Kenyon Collegian covers itself after story goes viral

When Emily Birnbaum started covering the story of a controversial play set to be staged at Kenyon College, she thought the story might gain some additional traction. How right she was.

The play’s script, written by a faculty member, was shared and the backlash was immediate and intense. So intense the playwright canceled the production. Emily covered the story for the Kenyon Collegian, and predicted some backlash from conservatives.

“We are college journalists,” Emily, a senior majoring in sociology, said. “We are hyper aware of the conservative media, [that many of them believe in] the idea that political correctness has run amok on college campuses. We know what grinds the gears of right-wing media.”

The Kenyon Collegian staff

The Kenyon Collegian staff

The play about white college students who discover an undocumented worker was meant to be satirical, but many found the depiction of the worker as insensitive and harmful.

What Emily couldn’t have expected was for this story to be conflated with a story written about a new group on campus intending to discuss whiteness. She said the group was started before the play controversy and is “essentially for white people who want to figure out what it means to be white, and how to be allies to people of color.”

The Weekly Standard picked up the two stories and discussed them in the same piece, and the writer, a Kenyon alum, highlighted an interesting rule which further conflated the two stories.

“[The stories] were picked up along side, reported in conjunction with each other, which was the most upsetting part,” Emily said. “They were not at all related. I resent the fact that they’ve been conflated.”

The story has been included on The College Fix, Breitbart and The Drudge Report. The attention didn’t really bother Emily as much as the factual inaccuracies in the pieces, but the staff didn’t want to stoke the fire too much. She said they tweeted at the pieces authors and asked them to fix the inaccuracies, and most did. She even posted her own Twitter thread to clear up the confusion.

“Twitter has been the main way to get through to people,” Emily said. “It’s amazing how accessible people are if you put their handle in [a tweet]. [We kept] reporting and saying what’s true in a way the reporters of these stories [would] see them. That was important.”

She said Twitter also allowed the staff to connect with their supporters.

“I think that Twitter really did get to people,” she said. “People really cared. All the alumni retweeted. Folks reached out to me and said they appreciated the working we were doing. Given all the backlah, there is a lot of support from people I don’t even know.”

The support wasn’t just from alumni or Twitter. The president of the university wrote an op-ed in the Kenyon Thrill about his experience with the controversy.

Emily said it’s easier to go viral now and if you do, you have to have faith in those writing about you will want to be professional and accurate; even if their mission is different.

“Keep doubling down on what’s true and what’s accurate and emailing the reporters,” she said. “ Keep going to Twitter. Commenting on the articles. You can’t say someone shouldn’t write something. But you can say they shouldn’t write something that isn’t true.”

Leave A Comment