A Daily Necessity
by: Imran Syed
It’s easy to hate The Michigan Daily, and it’s not necessarily bad. Heck, that’s what first brought me into the Daily five years ago. Tired of reading news stories, editorials and arts coverage that I thought was offensively lacking, I marched into the paper’s offices during my freshman year ready to do it better on my own.
However, there is a lot more to a daily campus newspaper than the mistakes or oversights that enrage readers. The immense value a daily newspaper, our Michigan Daily, brings to this campus — both in terms of informing the campus community and in training students in real-world journalism and writing — is something we simply could not do without.
Even the Daily’s critics would have to admit that what the paper purports to do is not easy. Covering a campus so large on a daily basis with just a handful of amateur reporters and commentators would be hard enough, but add massive staff turnover year after year, and it’s nothing short of spectacular that a serviceable paper comes out five days a week. I say serviceable because I well know that the paper is never as great as it could be, but I’d like for you to consider all that it actually is.
The University has no program in journalism, which generally leaves the Daily as the only option for aspiring journalists. Technology has changed our methods, but the challenge remains the same: the Daily is an apprenticeship where committed students teach each other a trade that normally requires much more formal schooling and direction. We take pride in doing everything on our own, but it should be no surprise that there are many missteps.
I say all this to debunk the myth of the Daily as a large, cold, systematic institution. When the Daily does something wrong, students assume that it was a calculated decision made to serve an evil agenda. What they fail to consider is that perhaps an event wasn’t covered because the Daily only has so many members who cannot be magically aware of everything. I was always amazed by how many students would write disparaging letters in the aftermath of an event the Daily failed to cover, and yet none of them would take it upon themselves to tip off the paper about the event in advance.
Student activism has long been a hallmark of this campus and the Daily is an outlet for that spirit. I’m not talking just about the paper’s hallowed heritage as an instigator, but also of the forum that it provides to students that want things to change today. It is the one way to reach every corner of the University, and numerous groups with all sorts of messages have taken advantage of that. Yet what was once the Daily’s strength — being the voice of students — has recently become a point of criticism as students feel ignored by a large publication that may cover 99 percent of important campus events, but which sometimes fails to cover some one thing in a particular way.
One reason for this is that there is duality of purpose for a daily campus newspaper that readers never understand:
The paper must walk a fine line between reporting what students want to see, and covering what students need to see.
That is a challenge that the entire field of journalism has faced in recent years, with real news being pushed aside as papers cater to the public’s desire for financial reasons. The Daily has no real competitors, so it has far less reason to alter its coverage, but that has consequences too.
As technology makes it easier to print a newspaper, more and more alternative publications have periodically cropped up around campus. Students feeling ill-served by the Daily turn to these publications to tell their story. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we can’t forget that these publications serve an important, but inherently different purpose than the Daily.
The Daily was founded nearly 120 years ago to serve as an advocate for students. That is literally the only characteristic that has remained constant through time, as the decades have brought new ideas, technologies and roles to this student newspaper. It’s true that sometimes the paper fails, but that is largely because it is run by amateurs who are just learning the ropes.
But there can be no denying that the Daily’s process works. Students who fought to have the 2008 spring commencement moved back onto campus won in part because the Daily gave them a voice. The new Michigan Stadium will have proper accommodations for people in wheelchairs in part because the Daily gave constant coverage and criticism when it mattered.
The students who covered those events have mostly moved on, leaving a younger class of amateur writers, reporters and critics ready to embrace the student cause. It’s the job of a daily campus newspaper and the Daily does it.
An Independent View
by: Lindsay Miars
Even as some of the nation’s oldest newspapers fold, campus newspapers at the University of Michigan continue, for the most part, to thrive.
Publications work well on college campuses because they are so accessible. They are provided (completely free) across campus, at the high-traffic entrances of many academic buildings and dormitories. And whether we’re reading the articles or doing the crossword puzzle, these publications provide a necessary distraction in lecture.
Above all, a campus newspaper creates and unites the University community. The readership of the The Michigan Daily is so high because students have a strong desire to feel connected to their University and their peers. Niche campus publications — like The Michigan Independent, a monthly progressive news magazine — create this sense of community in different and, often, richer ways.
At the University of Michigan, we’re lucky. The Michigan Daily is a great campus with a wealth of financial resources that allow it to cover the immediate news of the day in a timely and consistent manner. It provides a centralized voice, with claims to objectivity and credibility, and a reputation “one hundred and twenty years” in the making.
If the The Michigan Daily were our only campus newspaper, we would be in big trouble.
For one, with great power comes great bureaucracy. Because its staff and scope are so large, The Michigan Daily is forced to operate with a top-down, tightly controlled structure. The Daily doesn’t have to listen or respond to its readers in any consequential way. It can, and will, reject your corrections and ignore your Letters to the Editor.
Understandably — but no less harmfully — the Daily prints only the articles it thinks the greatest number of students will read (not necessary the most well thought-out or socially significant). This results in a lowest common denominator effect, meaning, for instance, you will always see Michigan football and MSA on the front page whether you want to or not. Does this mean I expect the Daily to stop printing stories about Tate Forcier and start printing, say, controversial stories about unethical University spending? Of course not, nor would I want them to. But the Daily’s limitations create a gaping hole.
This is why niche publications on campus are essential. Monthly and weekly newspapers and magazines like the The Michigan Independent, The Michigan Review, Consider and even The Every Three Weekly fill a vital role on campus. They create and strengthen a close community for certain demographics of students — progressive students in the case of the The Michigan Independent — and act as the voice of that community. We pick up on stories the Daily ignores, and explore issues that pique curiosity and passion to provoke conversation and, at times, action. For instance, coverage of events like the Spectrum Center’s Spring Pride Rally in March and the Progressive Alliance’s Social Justice Conference in April were missing from the pages of the Daily, but appeared prominently in our publication.
Departing from the practice of strict “objectivity” (an often unrealistic ideal) allows the The Michigan Independent to embrace its own distinctive perspective. Additionally, because we are a grassroots organization with a smaller staff, our publication has much more flexibility; we can serve as a forum for student art or more experimental editorial content. We don’t have a 120-year reputation to uphold, which allows us to grow and evolve for the better.
Furthermore, The Michigan Daily’s power to engage in truly insightful investigative reporting – despite all its resources – is limited due to time constraints, word limits and arguable vested interests. The Michigan Independent publishes monthly, which gives us more time to research stories, follow leads and even comment seriously on facts that others have already reported. For instance, when the executive board of the College Republicans moved to impeach its chair, the Daily reported the “who,” “what,” “where” — and the Independent provided the “how” and the “why.”
The Michigan Independent – along with other alternative campus publications – strives to act as a complement, not a competitor, to the Daily. The dynamic is one that works well and, for the most part, benefits the student body – we can only hope that students, perhaps unlike the rest of the country, keep picking up newspapers.
edited by: Chris Koslowski