Letter from the Editor: Our headlines hurt this fall semester, so let’s talk

A column published on Monday, Dec. 11 reflecting on a difficult semester. See the original article from The Rocky Mountain Collegian.

This semester was hard for students of color, for graduate students, for DACA students, for students who lost a loved one and for students affected by sexual assault. Fall’s headlines were hard on all of us, for different reasons.

Maybe it was one headline one day. Maybe it was an ongoing story. But, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we all saw a headline this semester that broke us.

It’s easy for me—and so many other members of my newsroom and community—to pinpoint the hardest headline of the semester: On Thursday, Oct. 19, our friend and coworker, Savannah McNealy, died.

This semester was hard.

We cried after each tragedy in Puerto Rico, in Las Vegas and in Texas. Our Jewish staff members feared anti-Semitism was surfacing again and watched others march against it. We worried about our friends after DACA students got life-altering news from the White House. Our hearts were broken when Doug Max’s daughter, Rachael, was killed in a fire. We were saddened, but not shocked, when posters inspired by alt-right websites appeared all over campus, declaring that it’s “okay” to be white. Our graduate student staff members were angry upon the release of the House of Representatives’ tax plan that played jeopardy with their future. Our student staff members of color found themselves at a loss when they realized they had to explain why a paper noose was more than just a joke.

It seemed like every time we finished reacting to one racist or biased incident, another happened. And, these are just the incidents we know about. I doubt the university would have responded to the fake noose, the Nazi Snapchat, the mannequin in the dumpster defaced with Nazi symbols or any of the other bias incidents this semester without the initial reporting that forced the conversation into the public sphere.

Once we started the conversation, you talked. You held demonstrations, hosted community dialogue meetings and made recommendations to the university’s administration. So, we documented that, too.

Even though this semester was hard on us, this is the type of semester that reminds me why this newspaper is important. Our job is to start conversations, to give people space to have those conversations and then push the conversation further. I think we’ve done that this semester.

When our news editor quit residence life, along with so many other RAs on campus, we asked why. When the student government impeached their president we demanded an answer. And, when you told us the answer wasn’t good enough, we tried again. We listened to you.

I know we still have a long way to go. We still missed stories, and we still made mistakes. We didn’t accomplish all our goals. But, we’re on our way.

This semester, I learned that this newspaper isn’t just for you. It is you. Forgive the cliché, but allow me to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes about journalism—a good newspaper is a community talking to itself.

That’s why we required each of our 70-person staff to spend four hours volunteering in the community this year. That’s why we started a reader survey, and next semester, a community advisory board. It’s the reason why we implemented an entirely new training system for our reporters and an evaluation system for our editors.

I’m working on setting a precedent for a lot of things this year, but everything I’m pursuing is centralized around the singular goal to make certain that you see yourself in the newspaper. I’ll be the first to admit that journalists need to radically change the way we think about interaction with our readers. As local newsrooms shrink, journalists don’t have the resources to cover as many stories as they used to, and readers noticed. Trust that we will cover your story began to deteriorate.

So, if you feel like you don’t see yourself in this newspaper right now, tell us. The news not only belongs to you, it is you. When you mourn, we mourn. When you celebrate, we do too. When you want to talk about it, we want to publish it for everyone else to hear.

Thank you to the people who pick up this newspaper every day, to the people who play crossword puzzles, to the people who start arguments in our Facebook comments and to the people who read this newspaper for the very first time today.

We look forward to talking to you next semester.

Collegian Editor-in-Chief Erin Douglas can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23.

 

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