Things To Act
Thursday, March 18, 2004
The Morality of Bashing the Daily Disappointment?
This letter seems worth responding to, not because I think that complaining about the DU is the healthiest of activities (though I suppose one wouldn’t know that from reading this blog), but because the author, and the paper, don’t seem to grasp all of the reasons behind the complaints.

“I want to complain. Not about The Daily Universe, but to the people who complain about The Daily Universe. … Do these people realize that we get a free newspaper? What do you expect from something that is free?”

If it was just an issue of being free, that one be one thing. However, the DU is also representative of the university, which implies several things, not least that the quality should be acceptable. Every department on campus is full of inexperienced students, and a lot of their output is not going to be professional quality. I can accept that, but can’t help noticing that most departments don’t showcase their students’ less-than-competent output for the world to see. I would expect each department to eagerly publicize its students’ high-quality work, but keep everything else within the department. Most of the student essays I grade (and write, for that matter) are unpublishable either due to quality or lack of general interest. This isn’t a bad thing, as most of the writing is done for educational purposes. And some undergraduates do produce work of sufficient quality and interest to be publishable, and publish it. But we don’t make a habit of publishing everything that gets written, no matter how awful, which the DU seems to do (well, actually, I can accept that there are probably even worse articles that don’t get printed, but I don’t like to think about it as what does get printed already boggles the mind).

Another point to consider is that the DU has the potential to fill a void in student life that few, if any, other products could fill. If one believes that a strong campus community would be a good thing, it would be natural to hope that the DU would fill a role in providing students a common source of information on campus happenings, creating opportunities for dialog on key issues between students, professors, administration, and the community, provoking interesting thought and discussion, and helping create a common culture and enjoyable university experience. Since the DU is mediocre at accomplishing most of these, it invites criticism from those who wish it would do more. It also invites criticism from those who are appalled at how bad it can get, which is appropriate if for no other reason than that the DU crowds out the possibility of other products filling the void that it should be filling.

“I read complaints about where articles are. I read complaints about the point of view. I read this, I read that, and I'm sick of it! Stop whining!”

Insert your own ironic comment here.

“I'm proud of the Universe for actually printing your letters. If the paper really wanted to, it wouldn't print your complaints, so you can't say that they don't listen to their readers.”

There’s actually a difference between listening to criticism, or even repeating back criticism, and actually doing something about it.

“If you honestly think that the Universe is such a terrible paper, remember, no one is forcing you to pick it up and read it.”

Of course not. But some students wish they had a paper that was worth looking forward to reading.

For another analogy, consider the Utah Colleges Exit Poll that BYU helps run. To my knowledge, the project involves both academic work and paid positions, is fairly expensive and resource intensive, and is broadcast to the general community as a public product. Thus, it seems quite comparable to the DU, except that it produces one big product once every couple of years, while the DU produces a small product every weekday. In my understanding, if, for student incompetence or whatever reason, on election night the data coming in was unreliable to the point of skewing the exit poll, those in charge would not release the results, but would chalk it up as a learning experience. The impression I get is that a management style equivalent to the DU would cause a release of the flawed results—‘we can always issue a correction later if too many people complain.’ Rather than a professional-quality product, it seems to be treated as just an undergraduate project with no seriousness. The analogy isn’t perfect, but hopefully conveys what I think is the fundamental importance of doing something right if you’re going to do it publicly. Though perhaps it’s just the difference between social science and journalism…

“If you really want real news you can always go to a computer lab and look at your favorite news Web site for just as free as picking up The Daily Universe.”

Except, of course, most news outlets aren’t going to cover the BYU community.

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