Commentary | Public Editor: Look ma, no hierarchy!

Flustered and running late, Coordinating editor Drew Nelles strides into the office looking every part the seasoned Dailyite. With his trademark blonde hair swept over Buddy Holly glasses, cred-laden outfit, and unnervingly large boots, he towers over lesser mortals with all the stature and grace of a Puritan headmaster. I’m not, however, writing to dissect his conspicuously Aryan manner, but rather to show how The Daily’s unique editorial policies shape its vibe and help to make it one of McGill’s most important institutions.

First of all, what is a coordinating editor? Unlike the more familiar epithet, editor-in-chief, Nelles’s position does not evoke a king/prime minister hybrid. “A lot of what I do is pretty unglamorous,” explains Nelles, “it’s taking care of all the crappy little duties that nobody else wants to do. I don’t formally have final say in anything.” He adds, somewhat counter-intuitively, that one of his main tasks is to make unimportant decisions which other editors simply do not have time to tackle. At most, his nebulous role is to be the mascot of non-hierarchy at The Daily.

Non-hierarchy, albeit a modified form, is the operating principle at The Daily. Officially, no voice or vote at editorial board meetings is worth less than any other; Nelles counts for as much as any staff writer (a staff writer is anyone who has written six articles for The Daily). For practical reasons, editors are generally responsible for their own sections and rely on a pool of loyal writers, but everyone can influence each other’s material. Privately, some editors and contributors admit to being skeptical of the extent to which the paper is actually non-hierarchical, but even they are quick to insist that the policy has a real and positive impact on their experience at the paper.

In the wake of the recent referendum on The Daily’s existence, it’s worth acknowledging that despite a sound structure, all is not rosy around the office. The paper, for those who missed the memo, has had a rough few weeks. Accusations of plagiarism and a referendum challenge to the funding structure are not exactly the kind of issues you want to be dealing with as an editor. Nelles, who generally puts between 30 and 40 hours per week into the paper, admits to being exhausted: “In a few months I’ll be glad that I [took this job],” he sighs, “but right now, as I’m struggling to finish-slash-start an essay that was due a week ago, these things are difficult to slug through.”

Yet things are far from grim, thanks in no small part to an effective organizational structure which transcends its ostensibly loose contours. Firstly, the question of whether or not former Features editor Martin Lukacs plagiarized has moved beyond protracted battle of semantics and toward the implementation of proactive preventative measures. On Nelles’s suggestion, the Canadian University Press is putting together a resource guide on plagiarism. Secondly, The Daily’s recent 80.9 per cent victory in the referendum on its continued existence is a good sign.

That being said, anything less than unanimous voter recognition of The Daily’s important role on campus means there’s work that can be done. In the spirit of non-hierarchy, inclusiveness, and progress, Nelles has some genuine advice for those who voted No: “Instead of voting to shut down a crucial campus institution, you should come get involved, write letters – be more constructive than to shut down the only independent newspapers on campus.”

Those hesitant to get involved should recall that The Daily is neither as ideologically homogenous nor insular as myth would allow. Nelles relates the praise he’s heard of the vibe fostered in The Daily newsroom, an environment where “nobody’s barking orders at anyone.” He acknowledges that the coordinating editor, as well as the coordinating news editor, are often seen as the most important editorial positions, but insists that non-hierarchy is important and effective.

Firstly, it helps bring in writers with diverse experience and interests. Secondly, it encourages editors to work together, pulling each other up. Drawing a distinction between hierarchy and structure, Nelles suggests that procedural issues are addressed within the scope of their delineated positions, while the substance of the paper is truly a collaborative effort. The Daily’s editorial policies cultivate a unique environment which encourages writers to grow with the paper, as opposed to merely writing for it.

Stefan Szpajda is The Daily’s public editor. He may be reached at publiceditor@mcgilldaily.com.


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