I write to express my reservations regarding the University’s proposal to fund and oversee PAW’s publication. Even if the University had guaranteed PAW’s editorial independence, I would have concerns about PAW's ability to provide balanced and independent coverage of the University. Money, after all, brings with it power — and that power can be used to influence or even control the content and tone of a publication. That pattern has been visible across the media landscape over the past decade.
But the University is not even promising to protect PAW’s journalistic independence. While I appreciate the University’s honesty and directness, I am concerned that University control will change PAW, and not for the better. Other alumni magazines I and my family receive are quite different from PAW in terms of their content, depth, and tone. Those magazines — funded and controlled by the institutions — are vehicles for boosterism rather than a lens on campus life and the evolution of those schools. Stories that are controversial, critical, or skeptical of the official institutional posture are largely absent. When they are published, they are almost uniformly a response to stories already reported by outside sources.
Such magazines get cursory reading in our household. By contrast, the PAW gets more careful reading, and not just by the Princeton alum in the family. Should PAW’s board accept the University’s offer, the magazine will no longer be my primary source of information for what’s really happening on campus and across the broader alumni community. It will be just another multi-page advertisement for the school, one that gets skimmed or pre-emptively recycled rather than being read.