I read with disappointment and sadness of the University’s plans to take over the financial and operational roles of PAW. Unfortunately, the news is not surprising. As the former editor of two medical school alumni magazines and a consultant in alumni affairs to some of Princeton’s peers (Columbia and Dartmouth), I’ve viewed the same battle over editorial independence play out between alumni magazines and administrations.
There is undoubtedly the very real problem of how to financially support a magazine, with the decline of print advertising and lack of other outside financial support. At the same time, alumni magazines are an invaluable tool for engagement, even in our fast-paced digital world, and are valued by alumni. If anything, a well-produced, high-quality printed magazine stands out even more than it would have in the past, with people receiving less mail generally and fewer magazines these days.
The most important argument for keeping PAW’s editorial independence is as you’ve stated: to strengthen ties with alumni by providing open discussion and objective assessment of the University and its policies and activities. Anything less than this will lead to its weakening as a credible source of information; breed cynicism; and lead to less, not more, engagement among alumni. We have gotten used to having a credible, independent, and lively instrument in PAW and many of us likely don’t realize that most institutions don’t have the same. Meanwhile, as you say, PAW is not a flamethrower — though I believe and hope it criticizes the University when necessary. An editorially independent PAW is crucial to the successful functioning of the University and an example of the way to lead according to our principles, as we always have.
The “unique character” of PAW referred to in the University’s statement also reflects the fact that Princeton has always had a unique relationship with its alumni, one that universities all over envy. We eagerly come to Reunions in the many thousands, willingly give of our time and money, and do it in the name of service to the institution we love and in our connection to our fellow alumni. Following the path that other schools have taken with their alumni magazines, turning them into vehicles for institutional messaging and fundraising priorities, will destroy this unique character.
I wholeheartedly support your efforts to maintain the independence of PAW and the vital role it serves for the University. I’m encouraged by your observation that other schools have assured editorial independence while the university supports them financially. Is this an option for PAW? What can alumni do to help?
Thank you for soliciting alumni thoughts. I wish I had suggestions to help, but I’m sure most have been discussed at length, for example, increasing independent fundraising for PAW.
I hope the University will allow for independence of the board and allow the magazine to direct coverage.