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What is edit board?

It’s a question that I have grappled with every day during my three years writing for The Chronicle. Of course, on the surface level, the answer should be clear.  As summed up on the editorial board’s FAQ page: we write consensus-based, unsigned editorials on a variety of issues on behalf of the greater body of The Chronicle. Editorial board is independent of the news-making body of the newspaper, and does not represent the personal opinion of the editor-in-chief nor does it represent the opinion of every person in 301 Flowers. 

Simply put, we’re just a group of everyday students, hailing from all different walks on life on campus, who are tasked by the Chronicle with producing collaborative, opinionated hot takes on news and other events at Duke.

Yet, even among staff members at The Chronicle, I found that the role of a campus newspaper editorial board can be pretty unclear: Are we actually part of The Chronicle? Who do we speak for? Does anyone actually read our content? Is editorial board going to be abolished? On that note, during my tenure on editorial board, I’ve received countless emails from random alumni, angry readers, administrators, professors, and other individuals with inquiries that have nothing to do with my role in The Chronicle. Thank you to all the well-informed readers who mistakenly think I have the supreme authority to retroactively redact controversial news articles as a lowly editorialist who has to fight for office space. 

More fundamentally, however, I’ve realized that many people on campus really can’t differentiate between the different, diverse departments at The Chronicle, and have a tendency to lump everyone—including editorialists—under the magic umbrella term of campus newspaper. Never mind the distinct Duke-Coffeehouse bohemianism of Recess, the pseudo-frattiness of Sports, nor the pre-Law, button-down professionalism of News. Never mind the fact that each department functions mostly independent of one another, and possesses its own rich history as content producers for an organization in existence for 100-plus years. Something controversial gets printed—let’s say a news expose on Greek life or an editorial on the Israel-Palestine conflict—and pretty soon, the Panhellenic president is emailing the Recess editor on why we suck as a collective organization.

Setting aside this existential question of “What is edit board?” among friends, readers, and Chronicle peers, and my geriatric rant about confusion between departments on the part of readership, I guess I should talk about what editorial board has meant for me personally. I arrived on West Campus in the Fall of 2016 feeling somewhat isolated and disconnected from the rest of Duke. Most of the people who lived in my freshman hall rushed (I ended up going random for housing my sophomore year) and I didn’t really join any campus organizations my freshman year. During weekend nights, I mostly would sit on my bed watching old movies on my laptop while sipping cheap soju from the bottle.

For my sophomore year, I ended up having the same RA as I had in Blackwell, Lenny. Lenny actually served as the chair of the editorial board my freshman year, and encouraged me to apply. As is my style, I’m pretty sure I butchered my interview with the editorial board, but sure enough got on. There was the usual baptism of fire, having to back-up my half-formed opinions to a group of well-versed students, and receiving back heavily edited drafts of poorly written editorials on my part. 

Pretty soon, I was signing up to write every week, and looking forward to Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night editorial board meetings, as if they were the only times I could express my opinions on the various happenings of campus life. Editorial board became that niche I was looking for at Duke, something I could commit myself to while navigating a campus that I still very much felt alienated from. As an introverted person of color, it became a safe space where I could air my frustrations and concerns at an institution that is still very much culturally and ideologically white despite maintaining a level of superficial diversity.

Over 200 editorials later, my time at The Chronicle has come to an end with this parting senior column, and with it, a four year experience filled with ups and downs. Yet, amidst it all, editorial board was one of the few stable places in my Duke experience. If edit board continues to exist as a department in the future (which is debatable, considering the discomfort a group of opinionated students can present to certain readers on campus), readers and Chronicle staff will inevitably keep asking “What is edit board?” Answers will differ, but at least that means people are still reading.

Alan Ko is a history major who served as the editorial board co-chair for volume 113 and 114 of The Chronicle. As a recent graduate with a useless liberal arts degree, he plans to live in his mom’s basement for the next few months as he figures out his next steps before applying to graduate school.

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