1. I used to work at The Daily Athenaeum. In fact, one of the proudest moments of my life was being named that paper’s Employee of the Year as an 18-year-old high school senior. You may crack jokes about that paper taking on a part-time college student, full time high school student as you wish.
2. I genuinely care about student journalism. This is true despite the fact that I’m 31 and despite the fact that I walked away from journalism after leaving college. If aspiring journalists can’t learn to be suspicious, questioning, disbelieving writers in college, where exactly are they going to learn how to do the work?
3. The Daily Athenaeum is awful. It’s subservience to power and authority - one might say slavish devotion to both - undermine a newspaper’s very reason for existing, and nowhere has this been on better display than during its recent “coverage” of West Virginia University’s Student Government Association elections.
There isn’t a student government association anywhere on earth that’s worth taking seriously. They’re collections of petty tyrants, fascists in training, and kids who think that somebody in the real world is genuinely going to care about the time they spent encouraging students to party less. WVU’s SGA takes this absurdity to comical heights, with members of the group constantly being accused of voter fraud, DUI, and other shenanigans which make most students roll their eyes at the absurdity of it all.
But you’d never know that from reading the university’s student paper, a publication dedicated to the concept that the SGA is vital, vibrant, and worth focusing on. Here’s the story from the day after the SGA’s elections ended (apparently without any of the voter fraud that usually plagues the student group). In it, the writer tells us who won and then bravely captures the reaction from the winners. Only in the story’s third paragraph does she get to the real story: WVU’s student body doesn’t care about its student government.
A total of 2,681 students voted in the election – about nine percent of the student body and the lowest turnout in more than a decade.
Got that? WVU students overwhelmingly told their own SGA that they don’t give a damn about the organization. The Daily Athenaeum missed that to focus instead upon the election’s winners, something their target audience isn’t interested in. Making matters worse, the story’s print edition (they’ve changed it in the online version) was headlines, “United Party Unites Campus.” This is a laughably stupid conclusion to draw from an election that produced the lowest student turnout in more than a decade. If anything, a headline that read something like, “United Party Unites The Five Percent Of Student Body That Actually Cares About This Crap…” it could have at least claimed that it was being honest. But no such luck.
Then today, the paper chose to publish an unsigned editorial - which means that the editorial is meant to represent the opinion of the entire organization - in which it chastised the student body for not voting. It laid no blame for the poor turnout at the feet of the SGA, because god forbid those titans of governance take any criticism for their own inability to appeal to the students that they claim to lead. No no no, it must be the fault of students who don’t vote.
This year’s SGA election had the lowest voter turnout in the past decade. This says a lot about the connection most students make with SGA – or the lack thereof...There is much less of an incentive for SGA to go above and beyond their duties without student involvement. If members of SGA feel the majority of the student body doesn’t care, then they probably won’t either.
It takes balls as big as boulders to blame the student body for refusing to turn out for these elections, and somehow even bigger ones to blame those non-participating students for the inevitable failures of the ones who volunteered to run for offices in the first place. To put that another way, the student body has told the Daily Athenaeum that they don’t care in the slightest about their student government. 90 percent of them didn’t vote in the election. The newspaper’s response has been to attack those 90 percent in favor of the 10 percent or less of the student body who did think these elections were worth wasting their time on. Can you imagine another organization who willingly chose 10 percent of its customers over 90 percent of its customers? Neither can I.
If this paper was worth anything, it would have run a huge headline in 96 point font, “Students Don’t Care” followed by, in much, much smaller print, “United Party Barely Wins Election Nobody Voted In.” It would repeatedly chastise the SGA for any of its silly internal fighting, it would repeatedly write stories exposing the SGA’s stupidity to the student body, and whenever some idiotic member of the SGA had the audacity to claim a mandate for some particular position, the paper would question that mandate by using the voter totals. Furthermore, the paper would unflinchingly use its editorial page to attack the SGA for its repeated inability to make itself important to the student body at large.
But instead, students are stuck with “journalists” who worship at the altar of people with power, and when those people aren’t available, they worship at the altar of student governors. They don’t ask questions. They don’t write questions. They play journalism dress-up.
I don’t know what accounts for this. Maybe it is the Journalism Department at the University. Maybe it is the general decline of print media. Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is something else. But a newspaper ought to be a place to learn journalism; the DA is as of right now a place to learn stenography. God only knows why anybody worth their salt would want to work an institution like that.