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2013 Spring Issue 7 (May 24, 2013)

On Passion and Pessimism

May 24, 2013
By Zoe Suche

I’ll start this piece by admitting something that’s probably clear to anyone who regularly reads the print edition of the Carletonian: every couple of weeks, I have a lot of trouble with layout. It comes when submissions are minimal—two or three at most. If those articles aren’t conducive to pictorial accompaniment, I have a real problem filling the space. One memorable week, half of page eight consisted of a picture of an airplane.

Sometimes, when it’s getting late and I want to go to Thursdays at Froggy’s, I leave the problem for editor-in-chief Kaitlyn Gerber to solve. In part, I think of it as taking up my rights as a spring term senior. On the other hand, though, I think I can base both my considerable apathy and that of a number of potential columnists on the state of the newspaper scene at Carleton.

So let’s talk about this a bit. I got involved with the Carletonian as a junior. I wrote a column about food because food is safe, unpretentious, and to be honest, something I think about a lot. At the end of last year, the previous Viewpoint editor sold me on the editor position based on gift certificates to Blue Monday, resume-building, fun times with the rest of the staff, and easy access to sometimes-good opinion pieces that I might otherwise not have bothered with. Prior to taking on this role, I didn’t read the Carletonian. Confession: I still don’t read the other sections.  This year, I’ve been moved enough to write a response to a column a total of one time. Do I think this is a sorry state of affairs? Yeah. I do.

Carleton is great. As a million people have said, we’re “quirky,” we’re accepting, we think it’s awesome when people streak and wear capes and play Assassins and we’re liberal and we’re involved and we care about all kinds of things and it’s all really fluffy and wonderful. During my four years here, only one student organization has stood out as not only legitimate, but apparently trendy and edgy, to openly insult: the Carletonian. Yes, no one is more aware than the editors just how widely derided the Carletonian is on campus. Unfortunately—especially from the perspective of the Viewpoint section—we’re only as good as the submissions we receive, and ironically, at Carleton, those submissions tend to be diverted to the same place where the Carletonian is most openly criticized: the CLAP. I’m not against the CLAP; I read it most weeks. I read it more than I read the Carletonian, to be honest. That’s the problem. At some point people started sending their legitimate and opinionated thoughts to Carleton’s print-only, unedited publication so that their articles could appear surrounded by cat memes and this week’s rant about who-stole-my-vodka or how the century pong league is going. At the same time, the Carletonian opinion section became a forum for abstract and inoffensive-in-every-way articles that rarely elicit responses or create dialogue. As I see it, then, as the “official” campus publication, we’re caught in the following web:

1. People don’t read the Carletonian because it’s widely scorned on campus.
2. The Carletonian is widely scorned on campus because people don’t read it.
3. Many people don’t write for the Carletonian because no one will read what they write.
4. People don’t read the Carletonian because they think very few decent writers write for it.

Hey, that’s not one, but two vicious circles, on both the reader and writer sides. It’s proof that Carleton is special in a whole other way. The journalistic world is collectively mourning the decline and impeding death of print media; in this context, the fact that the paper-only CLAP goes nowhere except to the student body, while the Carletonian is read by parents, alums, professors, and whoever wants to view it online, should factor into where opinion articles are sent. And yet it doesn’t. Is it because people don’t want their articles seen or addressed by anyone other than students who can make it to Sayles on Friday? Is it because they have concerns about the editing process? Is it a problem that the Carletonian won’t allow its writers to emphasize their points with profanity and explicitly sexual language?

I think—frankly, I hope—it’s none of these things. I’d say it’s because people don’t question how things currently are. They submit to the CLAP because that’s what you do to get your view heard around campus. It’s a fact of Carleton life, and it’s something that needs to change. Not only do issues that get brought up in campus publications affect more people than just the students—witness this recent conversation about microaggressions—but when it comes to legitimate discussion and debate, the opportunity for faculty and alumni to weigh in is invaluable; or at least, the opportunity to have our views challenged by people older and more educated than ourselves is something that we as students typically profess to value. The Carletonian has the potential to foster campus discussion in a way that the CLAP could never do, and though I’d hesitate to use the word “wasting,” we’re certainly not using it as we could be.

What needs to change? I think it’s pretty clear, and it’s not much. There’s a sort of collective cynicism that Carleton students as a whole could drop. The fact that it’s the official campus publication, and that it may also contain news of which most students are already aware, does not invalidate it as somewhere to express an opinion. Dual-submit if you must; but consider sending your thoughts to a different readership, and consider picking up an issue of the Carletonian, or just glancing at it on our website, which has a comments section and you don’t even have to go to Sayles. Carleton students are involved; they’re passionate; they have things they care about, and things they want to share with the rest of the community here. It should never be the case that in a 2-page opinion section, I have to write an article like this just to fill the space.

Hoping to hear more from you all in the future.

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