If you didn’t know, I work on The Miami Student, a student-run newspaper out of Oxford situated in the heart of Miami University (of Ohio, not Miami, Florida) and in the over three years I’ve been doing that, I’ve read a great many comments on the site, comments on our social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter) and heard the chatter. We get hated. I don’t know how representational that hate is, but it’s loud enough to be noticed. It’s almost a meme at this point to call the Student a rag. There’s even a pretty successful Twitter handle that parodies us.
And don’t get me wrong. I’m a big, big fan of media criticism. I love it. Margaret Sullivan with the Times and Jay Rosen from NYU are the best that I know about. To which, there are absolutely valid, constructive criticisms of what the Student has done in my time there. For instance, we published an anonymous Letter to the Editor that more or less was disparaging to foreign students from the perspective of a Miami professor. Now, publishing an anonymous letter is not necessarily a bad thing, provided we — we being the editors — know and can confirm the identity of the person, i.e. that they are, in fact, a teacher. But we didn’t do that. We had no idea who wrote the Letter. Therefore, it was wrong to publish it. Or we had an issue where for months, one of our community editors was plagiarizing stories, word-for-word sometimes from surrounding newspapers. That was wrong. Or we published a recent front page feature on a local bar owner that turned out to have fabricated quotes. That was wrong.
With that said, those mistakes while important to understand and to ameliorate, do not make us a “rag” of a newspaper. Mistakes happen. Mistakes happen to the biggest and best newspapers in the world and the smallest, too. And mistakes are most certainly certainly going to happen under the umbrella of “student-journalists.” There’s a reason that label exists. It means we’re still students still learning the ropes of journalism. So, we’re going to stumble. That’s not a cop-out to mistakes, I’m just contextualizing the arena in which they exist.
There’s a debate in my head about what the role of a journalist ought to be. I look at the Glenn Greenwalds of the world and I think that’s the right way to be. He’s a noted adversarial journalist, which, when you think about it, adversarial journalist is redundant, as the role of a journalist — the very essence — is to be adversarial. However, there’s another school of thought among journalists that you don’t engage the critics. Let them be. I’m torn on which approach to take.
With all of that said, I know I should just ignore comments like this about The Miami Student, but it’s too irksome that I shall devote some rant space to it. In response to an article about housing names (off-campus houses have raunchy names with puns, like “Miss B. Haven,” and how some Oxford, non-student residents find them offensive), a woman commented on the story on Facebook with this:
“Don’t you guys have any positive news about the university? Every article is so negative. I have a son starting in the fall and this newspaper does nothing to make me feel good about the school.”
Ignoring the inaccuracy presented regarding every article being negative since every article is not negative (in the same issue, there was a story about Patterson Place not being destroyed after much petitioning, students coaching middle-grade students at Talawanda and so on, along with all the gorgeous photos taken of the campus), do the people that offer these types of comments, which I see regularly, not understand the role of a newspaper and in particular, the role and dynamics of a student-run newspaper?
The role of the newspaper, whether covering a university, the government, business, a community, noted figures or all of the above, is to present the news as it is. Not just the news that makes the aforementioned look good. That’s called public relations and it’s a different animal entirely.
And those that offer these comments will also say the Student is a joke. Nah, the paper would be a joke if we did what you thought our role ought to be.
Another criticism we receive almost constantly is that we promote only a liberal viewpoint. For one, some accuse us of doing that when we report on the off-campus housing issue, which is too inane to address. Secondly, on our opinion page, it is the case that the Editorial Board, while still having varying views individually, does present a more liberal-bent. But the page itself? It has conservative views offered. Hell, Andrew Geisler’s Andrew’s Assessments column has been a fixture on the page for three years and he’s a conservative. Not to mention, we allow Letters that can have whatever view they want to take.