Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How to Fix the DA

Last Friday, the Daily Athenaeum ran an editorial by Charlie Wade. Although I'm not going to reprint it here (as you might expect, it's available at their website), it was striking for one singular reason: it was in praise of President Bush. Humorously, the column started in this manner:
Readers beware: this column will be in praise of the president.

Yes, I laughed.

And then something much more serious came into my head...if my memory serves me correctly, this has been the first DA op-ed to openly give props to Bush since super-con Ben Helsley published his final column in December 2004. I'm not saying there weren't columns that took a favorable stance on the war in Iraq and other issues, but unless I somehow missed a day's paper (trust me, I haven't), this is the first editorial since Winter Break that openly embraced Bush.

If you aren't seeing anything wrong with that from a journalistic perspective, you need to stop and seriously question yourself. This is a severe imbalance. This isn't about whether or not the DA is currently a left-leaning publication with a liberal opinion page; that status was never in doubt. The real problem is that, unlike most large newspapers, the counterpoint never appears in the discussion. Even the New York Times, one of the most liberal papers in the country, had conservative columnist William Safire writing opinion for them from the 1970s until his semi-retirement after the 2004 election. If the other side does not get a voice, regardless of slant, then the editorials start to run together as the like-minded fall into step.

In an effort to allow for a discourse, I have come up with two ways to "fix" the DA. If anyone from the paper is reading this, hear me out. I'm not trying to insult you; rather, I'm attempting to give you ideas for improvement that you may not have considered. The list is as follows:

1.) Advertise aggressively for new columnists and staffers.
The paper needs to reform its image. You may wish to tag me as a radical conservative, but when I say that I'm a moderate Republican, believe it. Many of my strongly conservative friends don't even read the DA anymore because they feel attacked and/or angry every time they do so. Instead, they read the Dominion Post, a more moderate paper (albeit with smaller student readership) that is generally free to WVU students who know where to look for it. An unwritten truth held among the students is that the conservative journalism majors feel out of place at the DA and defect to the Post. Obviously, this causes the people who would be playing counterpoint to remain largely unread by the student body. To alleviate this problem, advertise for new columnists and staffers throughout the campus, particularly with the help of the high-traffic bulletin boards in the Mountainlair and campus bookstore. Printing black-and-white flyers would be extremely cheap, and you will be surprised with the results. Advertising in the paper alone (as is normally done each semester) will not do the trick.

2.) Disclose all major political ties of your columnists.
Before you recoil in terror, try to understand my reasoning. Most casual readers of the DA don't realize that columnists Steve Nicholas and L.J. Ulrich are the Vice-President and President, respectively, of the WVU Young Democrats. While I don't believe that you should deny Nicholas and Ulrich jobs for that reason (doing so would probably go against equal opportunity laws), I think that their titles should be affixed next to their pictures in their columns. If you're willing to really take balance a step further, add all of your columnists' party affiliations next to their pictures. I don't see how doing so would be discrimination, and if you were to do so, it would make the Opinion section much more thought-provoking for those who do not know the columnists personally. And no, I'm not recommending you do this for your masthead; assuming that the opinions of your staffers stay on the Opinion page, affixing D's and R's to them elsewhere would be tacky. Consider this: journalists have been openly tagging politicians as Democrats, Republicans, independents, Greens, Libertarians, and so on for decades. Why shouldn't we disclose our own ties?

These two steps may sound a little radical at first, but any change usually does. Once again, I did not present these two steps as some kind of ironic jab at the DA. Heck, I'd love to see Step 2 implemented in every paper in the country, although it would take years to accomplish even if the individual editors were willing to do so. Even if that seems absurd, Step 1 would be a low-cost, high-efficiency maneuver on the part of the DA to get new blood at the other end of the pen. Sometimes, a change just makes sense.


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