Recognizing the importance of collegiate journalism

by CHRIS BULFINCH ’18
STAFF WRITER

It doesn’t take much digging around Trinity’s campus to find criticism of the Tripod. It seems that at every turn, media ranging from Mather conversations to formal complaints to Yik Yak, people attack the Tripod. The criticisms vary from pointing out spelling and grammatical errors to accusations of insensitivity to issues surrounding white privilege (an argument that, given the racial make-up of the Tripod’s editorial board and pools of writers, is one that I am more than willing to lend credence to). Other journalistic outlets, such as the Beacon magazine, have cropped up, throwing their hat in the ring of Trinity’s journalism scene, and further complicating an already difficult environment. A few Google searches will turn up opinion article after opinion article and study after study all spelling the doom of print journalism, and making clear that the printed word is becoming less and less relevant, particularly on college campuses.

This piece is not an attack on other journalistic outlets (I’m actually quite fond of the Beacon and respect the goal of the organization) or a wholesale defense of the Tripod. I’m instead trying to reiterate the necessity and importance of college journalism, and attempting to decry the very thing currently digging its grave: student apathy. It seems both the issues that the Tripod has and the damning student response to these issues are symptomatic of the problem of apathy. The solutions to these issues are in fact much simpler than the cause of the problems themselves.

Student journalism has always had one significant thing working against it, an obstacle as insurmountable as it is pervasive: conventional journalism. Few, if any, adults or students are going to much care what an undergraduate writing for a student newspaper thinks about any current event that much more qualified professional writers have already covered.  With so many good columnists at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, what does a hungover Trinity student complaining about Donald Trump really mean?

The response from many colleges for many years has always been to soldier on and continue producing ill-informed, poorly researched writings, demonstrating their inherent belief that student perspective, inarticulate though it often is, has value. Many politicians, incidentally, would probably kill for a look into the political knowledge and feelings of college students, if for no other reason than figuring out how to court the elusive youth vote most effectively.

Despite its paltry ability to compete with conventional journalism, campus journalism can provide many salient benefits to college students. Firstly, articles can spark lively debate around campus. While our opinions diverge on many issues (particularly those of race, class and gender), it strikes me as unfortunate and corrosive to a sense of community identity that these dichotomies often go unresolved without any particularly constructive outlet for discussion. Additionally, many students have a propensity to speculate about the college’s administrative actions (the purchase of 200 Constitution Plaza being a popular topic) and often express dissent or concern over any number of issues, ranging from dysfunctional facilities to dining hall food. These kinds of complaints are hardly unique to Trinity, but the student response to such issues is notably less-than-proactive.

Institutions such as the Tripod at one time served as a forum where the above issues could be commented upon and appraised from a variety of perspectives. Such a forum was at one time used extensively for reasoned written debate, with the broad range of opinions informing discussions around campus. Those discussions, while not always the most productive as far as forming broad common consensus, at least made some effort to understand and engage with the issues confronting colleges of the time. None of this is to romanticize the past, which of course had its own issues for college students, but there is something to be said about the degeneration of students’ willingness to engage seriously with issues confronting campus.

Nowhere is this apathy more evident than in a time-honored ritual that the staff of the Tripod know so well: the weekly battle (that is not even remotely hyperbolic) to get the necessary content to print an issue. Each and every week, without fail, at least one section will have difficulty getting students to agree to write articles, and a similar amount of difficulty getting committed students to meet deadlines. Given that each section usually only needs three or four articles to have a satisfactory section, and there are more than 2,000 students on Trinity’s campus, many of whom are not involved in many, if any, extracurricular activities, it speaks volumes as to the level of student engagement that as simple a task as writing four 500-plus word articles takes such a monumental effort.

Now, this is not meant to be a pity-fishing diatribe on behalf of the Tripod nor a wholesale condemnation of Trinity’s student body, but rather a statement of confusion. If students feel that the quality of writing or journalism on Trinity’s campus is not up to par, or that there is any issue that they would strongly like to see addressed, there exist forums to have their grievances taken into account. The Tripod (and the Beacon, and any other news outlet) exist for students to fill their pages. College newspapers present some of the best opportunities for students to express their views on just about any issue in as much or as little detail as desired, with virtually limitless authorial latitude. Contrary to popular opinion, the Tripod (and the Beacon, and any other outlet) treats their writers’ content with great deference and makes stride to not alter a student’s writing to any undue extent, and is not a partisan organization. In essence, any reasonable perspective or opinion can and will be printed.The Tripod and other journalistic outlets provide great platforms to announce clubs and events, discover new restaurants and attractions around Hartford, and inform the student body about important changes and happenings around Trinity’s campus. Students knowing what the Trinity administration is doing or planning to do is immeasurably important, and it would behoove students to look closer at decisions being made and make themselves and their peers aware of proposed and ongoing changes, given the tremendous investment that a Trinity education represents.

The existence of student news organizations is a time-honored tradition that, in the case of Trinity, has more than a century’s precedent. Issues of the Tripod from years past are emblazoned with such dramatic headlines as “President Jones, We Protest,” and have articles commenting on issues ranging from Vietnam to Y2K, from campus safety incidents to the challenges confronting IDP students. Writing for any campus publication is considered a great honor and privilege at so many other academic institutions – friends of mine from other colleges speak of the difficulty and excitement of getting a piece published, and the distinction on those who have the ability to continue the tradition of campus journalism.

What all of this is to say is that campus journalism should be more relevant than ever, yet it is a constant struggle here at 300 Summit Street. The solution to this problem is relatively simple: students need to write. Do you have an opinion about 200 Constitution Plaza? Write about it. Do you see decisions being made at Trinity and in the world that you don’t agree with? Share that sentiment. Do you see instances of oppression and bigotry, have thoughts on white privilege, wealth distribution, or any of the other hot-button issues of our time? Tell the campus your truth. Even something as simple as a fascinating guest lecturer can make a great article. If we refuse to tell our stories and share our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, then we have abdicated any right to complain that we do not feel represented or that our voices are not being heard.

If we, the students of Trinity in the present, allow our own amateurish brand of journalism to be made irrelevant, then Trinity will lose one of its strongest supports, and students will have one venue less through which to have their voices heard. So, whether it is for the Tripod, the Beacon, or any other publication, for the sake of everyone on this campus, speak up with the written word. Do not allow journalism on this campus to fade into the ignominy and obscurity of the past. Regardless of how, or for whom, just write.

 

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