The Princeton Alumni Weekly will remain, as its title page promises, “an editorially independent magazine by alumni for alumni.”
When I last wrote to PAW readers over the summer, the future of the magazine was in question. The University announced earlier this year that it intended for the first time to take on full responsibility for funding the magazine, which has been a University department for more than two decades. This would be a sharp change from the existing revenue model, which depends on class dues from alumni and advertising income, as well as a University subsidy. Under the new arrangement, University officials told PAW’s independent board members, Princeton would no longer guarantee the magazine’s editorial independence.
To PAW’s board members, journalists, and a remarkable number of alumni who expressed their support, this was cause for alarm. Throughout its 120-year history, the magazine has sought to chronicle Princeton’s events, trends, and people through journalism created by professionals who cover the University without fear or favor.
Now, I’m pleased to report that the editorial independence that built PAW’s reputation will remain in place, guaranteed by a new memo of understanding between Princeton President Chris Eisgruber ’83 and me on behalf of PAW’s board (which includes alumni who work in media as well as representatives of the Alumni Council and of the University faculty and administration.)
To be frank, the negotiation that led to this agreement was far easier than some of us had anticipated. This summer, I met a couple of times with Eisgruber, who reminded me that he, like me, had been a student journalist (he wrote some op-eds for The Daily Princetonian, I wrote for the University Press Club and Nassau Weekly), and that as a constitutional lawyer, he deeply values the role of independent, critical, and responsible reporting.
PAW’s role will always be awkward. The University is the magazine’s publisher, and our editors and other staffers are University employees. But we have agreed on a governance structure that assures that the editor of the magazine will have sole control over what to cover and how to cover it. No University official will see stories in advance or play any role in crafting coverage plans. An outside media attorney will now be available to PAW’s editor to provide guidance on legal matters, though the University retains ultimate legal responsibility for the magazine.
PAW’s independent advisory board — the majority of whose members, selected by the Alumni Council, are alumni who work in media — will continue to be the sole supervisor of the magazine’s editorial policy and approach. But direction of the magazine’s budget and business operations will shift from our board to the University, which has appointed Vice President and Secretary Hilary A. Parker ’01 — a contributor to PAW in her freelance-writing days — as Princeton’s liaison to PAW and member of our board.
The PAW board will also continue to play a central and defining role in selecting and evaluating the editor.
As before, the University president will have the final say on hiring the editor, but no president has ever turned aside the PAW board’s nomination and Eisgruber assures us he has no design on setting editorial direction.
Classes will now be able to devote their dues to their own projects without paying subscription fees to PAW, and the magazine will continue to make advertising space available to all — including voices critical of University policies.
As the financial model for print publications has collapsed in recent years, many alumni magazines across the country have morphed into PR vehicles for their universities, becoming less interesting and less credible to readers. I am proud to report that that will not happen at Princeton, where PAW will remain — with your help as letter-writers, Class Notes secretaries, advertisers, and readers — a lively, thoughtful forum for reporting, opinion, and argument about the best damn place of all.