The Role of Journalism Today: An Interview With Kelsey Eiland
Written by Annelise Asch
Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz
Kelsey Eiland was editor of Leviathan in the academic year of 2015-2016. As a non-Jewish editor of Leviathan, I was curious to hear her perspective of the role of Jewish and non-Jewish journalism in today’s fractured world, and whether her role as a non-Jewish editor gave her pause.
Annelise Asch: What do you think is the role of a journalist in these times?
Kelsey Eiland: I think one thing is that we talk a lot about journalism as being non-biased, or the ultimate truth, or somehow that there’s such thing as objective journalism. I think I want to say that no matter who you are and what you’re writing about, the person the information is coming from is in some ways going to influence some kind of perspective, and I think there’s an inherent bias in choosing what content is relevant and important. I think there should be an accepting of that subjectivity as well as that intersectionality of who the person is when they’re writing about this kind of stuff. So I think the role is to speak truth to power. I think that journalism tends to come from spaces and perspectives of folks who are not traditionally in positions of power, because if you were in a position of power there wouldn’t be a necessity or desire to be critical. And you have conversations about the intersections of our daily lives that I think are often overlooked by corporations and capitalism and mainstream identities. Talking about things like race and class and gender and power dynamics and all those… I think we think that journalism is this thing that is void of those things like in order to be professional and unbiased, we can talk about intersections of identity. I think that journalism is nothing without those things.
AA: You were a non-Jewish Editor-in-Chief of Leviathan. So what sorts of things did you have to be aware of as you navigated that responsibility? How can a journalist cover or write about topics that they may not have personal experience to draw from?
KE: I think that coming into a space — I will speak for my own personal experience — is that I was coming into it with, I think a lot of the goals and values that I believed UCSC’s Student Media as a whole engaged in and believed in.
AA: What’s an example of that?
KE: I think an example would be like being really thorough in the work we do, and producing work that we can stand by and put our name on. And I think that being in a space where you don’t identify with the predominant identifiers of the group, I think that there is a calling for you to know when to step back and let other people step forward. And I think that it was hard for me to even be called Editor-in-Chief. I was actually really uncomfortable with having a higher position and I almost didn’t take it when [the previous editor] Amanda [Botfeld] left. And I think that was because I didn’t want to be the loudest voice in the room and I think that part of it was that I made an intention to uplift other people and act more as the facilitator than a “leader.” I wanted to be able to provide someone else with a platform, instead of putting myself on the platform. And I would accredit most of that to Susan Watrous and the wider Student Media coalition for giving me those skills because I wouldn’t have come to the table if not for that wider community of support.
AA: If you had to envision a future for Leviathan what sort of topics would staffers write about? What would Leviathan prioritize?
KE: I think something that I maybe wanted to see more of when I was in Leviathan, when I was in Student Media — and I think we were working hard to do this — but I think just, you know, making conversations about intersectionality more integral to all of the work we were doing. And I know that that’s hard and it makes things more complicated and more time intensive. But again, I just think that the point of critical writing and critical analysis is understanding intersections of identity and I think understanding power and oppression. I think we don’t see a lot of that in what I would call the mainstream news cycle. I want to decipher between what I think of as mainstream news and journalism. And I think that journalism should hold itself to a standard of having critical conversations about things that the mainstream news might not cover or might not see as interconnected or interwoven. And I think more and more it’s uplifting voices that aren’t usually heard or supported in mainstream news. And, again, that isn’t to say that Leviathan hasn’t been working on those, but I think that those are always goals, even if you’re doing them well. One other thing is that engaging in conversations about intersection of religion or national identity with other forms of identity — so not just talking about the white, straight, pro-Israel, Jewish experience, but the understanding of a Jewish experience in many contexts and also how non-Jewish folks can come to the table. Especially for those who might be on a, say, very pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist side of the conversation. I think we’ve always seen those two sides of opposing poles and I think that they’ve always been in conversation with one another. I think Leviathan’s done a good job of that but I think that there’s always room for more.
AA: How did Leviathan influence your life after graduating?
KE: I wanna give Leviathan a lot of credit here, but I also want to extrapolate the credit again to the wider Student Media orgs as well as SOMeCA of really teaching young people to be facilitators and mentors in their own spaces. And I think also teaching young people that they can make things happen without looking to a hierarchy, without buying into mainstream cycles of media production. And I think that there’s a difference between having power and feeling empowered. And I think that in student media we strive to feel empowered. And I think through that process we break down having power. And to me, I think that Leviathan is just the most rewarding and soul-feeding part of my college experiences because I think for me it taught me to stand in my truth but also uplift other people’s truths. And I think that that’s core to any way you’re going to navigate the world.
AA: And you think that you’re still doing that?