A learning process
Errors can be expected as the members of a student newspaper continue to develop
FINALS. Papers. Projects. It is the season of evaluation. In that spirit, consider a few things that appeared in The Cavalier Daily last week.
Teresa A. Sullivan was inaugurated as the University's eighth president, and the event was covered well and prominently. As the preparations for the ceremony were being completed, Del. Robert Marshall, R-Manassas - he is the one who wants Virginia to mint its own coins – and the American Tradition Institute's Environmental Law Center requested years worth of emails written by and to former Environmental Sciences Prof. Michael Mann when he was at the University.
The Cavalier Daily covered the request, the opposition and followed up with what seemed to me to be a well-reasoned editorial. There were interesting and well-reported stories about a study of hook-up culture, the future of Pell Grants and George Huguely's progress through the court system.
Some stories did not go as well. The short piece about a student who accidentally fired a gun on Chancellor St. said the suspect was charged with a felony, but it did not say which one. The story also referred to Albemarle County's firearms laws, though the officer answering questions works for the City of Charlottesville. In Virginia, cities are not part of the counties that surround them, so that confused me.
It seems that section 18.2-279 was violated when the gun went off in an occupied building and when the bullet struck another occupied building, a nearby sorority house. Assuming this was not done maliciously, the punishment could be up to five years in prison or as much as a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
A story about Gov. Bob McDonnell's veto of the General Assembly's redistricting plans seemed fine, but a headline over the jumps said, "State courts will determine final ruling." That ruling would be handed down only if a few other actions come and go.
A story about the next group of students who will live on the Lawn explained that 70 percent are in the College and that applications were down to 233. There were all sorts of percentages and other numbers in the story, but readers were 11 paragraphs into it before they learned how many rooms those 233 people were competing to occupy. There are 54 rooms, if I understand correctly, but seven of those are filled by means other than weeding through all those applications.
Those are not the kinds of errors and omissions you would like to see in a finished story, but this is a student paper. There is supposed to be some learning going on.
It was a week of significant stories - budget cuts, sustainability, re-election campaigns, student government initiatives and at least one sizeable protest. But the story that got a lot of people fired up had nothing to do with any of that. It was about going to the gym.
Abbi Sigler's column ("The guy's guide to a girl's workout," April 19) was called "obnoxious," "sexist garbage," "sarcastic commentary" and "a rather fine execution of tongue-in-cheek writing." It also was called "stupid and immature" by someone who signed his comments – I am assuming it was a male – "WTF." I think that might rightly be called irony.
It was clear from the beginning that Sigler was going to dip her pen deep into the well of sarcasm – or just go off the deep end. "There's hardly anything more disappointing than spotting a hot guy at the gym," she declared, "only to realize he's doing some girly work out."
Sigler went on to explain which gym equipment is appropriate for which gender. It seems that everything is appropriate for women, but men are - or should be, in Sigler's view – banned from certain machines. That men, except for her father, are forbidden from the elliptical may say something about her father – or not. Since I am a man with bad knees who is possibly older than Sigler's father, perhaps she would cut me some slack – or not.
Someone, an English major perhaps, explained, "The basic subtext is that only female-gendered activities have the capacity to be degrading or embarrassing. I can accept that this is simultaneously a joke and kind of a gross thing to write."
I guess that kind of sums it up. It was not a great piece or writing. It was not all that funny. And it may have been in bad taste. But this is a student newspaper, and some errors are involved on the way to learning.
More than that, part of The Cavalier Daily's purpose is to be a document of what goes on at the University and what folks did there in the spring of 2011. One of those things was Sigler's writing that column. Another was a moderately intense exchange about its merits that seemed to include genuine indignation and basic literary criticism. I am more surprised by the second event than the first.
Tim Thornton is the ombudsman for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.