When there is such a thing as bad press
U.Va.'s recently nasty national coverage merits a new approach to journalism
As a member of the press, I will be the first to tell you — the press is not your friend. This is especially true if you attend the University of Virginia, where the story of University President Teresa Sullivan’s botched ouster, handled with all the grace of Janet Jackson’s historic Super Bowl dance, haunts our hallowed Grounds even a year later.
It is the story that will not end, a beloved tale of dysfunction that has become the pampered pet of the papers. It would seem when your school is as good as U.Va., it’s fun when things get kind of bad.
“Crisis,” the New York Times wrote over the weekend, using the University as a case study for issues affecting governance at public universities.
“Tensions persist,” the Washington Post wrote earlier this month after uncovering a fraught email exchange on University goals between Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas.
“Sullivan asks provost to hold her earrings, throws punches while giving Dragas 65 goals to improve her haircut,” I wrote today, attempting to convince Bravo or NBC29 to start a Real Housewives of Charlottesville.
Two out of these three articles are factual. Whichever two you choose, things aren’t looking too bright for our school.
As the 24-hour news cycle paves tomorrow’s path before we even finish today, unearthing new negativity seems to be the name of the game. As an insider, however, I can assure you — we are not really clawing our way out of a black hole of chaos and oblivion, as recent press seems to indicate.
Don’t worry: all is not lost. When we take the scaffolding off the Rotunda, we’ll likely see everything is still good and whole. Yet in the meantime, poor national press simply won’t do.
Below, I have compiled a series of potential articles that present the University in a more positive light. I believe the Times and the Post would be wise to incorporate these articles into their future coverage of Mr. Jefferson’s University. They are uncensored. They are groundbreaking. Again, some of them are even factual.
The kicker? They won’t eliminate our endowment. The free press is so much nicer when it isn’t pressuring our purses. I kindly ask emails only be revealed in the future if they detail the one time Sullivan offers to grab Dragas some Cookout before the Board of Visitors meeting, or tame topics like the following.
1. “Elzinga saves 104 lives in lecture using keen mind, used same life-saving techniques as when he taught your mom”
2. “University student has paper due tomorrow, pathetically ‘thinks this Red Bull will cut it’”
3. “Virginia students report high levels of hydration on Thursdays, Obama mistakenly asserts connection to administration’s H2O push”
4. “Compassionate U.Va. student voluntarily sexiles herself, ‘doesn’t really need’ sleep anyway, just wants roommate to have a good time”
5. “First-year boy really just looking for a serious relationship right now”
6. “U.Va. fraternity house boasts toilet paper, habitable rooms”
7. “Virginia student completes four-year study, discovers true meaning of ‘sorority snappy casual’”
I’ve even started collecting quotes for number eight for you, “N2 resurrected after being named UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “effortless grace, beauty.”
“The way the tent could never decide to be hot or cold — you just don’t see architects factoring in that kind of environmental excitement anymore,” bulky white structure expert John Williams said. “We need to bring it back. Also, Newcomb has just not been able to recreate N2’s curly fries.”
“Every time I walked up the stairs, I was convinced the top level could not sustain itself,” second-year College student Sam Thompson said. “It was the most exhilarating part of my Thursday nights after my girlfriend dumped me.”
Earlier this morning, Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said that N2’s recent recognition has prompted him to consider it a contender in his upcoming Crystal Ball predictions for the Virginia gubernatorial races.
“Apparently the service there was very prompt,” Sabato said. “Not that I would know. My assistants are dealing with it.”
You see? It’s not so hard. Obviously, The New York Times and The Washington Post simply need to approach reporting in an honest manner. And when that fails, they really should just make things up.
Julia’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.