BROOM: Finding your place
Opinion columns should offer more commentary on relevant University topics
I had thought to write this column only about the efforts and accomplishments of the outgoing managing board, whose work I have followed so closely over the last six months. Then I read former Cavalier Daily Editor-in-Chief (from 2006 to 2007) Mike Slaven’s letter to the editor (an actual letter, it seems, giving lie to my earlier column in which I noted that no one really sends such letters anymore) and realized a quick recap to follow up on his thoughts is all that is necessary. Mr. Slaven did a great job summarizing what the outgoing board has managed to do: reimagine how the Cavalier Daily can and should look in a digital age, develop a mobile platform (a website and apps) and still produce a high-quality product day in and day out. Let’s also remember that they have done all of this as volunteers making no money and while still responsible for their own classes and other pursuits at school. As Slaven noted, one of the managing board members, Charlie Tyson, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in what appears to be his spare time. I have, of course, been critical of some of the steps the board has taken, but their body of work is impressive and The Cavalier Daily is, in my estimation, much better for having had this group at the helm this past year.
There are, however, still things that need work. This week I was struck by several opinion pieces that seemed poorly thought out or simply out of place in The Cavalier Daily. I have written briefly about what we should expect from student journalists. While The Cavalier Daily is a serious newspaper, it is also a training ground. Opinion writers especially seem to be refining their own voices and the writers cast a wide net for their topics. They should also try to make their columns more relevant to their audience, which is, almost entirely, the University community.
Jared Fogel wrote about the Mars One project, an effort to send people to Mars to establish a colony. The entire column was predicated on the idea that it is unreasonable to send people to Mars without a plan to bring them home. It is an interesting project, but it is also a solid decade away from happening, assuming it ever comes together at all. Further, it does not have any real connection to the University community.
Dani Bernstein wrote a piece about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s displeasure with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on wealthy City residents to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program. The only possible connection to the University community is that Cuomo may have presidential aspirations. Otherwise, it is an interesting piece about something that affects virtually no one in this community.
In the case of the previous two columns, the topics are intriguing, if distant. Finding a theme to connect them to the University community or the lives of the people in it would make them more relevant and, therefore, much more likely to have an effect on those reading them.
Other columns I just did not understand at all. Nazar Aljassar, who has written pieces I have praised and who generally does an excellent job keeping even big issues rooted in a local context, missed the mark in his most recent piece, “Feminism is for some people.” He essentially set about “mansplaining” feminism. I’ve written before expressing a wish that opinion writers be aware of and acknowledge the place from which they write and the privilege they enjoy when addressing various issues. For a man at the University of Virginia to explain what’s wrong with feminism is tone deaf at best.
Opinion writers clearly have a wide berth when choosing their topics, as they should. I urge them to try and connect their ideas to the University community somehow, and further, to really examine why they are writing their columns in the first place. Aljassar’s thoughts on feminism did not seem to me to offer anything helpful. He decried elitism and an excessively academic focus on the part of feminists, but he does so from an elitist, academic perch. More self-examination and more consideration about the point of particular columns would help the opinion pages of the Cavalier Daily be more relevant to its readers.
Christopher Broom is The Cavalier Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CDPublicEditor.