Letter sent in by: The Oppidan Press team
Congratulations to you and the new Activate team on a strong start to your tenure.Your editorial of 4 September criticised The Oppidan Press for “their first dire mistake” in publishing a supplement which reviewed the Dean of Students’ (DoS) “Alcohol-Free Challenge” from first semester. The implication was that somehow Oppi Press had betrayed students in accepting funding and publishing a comment from the DoS.Under most circumstances, we would rather let our newspaper do the talking but yours is a claim that we feel cannot go unanswered.Credit to you for approaching us first to ask us about our motivation for publishing the supplement. However, I think you missed the central reason for our publishing the supplement and, in fact, you read ill-intention into our actions when there wasn’t any.We conceived the supplement when it became clear to us that neither Oppi Press nor Activate had given adequate coverage to the half-dozen remarkably diverse, fun and well-organised events which students had conceptualised, fundraised and pulled-off on their own over the course of first semester. Anyone who remembers the Oppidan Hall’s Digs Olympics, the Nelson Mandela Hall’s “Weakest Link” quiz night, the Allan Webb Talent Show or the joint Founders/Hobson Casino evening will know what a credit these events were to us as students. At the time, Oppi Press covered one event in detail (the Digs Olympics), Activate covered none.
So, in response to your claim that we failed to represent the student body’s interests in this regard, I think you got it wrong. Our supplement was a recognition of our failure to cover the ‘good news’ which happens at Rhodes, but more importantly, it was as a tribute to our fellow students’ efforts. We acknowledge that the supplement was paid for by the DoS and, as such, Dr de Klerk also stood to benefit from the positive publicity generated by its publication. What needs to be added is that Oppi Press made no monetary profit from the DoS’s sponsorship. Dr de Klerk paid us the cost-price for the extra print-run. So we did not sell our souls for a fast-buck, as might be read into your editorial.
A mature assessment of the situation will reveal that it is not in our newspaper’s interests – or yours – to inhabit a space of permanent antagonism between ourselves and admin. For one thing, we need to be on speaking terms with the DoS in order to get much-needed comment and information from her office on stories and issues that affect all students. Your indignation that we should publish something that “represented the views of the Dean of Students Division” seems strange when viewed in this light. Of course we publish the DoS’s views. We do it nearly every edition, in every story that mentions or is affected by decisions taken in Dr de Klerk’s office. We do it for our readers.
Not to do so would be a failure of major proportions.We believe that it is necessary for a newspaper to bark and bite, but also to give praise where praise is due. Our track record with regard to holding the DoS to account speaks for itself. Last year, we did not hesitate to publish front-page revelations of disciplinary action initiated by, and against, the DoS by another member of Rhodes staff. This year, we published a series of front-page stories and critical opinion pieces which scrutinised the DoS’s alcohol policies, including the closure of RafSoc and the university’s support for a new liquor by-law which codified reduced pub hours. Activate was silent on both these issues. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to constructively engage with you on our newspaper coverage and we hope that you will consider this letter for publication within Activate.
The Oppidan Press team