PUBLIC EDITOR: Life section should reconsider columns, push for features

Life should reach out for guest submissions, highlight diverse voices

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Throughout this semester, it has become terribly apparent that there are highs and lows to life no matter how old or how emotionally stable you think you are.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

Currently, The Cavalier Daily’s Life section is slightly disjointed. Its major components include food, columns and features and it also used to be home to the pre-Tinder Love Connection series that sent students on blind dates (my column on that, however, will have to be for another day). When glancing through the Life section, its content does not seem to have a coherent theme. To remedy this, the Life section needs to reconsider its purpose and it should ultimately think about whether columns will have a place in the section in years to come. 

Life columns are commonly composed by writers who send them in on a biweekly basis. Julie Bond, one of the Life editors, said writers have up to three skips in case they are feeling a writer’s block. Columns sometimes read as minor “hot takes” or reflections on big — or small — instances that lead to life lessons. 

The Life section is also classified under the objective side of the paper along with News, Arts & Entertainment, Health & Science and Sports. The subjective side hosts the Opinion, Humor and Cartoon sections.

I want to be clear that I think columns such as these are important to the paper — it is important to publish considerations and contemplations of our thoughts, backgrounds and what it means to be a college student. These columns often make me think more contemplatively and critically, but I do not think these columns belong under an objective side of the paper. 

For a comparative outlook, I researched the top 10 college student newspapers according to the Princeton Review and checked out how they structure their papers and incorporate lifestyle content. Out of the top 10 papers, only one — Ithaca College — included regular columns in its Life & Culture section, but they only focused on study abroad.

The other papers clearly focused on features and lifestyle tips in their equivalents of Life sections. My personal favorite was Columbia University’s “Spectrum” section in the Columbia Daily Spectator, which included content on food — similar to our Life section — how to deal with stress and academic life, horoscopes and dorm room decoration tips. 

Bond said she thinks columns definitely have a place in the Life section, but she and her co-editor Natalie Seo are trying to move towards more features in their content. A major barrier has been recruiting writers who are interested in working on features specifically — she told me many new writers lean more towards writing about food or writing columns.

“We’ve been trying to funnel people more to features because that’s where Natalie and I started and that’s what I think Life should be focused on, then columns and then food,” Bond said. “But people are always for some reason least interested in features.”  

When I looked at the top 10 student newspapers’ Life sections, I also took a look at their opinion sections, which often included Life column-esque articles. My favorite column that I came across was from the Cornell Daily Sun, and it mixed together musings on pressures of fitting in at college with the struggles of growing up among whiteness through the lens of what it means to own a Hydro Flask. 

This kind of column makes the reader think more about the interplay between consumerism and race by connecting a seemingly banal item to a larger social issue. A Cavalier Daily example of an excellent column like this is Aly Lee’s column about what the Pixar short “Bao” meant to her — she tackles the difficult issue of minority representation in the media and speaks her truth. 

However, these columns may be able to thrive more if they moved under the subjective side of the paper. Humor Editor Veronica Sirotic entertains this idea in her own column from April, and she brings up the good point that, “there would be more opportunities to express a diverse range of experiences and opinions without the fear that they need to be relevant or be tied up with neat little life lessons.”

Here is my ideal setup for the paper — Life columns would move under the subjective side of the paper (along with Opinion, Humor and cartoons). In the long run, Life columns would become a subset of the Opinion section entitled something like “Viewpoints.” This subsection could involve regular columnists, guest submissions or both. 

The gradual move of Life columns to the subjective side of the paper would allow for more freedom for columnists — they can be more political when they want to be, or they can keep it lighter and simply provide a fresh perspective on whatever topic they see fit. 

This move could also create a better environment for other University community members to publish their thoughts on topics that may not be “hot takes.” Bond said the Life section is about to begin accepting guest submissions, which is certainly a move in the right direction. Some guest writers may have thoughts on a specific topic that they want to share, but they may not want to commit to a regular writing schedule. 

I recognize that these proposals are major structural changes, so in the meantime I want to propose a few changes the Life section and The Cavalier Daily can make now. The Life section can require their food writers to each write a feature, and they can ask feature writers to contribute more. Features truly should be the crux of the section, and the output at the moment is not demonstrating that. 

The Life editors can also ask their food writers to expand their articles to encompass college life more broadly — some of my favorite articles from other papers offered tips on dorm and apartment decorating, getting enough sleep and how to have a successful wine night. A broader swath of articles can move the Life section towards having a more coherent message of being more thoughtful with conducting college life. 

Guest submissions should also be expanded by the Life editors. Bond says the Life section is going to start doing this and will start working with social media to push it, which is definitely a good first step forward. Accepting guest submissions will promote a greater diversity of voices, which will ultimately better serve the University community and The Cavalier Daily’s readership. 

Beyond these smaller suggestions, I think the role of Life columns is an issue The Cavalier Daily should tackle as an organization in years to come. The paper may have more success in publishing diverse perspectives and voices if the columns move under a subjective section and continue seeking guest submissions.

Anna Higgins is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at a.higgins@cavalierdaily.com.

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