Student Editor: When Did Our Op-Eds Become So Boring?

Sara Gatling, editor in chief of The College Voice at Mercer County Community College, has a message for her j-student peers: Spice it up! As she writes, “As I gathered and read hundreds of different college newspapers that were on display at the College Media Advisors Convention (CMA) in New York over spring break, I found an unusually high number of opinion articles on lame topics like over-priced grilled cheese and typical tuition complaints. When did we become so boring?”

In her review, she notes that her ‘let’s get interesting’ call to arms was spurred by student newspaper op-eds and “personal anecdote” reflections centered on eye-drooping topics such as driving in the snow and donating blood.  She credits The Villanovan writers for bucking the ‘blah ops’ trend, in part through offbeat topic selection and fresh, witty writing.  One example: “In Joey Bagnasco’s ‘War of Words Rages on Campus’ about desk graffiti he says ‘I wouldn’t want to be associated with someone who thinks they are a riot because they furtively (and quite poorly) illustrated a male member on a library carrel.'”

Sara Gatling, editor in chief, The College Voice

In one sense, of course her critique is simplistic.  Look at almost any set of newspapers, large or small, student or professional, long enough and you will spot clunkers.  But her observation also strikes at the heart of one of college journalism’s most eternal truths: what I call the SOS SASS (same old stories, semester after semester syndrome). As I have written previously, there are simply some stories among student media that pop up again and again and again, sometimes with a fresh spin, but always with the same core issue or topic intact.

SOS SASS is not necessarily a bad thing. The college media audience (at least the main student one) is ever-changing. Student press staffs are also always turning over. And some issues deserve repeated reporting or editorializing sort of like the incarcerated main character Andy in “Shawshank Redemption” writing his weekly letter for years in order to secure funding for the prison library. But in reality, the same old stories tend to get written simply because j-students aren’t aware or don’t care that they have been written about in the past.

Popular stories of the past should serve as the basis for inspiration, not replication. And editors must strive to push beyond the SOS SASS- if nothing else through a new angle or quirky perspective.  As Gatling wonderfully closes her piece, “Opinion articles may be a student’s only chance to publish a hard stance on a controversial issue. As Michael Koretzky, advisor to Florida Atlantic University’s University Press frequently reminded students at the CMA, ‘You have the rest of your life to be boring!'”

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