By: Avi Hirsch and Yair Lichtman  | 

An Analysis of Intercampus Authorship in YU Student Newspapers

For many years, the Beren and Wilf campuses of Yeshiva University have each published a student newspaper dedicated to informing the public discourse and providing a platform for students’ voices. The Commentator and The Observer have each naturally drawn writers from the population to which each caters. It is unusual, then, when a student chooses to break form and write for the publication of the other undergraduate campus. It is our goal to determine the scope of this phenomenon and its causes, in the hopes that we might learn more about the YU student body and the campus papers which, together with SHIELD News, serve as the primary student-run media available to YU students about YU.

To do so, we analyzed data gleaned from the websites, print issues, and editors of The Commentator and The Observer from the last five semesters, an amount of time that we felt would provide a snapshot of the current student body and the state of the newspapers in their recent histories. We also conducted a survey of the 46 students who have written an article for the newspaper of the other campus during this time. Of these students, 31 were Beren students who wrote for The Commentator, and 15 were Wilf students who wrote for The Observer. Of these, 15 Beren students and 9 Wilf students responded to our survey.

Before we review our results, it is important to reiterate that the number of people we surveyed was very small only 24 people out of a total pool of 46. Had we received responses from more people, our results may have been different. Furthermore, due to the inherently limited sample size, it is unclear to what extent the opinions presented in this article are representative of the broader student body. Nevertheless, we feel that the data we collected is instructive.

Let us begin with a presentation of the hard data surrounding intercampus authorship. Since the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester, the percentage of women who have written for The Commentator has been more than double that of men who have written for The Observer. Out of the 589 articles that have been published by The Observer, 19 were written by men, or approximately 3.2%. Over the same period, 63 articles in The Commentator were written by women (excluding any articles in the issue that you currently hold in your hands) out of a total of 826 articles, or around 7.6%.

We found a similar split among the writers for each newspaper: 31 female writers have written for The Commentator since Spring 2015, while only 15 men have written for The Observer during this period. Of these, 10 women wrote more than one article for The Commentator; only 3 men wrote more than once for The Observer.

The total amount of intercampus authorship has grown in recent years. In Spring 2015, only 2 articles in The Commentator were written by women. This number has steadily increased, to 8 per semester in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016, to 22 in Fall 2016, to 23 in Spring 2017 (again, not including articles in this issue).

For The Observer, too, there has been an increase in intercampus authorship in recent semesters, though it has been less consistent and less dramatic. From only one article in Spring 2015, the number jumped to 5 in Fall 2015, but subsequently dropped to none in Spring 2016. This number rose again to 7 in Fall 2016, and 6 have been written to date in Spring 2017.

These writers have written quite broadly across each paper’s sections. For The Observer, 2 men wrote for News, 1 for Features, 4 for Opinions, 5 for Arts & Culture, and 4 for Science & Tech. For The Commentator, 8 women wrote for News, 12 for Features, 14 for Opinions, and none for Business (some writers have written for multiple sections).

Many students who have written for the other campus’s paper have also written for the paper of their own campus. Around 44% of Wilf students who responded to our survey reported that they had also written for The Commentator, whereas among Beren respondents, this number was significantly higher 67% of them had written for The Observer as well.

For The Commentator, this increase in articles written by women correlates with an increase in female participation in its writing and editorial staff. In Spring 2015, there were no female staff writers or editors for The Commentator. Since Fall 2015, Shira Feen has served as a Layout Editor for The Commentator. Kochava London joined The Commentator’s writing staff before the 4th issue of the 2015-2016 year. Shoshy Ciment joined before the 2nd issue of the 2016-2017 year as a staff writer, followed by Lilly Gelman by the 3rd issue. On March 22, 2017, Ciment was promoted to Junior News Editor for The Commentator. An editor of The Commentator pointed out to us that female editors have worked for the paper in years before 2015, but this is beyond the scope of our article.

In addition to analyzing data from past issues of The Commentator and The Observer, we surveyed students from the Beren and Wilf campuses who chose to publish articles in the newspaper of the other campus. We first asked respondents to briefly state the reasons they decided to write for the newspaper of the other campus, and then asked them to weigh, on a scale of 1 to 5, a series of possible motivating factors for their decision. We then asked them to elaborate on anything else they thought might be relevant to the survey, and concluded by asking if they have also written for their campus’s newspaper.

The first part of the survey asked students to briefly state the reasons they wrote for the other campus’s paper. We analyzed their responses to see if any notable patterns or differences between the campuses emerged, and found that most respondents from both campuses were motivated primarily by factors irrespective of the quality of the publications themselves. These reasons included wanting to respond to an article in that paper, writing for a section that only existed in that paper, or being asked specifically to write for that paper. These students did not mention valuing one paper over the other as a primary motivation.

However, a significant minority of Beren student respondents 40% were motivated to write for The Commentator because they found the quality of the publication to be superior. Some examples included finding The Commentator’s editorial process to be more constructive than The Observer’s, appreciating having more “freedom” in writing for The Commentator, or perceiving that articles in The Commentator are taken more seriously. These 6 women all valued writing for The Commentator above writing for The Observer, and this motivated them to write for Wilf’s student paper.

On the other hand, only 1 of the 9 Wilf student respondents, or 11%, mentioned valuing The Observer above The Commentator as a motivation. The vast majority of respondents instead cited some other factor, such as the existence of a Science & Tech section in The Observer or being asked to write specifically for that paper, as their main motivation.

The next part of the survey asked respondents to rate several possible motivating factors on a scale of 1 to 5; a 1 indicated that “it was not a factor at all,” and a 5 meant that “it was a primary motivation.” The factors ranged from, “I was asked to write for [this newspaper],” to, “I thought more people would read my article if it was in [this newspaper].”

In analyzing their responses, we decided to divide them into two groups: those who felt a factor was “significant,” which included all responses from 3 to 5, and those who felt a factor was “insignificant,” or less than a 3. This simplified the process of determining which factors played the largest role overall in motivating students from each campus to write for the other campus’s paper.

These were our results for each possible motivating factor:

By far the most significant difference in motivation between the two campuses lies in the perception of how many people would read the article in each newspaper. While 60% of Beren respondents cited this factor as a significant motivation to write for The Commentator, only one Wilf respondent cited it as a significant factor to write for The Observer (this single respondent gave it a 3 on the scale, indicating that it was merely a “minor” motivation). It is worthwhile to note that whether or not this perception has any basis in reality is irrelevant for this analysis. For our purposes, it suffices to note that the results of this survey indicate that perceptions of The Commentator’s larger audience is a significant reason why Beren students have written for The Commentator.

In addition, it is worth noting that while a third of Wilf student respondents were significantly motivated to write for The Observer because of the lack of a suitable section for their article in The Commentator, the same factor only significantly motivated around 13% of Beren student respondents to write for The Commentator. Indeed, the only section that exists in The Commentator which is not also found in The Observer is the Business section, and none of the 31 Beren students who have written for The Commentator since Spring 2015 wrote for that section.

Finally, while 20% of the Beren respondents cited The Observer’s editors declining to publish their article as a significant motivation to write for The Commentator, none of the 9 Wilf respondents ranked this factor as a significant motivation in their decision to write for The Observer. Once again, our analysis only considered students’ perceptions and their stated motivations whether or not The Observer has in fact declined to publish any articles is beyond the scope of this article.

The Commentator and The Observer provide crucial services to the YU community, keeping us up to date on institutional happenings and serving as forums through which students can develop their voices and express their opinions. The existence of two distinct publications provides student writers with the opportunity to decide which paper to write for, and these decisions shed light on the newspapers themselves.