New York Times Article on College Radio Makes Me Mad

A recent New York Times article on how college radio has “maintain[ed] its mojo” in a new media universe makes me mad.  I have no problem with the focus of the piece.  College student radio stations definitely deserve a shout-out.  I just think the NYT piece suffers from numerous cliches of vision and arguments that are badly supported and end up contradicting each other.

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First, the cliches.  Here’s the opening scene-setter:

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A pizza box and half a dozen laptops lay open in the poster-lined basement lounge of WRPI, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.  As a soda machine hummed, students prepared to record a local metal band and debated whether reggae is fundamentally a 1970s style or “transcends the boundaries of time.”  It was the kind of scene that has played out countless times at campus radio stations. . .

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You’re kidding!  A student media area filled with pizza, soda, posters, other clutter, and discussion of off-beat topics?! Maybe I’ve spent too much time in student newsrooms and TV/radio studios in my short time here on Earth, but that description strikes me as more cliche than rain filled with cats and dogs and darkness before the dawn.  Even the start of the nut graph that follows admits it.  Give me something fresh!

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The article then goes on to actually call college radio “an anachronism, an analog remnant in a digital world.”  Like, say, newspapers, primetime TV, John McCain, home phones, non-online dating, and non-laser-surgery eyes?  I literally cannot think of a more overused sentiment in recent years to describe the old-new media divide.  Drop the Shakespeare.  We get it.  It’s old-school.

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The piece also points out that college radio’s new media transitioning can be seen by the fact that some student DJs are also bloggers . . . MUCH LIKE THE REST OF THE POPULATION.  There is no evidence offered whatsoever that the student radioheads keep blogs because they are involved with college radio.  Instead, it’s probably because they’re young, online a lot, can spell WordPress, and want to write about what interests them.

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Next, the counterproductive and scantily-backed-up arguments.  The piece attempts to draw conclusions about a decline in college radio listenership while admitting “[h]ard numbers about ratings for campus radio are scarce.”  Instead, it shows off the only numbers the reporter could find: those touting the downward trend of radio listening overall among the younger generation.  The number is irrelevant.  Just because students are listening to radio in the outside world less does not automatically mean they are listening to college radio less.  As I mentioned in a recent discussion with Center for Innovation in College Media director Bryan Murley, students have said for years that their readership of professional newspapers is down, down, down, but if you asked them most would confirm that they are still picking up their campus newspaper regularly and at times passionately.

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You can’t make an A (what students do with outside media) = B (what students do with campus media) argument here, especially without any reliable, relevant stats.  (And let’s be honest, even the most impassioned student DJ won’t try to convince you that college radio has ever boasted a massive audience, regardless of the decade, i.e. you can’t have a dramatic drop in listeners if you don’t have that many to start with.)

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Finally, the piece first says that college radio stations “no longer enjoy the influence they had” in promoting and discovering new music, which according to the article apparently reached a peak in the 1980s and 1990s.  But it then mentions that, for two of the hottest new indie acts, “college radio played a far greater role in their good fortune than Web sites” and that “[c]ollege radio is more of a real barometer of what people like and what people are listening to than blogs.”  So which is it, still influential or not so much?

Comments
3 Responses to “New York Times Article on College Radio Makes Me Mad”
  1. I shared many of the same thoughts on this article, although I’m going to confess: I like the article for the fact that a local college station was featured (WRPI).

    What can you do, though? Some reporters feel comfortable playing in the comfort zone, and to a certain extent, readers expect certain stereotypes.

    It’s the Times, they’re the king when it comes to stereotyping and using cliches. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just writing for the reader’s expectations as opposed to a wide audience.

  2. They actually showed how they did it, and used footage from the webcams, showing kids who were clearly unaware.

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  1. […] A quick check of the archives reveals: The last time I was this mad with a professional piece on the student press was December 2008. […]