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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

An Open Letter to the Carletonian

<u’ve been reading the CLAP this term, you might agree that it’s been rather disappointing. Last week’s issue would have seemed more promising, seeing it was Parent’s Weekend, and considering the several complaints they’ve been getting.

But again, underwhelming. “It’s a lot easier to [poop] on someone instead of actually writing something worth reading,” one editor wrote, which is true. The editors can pass some blame to the people submitting.

But ultimately, they have the power to set the tone for the whole publication and, unless it’s the case there are no interesting or humorous people at Carleton, must admit they can do a lot better job of making it a place those people want to be a part of.

Now, censoring the CLAP is a self-evidently bad idea. But continuing in its current quality may be even worse because no one will take the time to sift through the trash for the possibly good bits anymore. Or instead, as one submitter put it mockingly, readers “are gonna have to read the Carletonian Editorial Page.”

So let’s talk about what you guys do here. While each week there are a fair number of sharp pieces, I think there are also a lot of opportunities that, if taken better advantage of, would do much to make the ‘Tonian really relevant again.

Consider the complaint in the article “Carleton’s One-Party Bubble” you ran first week that our school doesn’t have enough political diversity in its discourse. Why not simply invite a conservative Carl to have a conversation on the pages of your publication instead of spending three issues debating whether such a conversation can happen? It doesn’t seem like it would be very hard.

Furthermore, if the left-leaning editors were truly interested in being challenged by conservatism, they shouldn’t waste their time dissecting obviously stupid comments by Mitt Romney and instead try to contend with conservatism’s most compelling claims.

Another article last week pointed at interesting questions regarding the relationship between ethics and religion. But again, the piece was entirely meta, focusing on the importance of asking the question instead of taking a stab at answering it. The author “hopes to encourage a space for dialogue on campus about the role of religion in our daily lives, our campus ethos, and the world beyond Northfield.”

There’s no reason that “space” can’t be the Carletonian. We’re not expecting you to give us The Answer, but hearing more specifically what has led you to “feel the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion” would be interesting and significantly enhance our own ability to have the kind of conversation you’re suggesting we have.

The other items in the Viewpoint section last week include ones which can be summarized by saying “Fall is nice” and “Farm Bike Tour happened” as well as one containing what the author clearly knows is a contrived argument about Farmville and capitalism.

If you were a prospie and read this, what would you think about the kind of work we do here and things we’re interested in?

Again, it’s not that you guys aren’t talented. For instance, the same guy who wrote about Farmville had some nice ideas about creative consuming a couple issues ago.

But I think there’re still a lot of words the ‘Tonian prints only because it has space to fill. That an event happens is no longer a good enough reason to cover it. How many articles begin: “Last Thursday, John Johnson, professor of such and such, gave a talk that people showed up to.” We lose interest right away, which prevents us from getting to the good material buried inside.

So ditch the Who, What, When, Where; take a more critical perspective and focus on Why the events are important to the person writing the piece. I care little that Derek Hoff gave a well-attended talk, but would love to read much more about what the writer thinks of Hoff’s claim that having a larger population means more freedom because the central government has more logistical problems controlling everyone.

There’s no need to maintain the pretensions of objectivity, to keep the “News” separate from the “Viewpoints.” We’re good postmoderns; we’ll go along with the perspectivization of truth.

Indeed, a lot of the recent “Viewpoints” pieces would likewise be improved by the writers putting themselves more inside of their subject matter. Your work doesn’t need a fancy argument — provided it has a heartbeat.

To really feel the problem, and have your blood come through in your writing, is much more compelling to us readers than abstract and detached musing about “are we America?” or “the present value of happiness.”

You guys have a lot of potential at your disposal. Don’t merely go through the journalistic motions. Focus on what you’re actually excited to write about. There’s no good reason a school that professes to have some of the best students in the country shouldn’t have a livelier and more provoking student newspaper.

And so you ask: is this letter not also petty and meta? One that skirts talking directly about important issues and instead stoops to self-righteous criticism? To that I’d say “certainly.”

So now that we agree all of that is bad, let’s work harder to get past it so this paper can be not mere entertainment while we’re waiting for food at Sayles but rather a really liberating part of our education.

Editorial response:

I do not have the space to adequately address all of your concerns, but I want to respond to a few key points that stood out to me.

Some of your points are spot-on. One of our goals this year as new editors has been to make the articles more interesting–to give them, to use your words, more of a “heartbeat.” In that sense, we agree with you, and we are working with both our writers and other staff members to make our articles more compelling to read, since the last thing we want is for readers to “lose interest right away.” Likewise, we think that it would be interesting to solicit student responses to our viewpoint articles, rather than simply waiting for submissions. That is something we will certainly consider in the future.

At the same time, I take issue with your assertion that we should ditch any “pretentions of objectivity” outside of our viewpoint section. The Carletonian is, above all, a news outlet, and although we want our articles to be thought-provoking, we don’t want that to be because they are clearly biased in one direction or the other. We are willing to approach events with a more critical perspective, but that critical perspective is the result of the feedback we get from Carleton students, not our own personal biases.

The job of The Carletonian, like most newspapers, is to provide news, specifically for students, parents, faculty members, and alumni. Similarly, our job as editors is to ensure that our articles permit a reader to form his own opinion, rather than simply emphasizing the opinion of the writer. The exception, of course, is our Viewpoint section, in which our writers are actively encouraged to express their personal opinions.

By “left-leaning editors” dissecting comments about Mitt Romney, I am assuming that you are referring to the editorial I wrote last week. To be fair, I will admit that I was hardly unbiased when I wrote that viewpoint; I was fired up after watching a spirited debate, and jumped at the opportunity to let my personal opinion flow. I would argue that in my piece, I was, to use your words, “focusing on what I was actually excited to write about.” It isn’t that I’m not open to being challenged by those who think differently, but in writing that particular editorial, that was neither my interest nor my intention.

As editors, though, we make a concerted effort to keep our own political leanings out of news articles, and I don’t think it is fair to imply that the views I express in my personal viewpoint sections do–or, for that matter, should–translate into other parts of the paper.
–Kaitlyn Gerber, Editor in Chief 


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