Letter from the senior leadership team: Name change

71

To the Occidental community,

The senior leadership of The Occidental Weekly — after months of consideration and discussion — has decided to return to our publication’s original name, The Occidental. We are reclaiming our identity as The Occidental to better reflect our expanding newsroom, dissociate ourselves from the alternative-weekly model and align ourselves with the journalism that puts fairness, objectivity, transparency and accountability first — the kind of journalism that is under attack today.

Since the early 1900s, Occidental College’s newspaper had been named The Occidental. Delving into the library’s special collection archives to learn more about our own history, we learned that then-Editor-in-Chief Michelle P. Baca ‘01 adopted the new name, The Occidental Weekly, in 2001. She oversaw a change in the paper’s format from a standard newspaper layout to that of an alternative-weekly publication. Still, this was a relatively recent change. The paper has been called The Occidental for most of its history.

The name, The Occidental Weekly, is now inaccurate and limiting. In Fall 2016, then Editor-in-Chief Wellesley Daniels ’17 shifted the newspaper from a weekly to a bi-weekly print publication. The editorial team called the name into question at the time, but the argument was made that since we still put out new content every Wednesday online, we were still, kind of, a weekly publication. Since then, however, we have heightened our breaking news coverage and prioritized investigative journalism. We are following the field’s current trajectory by expanding into podcasts, videography, greater support for our photojournalists and social media. We have evolved beyond an exclusively print publication into a more holistic newsroom, and we believe The Occidental better encapsulates this reality.

Journalism is not stagnant, and we would like the liberty of the publishing news as it occurs. We aim for a newsroom that will train the next generation of journalists. We can no longer call ourselves a publication in the alternative-weekly mold, nor can we limit ourselves to publishing the news week-by-week. Yes, our largest output will still take place on Wednesdays due to our editing schedule, but we want the freedom to publish relevant and timely stories as they occur. The Occidental Weekly does not capture this new direction.

We want to distance ourselves from the alternative-weekly model, which prioritizes magazine-style features, opinionated reviews and sensational coverage. We respect publications like the former LA Weekly and Village Voice — they once produced admirable writing — but their journalism is not the kind we want to associate ourselves with or teach in our newsroom. When we need role models, we look to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post as bastions of an independent press. We are not romanticizing the journalism of times past or the traditionalism of these newspapers — they are renowned for producing progressive, cutting-edge journalism while maintaining their historic legacies. Beyond their historic mastheads, these newsrooms are leading the charge in multimedia without sacrificing their integrity and commitment to journalism. By reclaiming our name, we are aligning ourselves with a craft that holds power accountable, amplifies the voice of the voiceless and holds transparency as sacrosanct. It is this investigative, watchdog journalism that is under attack. It is this journalism that we need to preserve now more than ever.

Many of our editors have raised the concern that The Occidental seems to associate our publication too closely with the college. Some have suggested adding a third word like “Tribune” or “Gazette” to the name in order to highlight that we are a news publication as opposed to a college brochure. We disagree with this point because the name of the college exists in both names regardless of the minor addition. Our publication will always be associated with Occidental College because the reality is that we are collegiate publication. This is not to say that we do not hold the college accountable — our past and future coverage has and will speak for itself. As a community member, the names The Occidental and The Occidental Weekly both connote that we are linked with this institution. With our new community news editor, Max Harrison-Caldwell, we aim to continue last semester’s goal of engaging with our local community and highlighting that Occidental’s student newspaper serves our community as well as our campus.

It is vital that a newsroom has an identity that speaks to its mission, accurately describes its content and respects its history. By modernizing our layout, we seek to strike a balance between our ideals, ethics and journalism — which will never change — and our means and methods of publishing, which must adapt with time. To adopt a brand-new name would set a dangerous precedent of flippantly changing the name, year-by-year. By once again becoming The Occidental, we hope to convey our confidence that our journalism will do more than survive — it will persist, thrive and adapt, as it has since 1893.

In making this change, we are calling on you, our readers, to hold us accountable, as we seek to do with the leadership of the college. If you are stirred by this change, care about the free press or just want to engage with journalism, talk to us. Write us letters to the editor. Comment on our social media pages and website. Read our coverage and discuss it. Send us tips and pitches. Get in touch with our opinions editors (Gregory Feiner and Kristine White) to write op-eds. Speak with your friends who work with us. Sit down with us for coffee. Too often, we lose dialogue in anonymity, rumors, whisper campaigns and gossip. If journalism has any value, it is in the voice it gives us all to speak on the record and in the demand that we conduct ourselves with transparency. We promise to do our part.

 

Sincerely,

Flora Adamian (Senior Editor)

Gabriel Dunatov (Editor-in-Chief)

Christopher Peel (Managing Editor)