not obviate the foundational responsibility to respect the mandate and editorial policy of the student newspaper, however it does allow for greater flexibility and responsiveness, social media and Internet promotion, currency of material, and savings in cost. While there are certainly risks attributable to the dynamic mode of publication/distribution/promotion, its current and future importance is undeniable. Adapt we must.