by Jackie Zhang, Staff Writer, May 2022
This year The Nobleman has dealt with issues such as the recent censorship of an article that came up along with Administrative—and faculty—concern about how the controversy generated by the paper might affect the school. This year, criticism of the institution—frequently appearing on the front page—has resulted in mixed reactions from the community. This begs the question: what role has The Nobleman served in the community throughout its evolution as a paper? Is tension with the Administration inherent in its structure? English Faculty and Former Head of School Richard Baker, Mathematics Faculty Richard Nickerson, and Assistant Head of School and Head of Middle School John Gifford weigh in on how they’ve viewed the evolution of The Nobleman through the years.
“When I came here, The Nobleman was published as just a couple sheets put together,” Baker said about his experience with The Nobleman when he first came on as faculty in 1972. “Things changed when former-Nobleman Faculty Advisor Joseph Swayze came into power. He had been a newsman in Vietnam and he worked for a newspaper up in Vermont. Newspapers were his life. He gradually made it into the most important thing on campus.”
Baker discussed the past significance of The Nobleman in the community, as compared to the position it exists in today. “If you were the editor[-in-chief] of the newspaper, it was miles more important than being [SLC] President of the school,” he said, “He [Swayze] oversaw it in a way that the stories themselves were sharpened. He wasn’t just telling the story, but adopting a point of view. And gradually, within relatively few years he would submit the papers to journalistic contests and it seemed to me that The Nobleman always won them.”
After Baker stepped down, Bob Henderson became the new Head of School and implemented changes in The Nobleman’s reach. Baker described a decrease in the influence of The Nobleman and it became more tightly regulated. “Mr. Henderson made it a little harder for them to publish things that were detrimental to the schools. Swayze left and when he left, nobody really cared as much about The Nobleman. It went from one faculty member to the next.” However, Baker noted that “it still was a decent exercise for young students. To deal with putting out a paper, there’s a lot that goes on and it was good for kids to practice doing that.”
Nickerson has been a member of faculty since 1974 and witnessed The Nobleman change over four decades. “Over the years, obviously, it’s a much bigger production now than it used to be,” he said, “The number of pages has increased and the online presence is far greater. But in terms of its role to the school or whether its ideals have shifted, I think it’s been mostly the same even though the people involved have changed.”
He continued, “Change is inevitable and it’s been a not very obvious change, but sort of an up and down. Current students may not know that there’s always been tension from the very first years between the Administration and The Nobleman.” Unlike Baker, Nickerson did not witness much change every year in The Nobleman in regards to its influence and controversy.
Gifford, a former Photo Editor for The Nobleman, agreed with Nickerson on how little has fundamentally changed with the newspaper. “Over the years, The Nobleman has fluctuated in terms of its taking-on controversial issues. I have to believe that that is the result of the people on staff and their interests or goals. There are other smaller changes, and The Nobleman now has a very high digital presence and it used to be published on a very high-quality paper stock. The staff through the 1980’s & 90’s would apply to, and often win, a Columbia University newspaper award each year. But overall, I don’t think it has changed dramatically. I think that it is fine to question and challenge the institution of Nobles as long as all parties in the story are interviewed and their opinions are expressed.”
Gifford criticized how The Nobleman handled controversial issues, especially ones affecting specific students. “It’s not just an issue I’ve just noticed with this year’s paper but in past years as well and with students in a general sense. Having grown up in the social media landscape, I think students are more used to a special kind of vitriol and cruelty that comes with social media anonymous feedback. I think the newspaper needs to make sure that they are mindful of which parties can be hurt and how crucial it is to not attack individuals and focus on the institutions instead.”
Despite the differing perspectives, Gifford, Nickerson, and Baker agree that criticism of the Nobles institution is one of the most important characteristics of the newspaper. In the future, there is a consensus amongst longtime former faculty that The Nobleman needs to focus on balancing constructive criticism as well as an awareness of the well-being of individuals in the community.