How do we define controversy today? Is it the subject matter that creates most of the buzz? Or does the writer bear the responsibility to expose it as deftly and reasonably as possible? The Cavalier Daily — and University students, at large — have had to deal with this conundrum for quite some time.
There have been plenty of scandalous issues at the University since I arrived in the summer of 2012 as an undergraduate, fresh on the trail of the Teresa Sullivan scandal. That time saw a frenzy of media coverage regarding the president’s ouster and her eventual reinstatement. But I was surprised, as a new student, to see The Cavalier Daily in the thick of it, even being cited in The Washington Post and The New York Times for its reporting. Running into The Cavalier Daily’s staffers on the Lawn during the protests, at a moment when hardly any students were around, spoke volumes to me. They were in the eye of the storm when it mattered the most.
For someone just starting at the University, I felt grateful to have a group of people that would stick its neck out to cover all the bases during a period of chaos. But does it always take such a controversy to consistently speak objectively and critically? And do we, as readers (and hopefully fellow critics) have an obligation to expect such styles of writing from our campus newspaper?
Scenes like the Sullivan firing, the Rolling Stone article and the Martese Johnson arrest are so difficult to write and read about, no matter what our intentions are. Separating objectivity from opinion is very hard to do, especially when you’re covering issues happening within your community. Step toward one bias or another, and a host of critics will be on your tail. Reveal one viewpoint, and others will be quashed as a result. Doesn’t seem very democratic, does it?
A perfect counterexample to the paper’s Sullivan coverage would be the April Fools’ Day articles of this past year and the paper’s subsequent apology. While a satirical set of pieces may seem harmless to some, the Martese Johnson arrest and the “the offensive nature of… themed [fraternity] parties” were only trivialized by the way they were satirized. With their position on Grounds, The Cavalier Daily’s writers can’t abandon their obligations of objectivity, especially with such problems, for the sake of a little humor. Leave that to other papers that live off of satire, like The Yellow Journal.
While The Cavalier Daily has sections for less serious topics, it should take the ones that need serious coverage seriously. Leave opinions for the Opinion writers. Controversies here at the University, or at others, need to be dealt with carefully and factually, like the Sullivan story. Do otherwise and you’ll lose the trust and respect of your readers.
I hope we never return to a time like that summer. Yet I’m hopeful that the same sort of coverage and devotion I saw from those reporters persists in our paper today. Let’s not let future commotions distract us from engaging our community as democratically and discursively as possible.
Your move, Cav Daily.
Sasan Mousavi is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CDPublicEditor.