A Parting Reflection from Gettysburgian Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Pontz
By Benjamin Pontz, Retired
I’ve always loved newspapers.
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Brown suggested that I start one. Almost surely, she was exasperated at my constant pestering and needed something to occupy me for a while, but start a class newspaper I did. Brown’s Clowns Monthly, as it was called, was (very briefly) the talk of Hans Herr Elementary School in Lampeter, Pennsylvania. We published weather reports, sports articles, and jokes. Lots of jokes. And Mrs. Brown, in a move she must have, at some point, come to regret, gave me stamps to assess submissions from my classmates; one said, “Great job!” and the other said, “Please correct and return.” You could say I’ve always been a bit of a control freak.
But the real lesson from Mrs. Brown, who is perhaps the finest educator I have ever encountered, was that achieving cool things requires initiative, and it also requires building a team that is excited about the project and enjoys working together. Wielding that “please correct and return” stamp too gleefully was not likely to inspire much devotion to the endeavor, and accepting comic strips and pro-Dallas Cowboys propaganda would help make people invested in the project. Editing Brown’s Clowns Monthly was my first foray into student journalism as we worked to shed light on the “community of learners,” as Mrs. Brown called us, that occupied Room 19. It would not be my last.
When I arrived at Gettysburg College, I encountered a newspaper searching for an identity, and, over the past four years, I like to think I helped it build one. But to say that the revitalization of The Gettysburgian over these past few years has been my doing is simply not the case: more than 50 writers, photographers, and editors have contributed since I became editor-in-chief. Their efforts are the lifeblood of this operation, and I would like to highlight two of them.
I owe a particular word of thanks to Gauri Mangala, whose judgment I have come to trust, whose news gathering ability I have come to admire, and whose friendship I have come to cherish.
And I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Lauren Hand. Over the past two years, I have fielded dozens of compliments that the quality of writing in The Gettysburgian has improved dramatically, and that can be attributed almost singularly to the too often unheralded efforts of Lauren. First our lead copyeditor and then our visionary magazine editor, Lauren has worked long hours with few bylines; her commitment and talent have been foundational and, in fact, indispensable, to the success of this organization.
There is some debate as to whether institutions such as campus newspapers ought, at their core, to be formative or performative. In other words, are they places we come with fully-formed propositions to pronounce in an effort to convert others to our cause, or are they places where we think together about the defining questions of our time? Are they places where we come to have the final word on a subject, declaring winners and losers, or are they places where we consider the present moment as part of a larger story we all participate in shaping, giving us the chance to change our minds and change our course when we encounter new information and ideas? I firmly believe that they ought to be the latter.
While there are certainly some principles worth proclaiming, core values to which considering “both sides” would be a disservice to the pursuit of truth, I submit that this is a moment in time that demands leaning into the nuance, the ambiguity, and the unknown inherent to the human condition with epistemological modesty and generous conciliation to experiences we have not, ourselves, encountered.
When we do, we will find ourselves poised to confront the questions that define the long-term vitality of this campus community. Questions like how to reconcile the values of a power structure built on exclusion and the broader campus social culture with our core institutional values that affirm the worth and dignity of all persons and the limitless value of their potential. Questions like how to use the liberal arts ethos to foster a rich and pluralistic intellectual climate both within and complementary to the college curriculum. Questions like where the college can most efficiently and equitably use its limited financial resources to enhance the student experience towards the end of serving humankind.
I do not purport to have the answers to any of these questions, nor would I presume to suggest that the status quo is, in all cases, wrong or in need of reform. But, rightly considered, I think a campus newspaper can help us think together about how to form an institution that answers them in accordance with the values to which we collectively aspire.
In the meantime, cognizant that we represent a mere moment of time in the long arc of history, perhaps the best we can do is to act with integrity, to pursue truth, to demand justice as we see it, and to leave a record that posterity can judge and contextualize. It is in that spirit that I depart The Gettysburgian, my head held high after four years of incredibly fulfilling work and with supreme confidence in my successor Anna Cincotta’s ability to build on it and transcend it, and with enormous gratitude to the community I hope my work served and the people who participated in it.
I leave it to you to judge whether my tenure has been a success or a failure, but whatever your judgment, I ask you not only to believe, but also to participate, in building our campus newspapers, our higher education institutions, and the world around us to realize a tomorrow that is better than today.
I continue to love newspapers.
Benjamin Pontz’s tenure as editor-in-chief concluded on May 16, 2020. He will spend the summer reporting on state and local government with PA Post before beginning a master’s degree focused on governance and public policy at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, in October.