By: Avi Strauss | Editorials  | 

What Would Be Counterintuitive?

I’ve always found it somewhat ironic that some of the most highly read articles produced by newspapers are opinion pieces. If the core function of a publication is to produce news, it seems strange that such a popular section of the paper would be those articles that, by design, are slanted and biased commentary.

More ironic still is that the chief of the paper, who is presumably deserving of the position for his or her investigative skill, editorial acumen, and overall ability to function as a manager, is charged with leading a paper’s opinion commentary in the editorial column when his or her appointment is predicated on skills unconnected to sharing opinions publicly.

No doubt it’s even more ironic for that very same editor to undercut his own editorial with a meta-commentary on the enterprise of editorializing in the first place.

This isn’t to say I don’t think I have what to offer when it comes to opining. As a student who’s been invested in the journalistic venture for four years, my commentary may be seen as uniquely valuable amongst a sea of opinions on campus. And...well...I happen to also think I have pretty good opinions.

So here’s one: YU is a pretty great place. To be sure, like any university, it’s bogged down by bureaucracy and inefficiency, high food prices, and its general unwillingness to hand you everything on a silver platter. But it’s also filled with some of the most accessible administrators, brilliant minds, and driven students around.

Here’s another: Reflection pieces from outgoing Editors-in-Chief are cliché, and I like to generally think I am counterintuitive when it comes to this paper. And the more I think about it, counterintuition and the irony described above are really just two sides of the same coin. Irony for its part, provides the reflective, and at times, humorous content to the self-aware, while counterintuition is the manifestation of awareness that prevents the unwitting production of the conclusionary ironic step to a progression.

In the case of the paper, data is boring and archived pieces are old. But data can also help end baseless speculation, while past articles can help illuminate what’s at stake in the present. It is notions like these which have guided my stewardship of The Commentator this year, because providing information that readers assume a priori to be boring , but learn to appreciate, is maybe the most counterintuitive thing a paper can do.

When it comes to the publication of stories we’ve worked on, the question of counterintuition comes into play as well. If newspapers are to be read, the logical and intuitive thing to do, as many publications have transitioned into doing, is to manufacture headlines for optimal clicks, or to feature a ratio of opinion to news that calls into question a publication’s status as an unbiased interpreter in the realm of current events.

But those aren’t things The Commentator does. The Commentator works hard to print the news stories expected of it, investigating where YU promotional activity won’t, while also striving to produce work with real value to the long-term discussions and debates that shape campus culture and perspectives. Headlines are merely the descriptors--if content is balanced and reasoned, quality readership will surely follow (and in the history of this paper, has followed.)

And while every piece may be subject to its own praise or critique, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of this paper’s editorial board these past few years has been eye-opening, generally reassuring, and something of which I am very prideful.

Certainly, it’s possible to read the above and think even my description of the paper is counterintuitive, if not outright ironic. After all, longtime readers of these pages can surely find opinion pieces to be indignant about, so much so that “thoughtful” and “thorough” might just be the most ironic words I could put in print.

But to do so misses the point of a campus paper generally, and this paper in particular. The news and the opinions produced here are part of a never-ending university commentary in which I’ve been fortunate to play a temporary role. Even when stories are uncomfortable or difficult to read, they are still a part of the general story of the institution. Likewise, the responses to those stories in print and in person are a part of an historical commentary--a series of chronicles that document just a sliver of a complicated, but overall positive history for the flagship university of Modern Orthodoxy.

Yes, every editor has a chance to put his own flavor on the direction of the paper, but as an institution, The Commentator continues to serve the same function as a disinterested spectator, which also features the opinions of the passionate.

In my case, I’d like to think that the charges for the paper to be fair and balanced were met. Moreover, I believe that this year, the paper met its goal to level the campus playing field with information, making it more readily dispersed throughout the two undergraduate campuses, while fostering a greater collective interest in our shared demographic profile.

Doing so was a pleasure, and an experience I will always remember fondly. And I think it would be fair to say I would not have had such an opportunity any place else, and for that I will always be grateful.

And so I guess even the counterintuitive path towards finishing a year as an editor can too conclude ironically.