Editorial: Oberlin Journalism Lacks Academic Support

The Editorial Board

The assertion in this week’s Diatribe that the Diatribe itself represents a “tasteless ornament to [this] publication’s already insubstantial content” leaves us feeling somewhat conflicted. While we as editors spend a substantial amount of time, energy and thought on the Review every week, we recognize that the paper’s overall quality waxes and wanes with each new issue. We can recall more mistakes and oversights this paper has made over the last few years than almost anybody on campus — and not only the larger ones that have inspired hurricanes of criticism (hint hint), but the little layout errors, typos and forgotten corrections that grate on nobody’s nerves so much as ours. On a less superficial level, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Manish Mehta’s weeks-long exchange with theReview last spring shone a spotlight on one of the many types of activity occurring on campus (namely, math and science events) that receive less than their share of coverage in these pages.

The challenges facing student journalists at the Review and other campus publications are many and varied. Some of them afflict many other campus organizations as well: a lack of graduate students to provide longstanding experience and institutional memory, a reliance on Student Finance Committee funding, and a small student body from which to draw interested participants. Other problems, however, are more specific to Oberlin student journalism; chief among them is the absence of a major or concentration in journalism or communications, leaving us dependent on the unpredictable and irregular appearance of interested students to produce what among other things is a very team-based and routine-based endeavor. When neuroscience or art history majors are too busy with school-related work to complete assignments for what is inevitably a secondary interest, it is hard to blame them too much even if the quality of the Review’s output suffers as a result.

In all fairness, crafting a journalism curriculum geared toward the future rather than the past would be a challenging task; we could go into great detail about the ongoing demise of print journalism at the hands of Craigslist, Google News and other such methods of negating a newspaper’s standard sources of revenue. However, if the Internet is closing the door on the traditional daily paper, it is also opening a window to an unexplored and potentially rich journalistic landscape. Citizen journalism enabled by cell phone cameras and YouTube, such as that which brought to light the apparently unprovoked pepper-spraying of Occupy Wall Street protesters at the hands of NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, makes the videotaping of the Rodney King beating in 1991 look like the Wright brothers’ flight next to modern commercial aviation. And features such as unlimited space constraints, instant editing of published items and embedded links (which allow writers to provide what amount to instant endnotes) make the Internet a fruitful environment not just for the transmission of raw information, but for the exchange of ideas and commentary as well.

At a time like this, when journalism is evolving nearly as quickly as the digital technology that sparked its rapid evolution to begin with, for an institution like Oberlin not to offer a journalism program is a mistake. The field is in the midst of a far-reaching changing of the guard, yet at this nearly 200-year-old college with a nearly 150-year-old newspaper and a storied history of political engagement, students are not offered the kind of in-depth curriculum that would enable us to better understand and join the vanguard of the emerging new media. Far from struggling to fill our pages with substantial content every week, the Review should be abuzz with activity; Obies should be all but shouting each other down with new ideas to lead journalism at the Review, across campus and around the world farther into the future.

In lieu of such forward-thinking action from the Oberlin administration, however, our message to Obies who wish to see better-quality campus journalism is a simple one: Write! Submit! Get involved! If you care about journalism but are reluctant to stick your neck out because you despise the present state of journalism at Oberlin, the absence of so much as a concentration in the subject means that the only student you should blame is yourself.