Newspapers: Defenders of Conversation and Great Writing
With the end of the school year seemingly behind us, I can’t help but look back on these past ten months, and, more specifically, the triumphs and struggles of this paper. Reflecting on the work done by the many editors and writers of this newspaper, I feel a great deal of pride in the incredible job we did, and a tinge of guilt and regret about the stories we didn’t write or could have written better. While watching the film Spotlight last month though, I began reflecting on a larger scale, not about the specifics of the articles we published, but about the roles of newspapers and writing in general.
Spotlight, this year’s Oscar-winning film about reporters uncovering a sexual abuse cover-up in the Boston Catholic Church system, thrillingly follows the reporters’ investigation and touchingly displays the struggles of the victims. But the movie largely ignores the writing and editing of these articles, presumably because an abuse investigation is far more interesting than hours spent agonizing about word choice and sentence structure. Personally, though, as boring and un-glorious as it may seem, I enjoy this writing and editing process immensely, and I think it embodies the most fundamental job of a newspaper.
Though many people associate the goals of a newspaper with producing investigative pieces like those displayed in Spotlight, pieces which cause actable change in society and governmental policy, this sentiment unfairly ignores the majority of newspaper articles. Most articles don’t aspire to cause change, but simply serve to provide information. Long-form articles, interviews, discussions about art, even editorials and most news pieces, usually serve to convey truth and information to the reader. While effecting policy change is great, newspapers’ true noble cause lies in their use of language not to convince politicians, but to inform the public and guide conversation.
This goal applies to almost every article printed in our newspaper this year. Our News pieces about events or changes on campuses, Features articles about more complex campus issues or art, and Business columns about the Syms School and business world aimed to inform the student body. With our Opinions section, though some argue that directly speaking with those in power would more effectively enact change on certain issues and avoid controversy, this logic obfuscates the role of our paper. Our primary aim is not to change reality, but rather to elevate the student body’s understanding of reality and its complexities.
In this role, a newspaper’s most important asset isn’t its investigative reporters, but its writers and editors. Great writing and the proper use of language transform an article from a collection of words and facts to a piece of art which expands the horizons of its readers. This type of writing enlightens us about the surrounding world and can shape our experiences within it. A well-written profile of a public figure, for example, displays more than simply facts about his or her personality. It creates a sense of the individual’s emotions, habits, and character, and by so doing allows us to expand our empathy and see the world through the lens of someone else’s experience. Similarly, an article about a natural disaster easily relates the occurrence of such an event, its scope, and its location. In the hands of a talented writer though, it can also convey the destruction and terror of this disaster, the emotions of those it damaged, and much more.
At its core, this is the goal of language: to convey from one person to another some thought, understanding, or fundamental sense of being. The more we converse with one another and share these thoughts and words, the more we expand our compassion and our understanding of the people around us. In doing so, we understand ourselves.
This power and ability of language, though, requires its proper articulate use. Poor and lazy writing or speaking cannot convey these great fundamental truths. And with language and speech playing such an important role in how we comprehend ourselves and others, we must fight to preserve its power. That is what our newspaper strove to do this year: to elevate and inform the public conversation. And it’s what we must all do in our day-to-day lives. Reading great writing strengthens our powers of communication while simultaneously teaching us about ourselves and our world. We must seek out this special power of language wherever it can be found: in friends, news sources, literature, and our leaders. Conversely, we must stifle the voices who try to destroy this conversation and lower our understanding. Those who preach uninformed and simplistic speech devalue the irreplaceable human capacity for language and self-expression. We must combat them by elevating our dialogue and discourse, relentlessly pursuing truth, and tirelessly searching to understand the wonderful complexity of our world and its inhabitants.