Editorial: Where the Bit Wants to Go With GDS

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

The Augur Bit’s most basic commitment is never to let up in covering school news, amplifying reasoned opinions and pursuing untold stories. We strive always for the accuracy and fairness of the content we publish to speak for themselves and to win readers’ appreciation.

Yet we see a community and an administration sometimes ill at ease with how student journalism here plays out. That strikes us as not so much a cause for alarm as a chance for the Bit to forge a new and better relationship with the community it serves, one grounded in an embrace of journalism’s purpose.

At its best, a newspaper afflicts the comfortable, as the old aphorism goes; it gives voice to viewpoints that challenge the majority; it broaches delicate topics unflinchingly but thoughtfully. And it works independently, in its readers’ interests, to report what happens in a community—without fear or favor, to borrow from another saying (journalism has many).

In that vein, the Bit’s editors spent last school year asking GDS administrators a question: Would they agree to guarantee that the newspaper’s student editors would always control what it publishes?

In a meeting shortly before school let out for summer break, they answered: No, they would not. It was, to say the least, a discouraging response after a long, mostly private campaign. For the same reasons we laid out in an editorial marking Student Press Freedom Day in February, we continue to believe that formalized editorial independence for the Bit—essentially the protections afforded by law in 15 states’ public schools—would be a boon to the entire community and a powerful signal of administrative support.

But now, we enter the new school year with the broader goal of creating the best conditions possible for student journalism to thrive at GDS. Judging by their goodwill during that meeting in May, we are optimistic that administrators will join us in that effort, and we hope all community members will invest in its success. Here’s what we propose:

First, all students, not just Bit staffers, should learn about journalism’s crucial role in society. Students frequently rely on news articles in class; now they should learn how the product is made. More courses should incorporate education about freedom of the press, the history and modern-day ethics of journalism and how to discern trustworthy media outlets.

An annual assembly would be another way for the community as a whole to consider how and why the fourth estate goes after the truth, in ways mundane and world-shaking. Last year’s Benjamin Cooper Memorial Lecture with the New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, who co-wrote the newspaper’s 2017 exposé of Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault, gave a taste not just of the impact of journalism but of the impact an assembly can have in promoting it. A school better versed in professional journalists’ work would be one better disposed to the Bit’s.

Second, we believe deeply that the Bit’s staff must better represent the racial diversity of the student body. A staff lacking in diversity is at risk of overlooking certain stories or failing to carry weight among potential readers. More important, it is imperative for all GDS students to feel that they are welcome to partake in the wonderful learning experience that student journalism can offer.

Writers of color on the Bit have grown in number in recent years, with the creation in 2021 of a well-defined staff that regularly accepts new members. But we are very alert to the Bit’s need for greater diversity, and especially for more Black staffers. Editors have met with affinity group leaders and members of GDS’ diversity, equity and inclusion office. We are eager for ideas and cooperation to make further progress.

Third, GDS’ leadership should help move the Bit towards a higher degree of protected autonomy, even short of total freedom from censorship. Administrators should formalize their longstanding, undisputed custom of not asking to review any Bit content before it is published, to guard against backsliding by future school leaders. They should also establish a permanent policy protecting Bit reporters’ right to contact sources and ask questions—and community members’ right to speak on the record with Bit reporters.

At the same time, as part of the same initiative of creating the student media environment the GDS community deserves, the Bit will work to boost confidence in its award-winning and increasingly extensive product. We have established for the first time an Alumni Advisory Board, whose members, all professional journalists, will help counsel the editors in hard situations. 

We will redouble our dedication to transparency, another journalistic tenet. We invite all readers to ask any questions about how the newspaper works, offer feedback or ask to meet with us. And we pledge to make the Bit’s internal rules and procedures public by year’s end.

The paper will continue to fulfill its fundamentally independent role of reporting on, and stimulating discourse about, the high school community, no matter how that task is viewed. But what we ultimately envision, with the changes we propose here made, is a school culture in which people broadly value the Bit, even though its proper functioning may make them uncomfortable—or, wiser still, because of that.