His guest column, “Maybe Kurt Cobain should have lived at Templin,”
has received the dubious honor of
eliciting the most feedback of the year.
We haven´t seen this much calling for someone´s head since, well, since Andy was writing columns.
Spacek´s column was a commentary about life in the residence halls.
He perceived such a lack of privacy
that a student couldn´t even kill himself without being bothered by his neighbors. In a somewhat macabre
vein, Spacek reviewed the various forms of suicide and concluded that the residence halls weren´t
conducive to any of the usual methods of offing yourself. His solution was to kill yourself at home.
Most readers thought that it was in poor taste to make light of suicide.
They thought the column lacked
deference to people whose lives had been scarred by the tragedy of losing a friend. Others were appalled at
our decision to run the column, which some readers thought lacked a point.
To be sure, we`re sorry if readers were offended by Spacek´s column.
We understand that some people
think this topic is one not to be made light of. We empathize with those who have lost friends or family
members to suicide.
However, we are not sorry that we chose to run the column.
At the beginning of the semester, we sent letters to more than 30 campus
groups asking them to present
their viewpoint in column form.
We received none.
We sent letters to more than 15 administrators and staff members asking for the same.
We received none.
We have run editorials reminding readers that this is their newspaper
and that we value their input to the
opinion page through columns and through participation on the editorial board.
We have had 10 people out of 26,000 students volunteer for the editorial
board. That is statistically none.
And we have received only a handful of guest columns.
What´s more, we have been forthright in our support of the First
Amendment. In all but one of the editorial
board´s decisions, we have held that students have the right to express their opinion — regardless of content
or merit. And in the one instance in which we held that the right to speak should be restricted, we received
feedback from students and faculty telling us that we were nuts.
So when a student wants to express himself, we plan to let him, without
regard to literary value or
importance of content. There are those who have said this is bad journalism. For an opinion page, however,
we believe this to be fine journalism.
So the question is appropriate: Where will the opinion page draw the line?
Our test is simple. Does the column provide a unique perspective about
a timely or timeless issue that will be
of interest or concern to a majority of students on this campus? Second, is the column grounded in factual or
anecdotal evidence that supports any questionable conclusion? If a column meets both of these criteria, then
we will run it.
For instance, an editor asked us if we would print a column that contained
racial slurs or made an argument
against an ethnic group. In most cases, no. Such a column would not be about a timely issue, and most
students would not be interested in reading a column that could not possibly be supported by factual or
anecdotal evidence. However, if the author of The Bell Curve were to come to campus, we doubtlessly
would print both sides of the debate that the event would be bound to generate. `Both sides of the debate´
is a phrase that must be included in any definition of good journalism.
In January we ran several pieces about abortion. Normally, this is not
a timely issue of interest for a majority
of students, so it would fail the test. But during the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and all of the activity and
debate, we thought it was timely. However, after the week of the anniversary, we thought the shelf life of the
issue was up, so we moved on to other topics.
Spacek´s column was about a timeless issue, life in the residence
halls. Because many students live there at
one time during their college career, it is of interest to a majority of students. And, like it or not, his
perspective certainly was unique.
We don´t mean to offend students and we don´t run columns or editorials only because of their shock value.
And if we ever run a page filled with columns and editorials with which
every student agrees, then we aren´t
doing our job.