Goldstein: The Dearth of News

by Matthew Goldstein | 1/18/16 7:30pm

If one of our goals as a student population is to receive consistent, complete, ideologically neutral and change-making news, we are failing miserably. There are, right now, two sources of news on campus: The Dartmouth and The Dartmouth Review. Neither is consistent — one in publication, the other in quality. Neither is complete — both are missing vital features a vibrant and informative newspaper should have. Neither is ideologically neutral. Neither changes the world around it. Today is the day we must hasten the end of this trend, and forge a new path forward in campus news.

In the current American campus climate of liberalism and righteous indignation, it is easy to call the Review low-hanging fruit. Its expressly conservative bent and moronic insistence on continuing to use a Native American mascot render it almost ridiculous to the average reader at Dartmouth. Despite some journalistic merit, and some great writing, its pitfall comes in its angry reactionary disposition — nemo me impune lacessit, or, “No one attacks me with impunity,” is its motto, pasted in large print on the homepage of its website.

Meanwhile, The Dartmouth touts itself as America’s oldest college newspaper, and it shows. In 1799, when it was founded, it would have taken days for coverage of a Senate vote or filibuster to reach Hanover and weeks ­— if not months ­— for word on a diplomatic development in the Middle East. Therefore a daily newspaper, especially a rural New Hampshire publication, was relegated to the relatively simple task of covering the few square miles around it. Today, the dual miracles of the Internet and newswires, with their content relayed through the likes of Twitter, make it possible — easy, even — to know what’s happening when it’s happening. And yet The Dartmouth, like most campus newspapers, insists on covering the most mundane of the College’s events over important international breaking news, guided by the false assumption that just because something happens near you, it means you care.

The simple fact is that if we attend Dartmouth to become better global citizens, more informed members of the intellectual elite, and more well-rounded bearers of good and bad news, diplomatic deals with foreign nations and the day-to-day operation of the NASDAQ are far more important for a campus newspaper to cover than a newly constructed fence. Barrier-breaking artistic innovation on Broadway and in Hollywood by cultural pioneers is a much more worthy use of column space than an article about Hanover’s deer population. There is no issue to be taken with a paper that covers both of these realms — the local and the global. There is an issue when only one of those is given column inches. We must reverse the precedent by which news that breaks anywhere past Main Street doesn’t make it anywhere near page one.

Beyond the need for global coverage, both The Review and The Dartmouth need to do much better in striving for ideological neutrality. The Review labels itself as conservative, and is thus in many ways less harmful to campus discourse than The Dartmouth, which never openly proclaims a leftward bent but is commonly seen, in Yik Yak posts and casual conversation, to possess it. Again, there is no issue to be taken with an openly liberal publication. There is an issue when a paper, cultivating an image of objectivity by campus ubiquity, actively misleads its readers. There is a problem when one Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, comes to campus and is the subject of two articles — one announcing his arrival to campus and one recording his visit — but Republicans Rand Paul and John Kasich received no previews while Lindsay Graham received no coverage at all.

Finally, if it were to maintain an insistence on exclusively covering events on campus, any good newspaper should at least delve deep into the topics it covers. The vast majority of the reporting in The Dartmouth and The Review is superficial at best, and downright lazy at worst. This past year, Dartmouth was the subject of a veritable small-scale Prohibition in the form of College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiatives. Protests from every imaginable spot on the campus activism spectrum have swept the campus, and Safety and Security’s increasing harassment of the student body has led to decreasing trust from students. The College has been run through the wringer in national media over Greek life and residential life. Whenever campus politics come up in conversation, these usual suspects are thought and spoken of. So where is the in-depth journalism? Where is the critical eye a newspaper should lend to any situation? Where is the advocacy for the voiceless and powerless in the face of the institutions that hold the voice and the power? Where are the core journalistic values once thought so important they made up part of a constitutional amendment?

Regardless of what any other school’s newspaper may look like, we must do better. Dartmouth must take the lead and become the bastion of the youthful press. The good news is we can. It is, as Daniel Webster once said, a small school, and yet there are those who love it. So to anyone who shares any of these concerns: love it enough to ensure it is all that it can be. And take action to make it so.