The Observer Looks To Serve CommunityBy Zareena Hussain
Associate News Editor
The first issue of The Observer, a new student newspaper, was published on Registration Day.
The newspaper will be published twice a month, said Matthew J. Herper '99, editor in chief of The Observer.
In its inaugural editorial, the editorial board of the paper outlined how they intended the paper to serve the MIT community. This purpose entailed reporting on news from a student's perspective, the earning of the reader's trust through accurate and objective reporting, as well as thoughtful, well-reasoned opinion writing, and, when necessary, the occasional stepping in "as a visionary presence on the MIT campus."
The publication will largely cover long-range news stories, Herper said. "We don't want to just talk about a certain meeting that happened or a certain event; we are more interested in placing those sort of things in context," Herper said.
The founders of The Observer recognized a need for adding competition to the existing news publications on campus.
"I felt that it would be incredibly helpful to have more than one source of news information about what's going on on campus," Herper said.
Writing program offers support
The Observer was given about $2,000 in funds by the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, said Professor James Paradis, the newly appointed head of the writing program.
The original allocation was decided upon last semester by Professor of Science and Writing Alan P. Lightman, who was then head of the program, Paradis said. Lightman is currently on sabbatical until September 1998 and could not be reached for comment.
"Alan felt it was a good idea and he gave them some start-up financial assistance," Paradis said.
The Observer is not the sole student publication that has gone to the writing program for funding, Paradis said. Rune, a literary journal, has also received funding from the program, he said.
The prospect of further funding from the program to publish the paper is unlikely. "I wouldn't be harsh and say no and absolutely not" to the prospect of future funding, Paradis said. However, "I am not anticipating" a request for further funding.
The paper is currently searching for other sources of funding in order to continue the viability of the publication..
"We will be getting more ads" to fund the paper, Herper said. However, "we personally feel that we only want a certain amount of advertising which isn't really a problem because the black and white format we are printing in is pretty inexpensive."
The paper will also be seeking sources of funding from within the Institute, Herper said.
"I don't think that currently with the way MIT is set up that there is any conflict of interest with publications accepting funds from certain academic departments," Herper said.
Credit for Observer staff nixed
There was also a question of whether staffers for The Observer might be able to receive academic credit for contributing to the publication.
"There is some discussion going on with the writing department, which has been going on since the proposal was submitted," Herper said.
Even so, "there is currently no provision wherein we are getting any credit," he said.
"It's not something I would encourage," Paradis said, "I don't think in general, that's a good policy."
If one group were to get credit, other similar groups would want to as well, Pardis said. In addition, people should do volunteer actions for the benefit of the action itself.
Paradis, however, added his support for another paper.
"I think that newspapers come and go," Paradis said. "Multiple newspapers, if the community supports them, is a good idea. We certainly don't want just The New York Timesor just The Boston Globe."
"All student papers are worthy projects," he said.
Institvte dies, endorses Observer
The introduction of The Observer as a campus publication coincided with the end of Institvte, an electronic journal of student affairs. In part of its farewell issue to readers, it endorsed The Observer, as fulfilling the objective of a full-community news service.
"We were excited to find, in its first issue, articles by students, a professor and a dean side by side, and many students reading it in the halls. The Observer's standards are very high, and it represented in its first issue what Institvte has striven for two years to become," the farewell issue said.
"We intended [Institvte] to be a community forum," said Jeremy D. Sher '99, the former editor of the now defunct publication. The ideal was to have faculty, students and administrators contribute to the journal in addition to those within the foundation, he said. "It didn't fail completely, but, in general, it didn't achieve what we wanted to," Sher said.
Institvte had a circulation of about 300, Sher said.
Sher and John S. Hollywood G, founder of Institvte, both were listed on the staff of The Observer.
Both Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams and Professor of Literature Henry Jenkins contributed opinion pieces to the first edition of The Observer.
However, the introduction of The Observer as an MITpublication did not cause the end of Institvte, Sher said. The e-mail journal discontinued as a result of Sher's future responsibilities that would prevent him from continuing to edit for Institvte, he said.
The e-mail publication was one component of the greater Institvte Foundation which continues to exist as a public service organization intended to foster a better relationships among students and faculty and administrators, Sher said.
Institvte will have a radio program on WMBRto partially compensate for the loss of the online journal, Sher said.