Response to coverage of the cancellation of Story Week

By Letter to the Editor, by Courtney Zellars

As a second year Fiction MFA Candidate within the Department of Creative Writing with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism, I am concerned by the lack of research that went into your Front Page article. The journalists exerted little effort in looking for various sources to give at least the appearance of a well-rounded article.

The bulk of the article is substantiated only by Randy Albers. Last year’s Story Week attendance is estimated at 2,500 people, but the data source isn’t cited nor is an explanation on how data was accumulated. It also doesn’t provide an amount for this year’s “reduced funds” that Albers turned down as insufficient or give a percentage/breakdown of how much of the previous years’ funds came from the department and from grants or donations.

The article also does a poor job in quoting significant sources. While the article does say that Tony Trigilio and Cara Birch both declined comment, readers are left to assume the journalists didn’t attempt to reach out to anyone besides Eric May, who worked closely with Story Week, for opinions on the matter.

Also, because this decision is one that should impact students more than faculty, I am shocked at there being only one current student voice in this piece.

The alumni voices were okay but readers also must read their comments with more than a grain of salty skepticism—both alumni mentioned graduated over 20 years ago in 1993. Both are also biased since they are affiliated with/paid by Story Week.

I understand that such a request may have required more time in compiling than your deadline would have allowed. Whenever that is the case, though, I was taught that ethically you go for a different story.

This would have allowed you more time to dig deeper and do a larger scaled examination of the why and its impact.

When you dug deeper, you would have discovered there are a lot of points that Albers and May made that could have been refuted, like staff members being cut and the few remaining people unable to shoulder the burden of Story Week.

While it may be true, this point could have been countered in a more thorough article with a statement from last year’s Fiction Event Coordinator (that would be me).

I was allotted through federal work-study 20 hours per week (a semester total of $2,500) to assist in planning and coordinating fiction events, Story Week included, for the department.

By the end of my first semester, I had only worked enough to earn $186. I was given little to do and thank Patty McNair for pulling me to help set-up for Writers at Lunch or else I would have made no money.

I would have also mentioned my attempts to assist in Story Week. Eventually, I was informed that the college preferred to utilize an outside contractor to manage Story Week instead of allowing the graduate event coordinators within the department to assist.

The article touched on the Creative Writing Series launched this fall, where May is attributed to saying it doesn’t match the “‘width and breadth’ of opportunities” Story Week provided.

This is true in that it doesn’t allow people to connect and engage with the city as much since all of its events are held on campus. But other than that, the same opportunities are still presented.

The article disappoints again when it doesn’t offer any explanation on how this came to be—students had to push for it.

It also didn’t give opinions from students who’ve engaged with this year’s reading series. Unlike in years before, graduate students are given the opportunity to read along with the visiting author. Undergraduate and graduate students receive the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with the author either before the reading or immediately following.

Your article is glaringly missing the lack of transparency about the allocation of resources within not just the department, but the campus as a whole.

One example being my first-semester work-study experience where I wasn’t given work—when there was apparently work to be done. The department has at least 10 students working with it through fellowships, assistantships and work-study, yet doesn’t use us all to our potential.

I wish Story Week could exist in tandem with this new Reading Series. They both have their appeal and their purposes.

Story Week is a great marketing tool for many high school students and definitely a great look for the school. But, above all else, it should seek to meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students.

Your article raised more questions than it answered such has: 1. How much were we paying the artistic directors and outside contractors in their organizing of Story Week? 2. What all were we getting with the money we spent? 3. How much money came from where? 4. Could fundraising have salvaged Story Week? 5. What do current students think of the reading series? 6. Why is Columbia’s model “Live What You Love” when the university opts instead to hire others to do it for us? 7. Since I know first-hand professional development wasn’t one of them, what specific opportunities were students given during Story Week besides the chance to ask questions? 8. Since Albers declined the funds originally allocated for Story Week 2016, where is that money going?

I sincerely wished your article provided a greater scope in the matter. Going forward, please know that it is sometimes OK to sit on complex stories until you’ve dug a bit deeper.

Courtney Zellars

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The Chronicle staff believes “R.I.P. Story Week” was justifiably reported as a breaking news story. Despite not having access to all of the information or all of the sources we would have liked to include, the story ran to ensure that valuable information would be passed on to the campus that might have otherwise been missed since the college has yet to officially acknowledge the demise of Story Week.

The Chronicle intends to follow-up on the  story and include additional information, but we make no apologies for the piece we were able to report on deadline with limited information made accessible to us.

Want to share your thoughts? For more information on how to submit a Letter to the Editor, see the note at the bottom of Page 2.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.