Get to Work, Write Away
By Alex Romano, Opinions Editor
I do not enjoy this, in case you were wondering. I do not enjoy this at all. This section of the newspaper is meant to be filled by all of you: the students, organizations, and administrators of our fine institution. The Opinions Section is supposed to be a page that showcases the school’s diversity of thought and passion for intellectual growth and discussion. When I assumed the responsibilities of editing the section after my predecessor resigned, I expected to continue the former editor’s legacy of providing the student body with a fresh round of opinions each week — one week in online format, the next in print, hopefully without having to contribute too many articles of my own. I harbor a long-standing distaste for self-indulgence. I am a fairly private man, and I would rather hear out the thoughts of my fellow classmates than spout off my own. And yet, for the third time now in my career as editor of the Opinions Section, I find myself to be my sole contributor.
I wrote an article about my shortage of contributions last spring, when Milo Yiannopoulos’ fall from alt-right grace saved me from a near-blank section being published under my name. That article was titled “Opinions, Please,” a gentle nudge to get students to write for my section. I refrained from sounding too forceful in that piece. I was shy about the whole thing and did not want to use coercion to get people to write for me. In retrospect, the article was too soft.
In my previous written request for submissions, I outlined and explained my personal policy with regard to the editing process and my stance on journalistic integrity. My attitude towards those concepts has not changed since the writing of that article — with one exception. I may have undersold the esteem of the newspaper. The staff does hold all submitted articles to a standard. The editors do have some autonomous agency when selecting articles for publication, and we are given the right to send back pieces and collaborate with writers for reworking. Implementing standards gives the editor the responsibility of helping to make articles appropriate for publication and not simply to reject pieces found unworthy. This way, it is not the writers but the editors who are to be held accountable for any error in published pieces of journalism in the newspaper.
The Opinions Section IS FOR YOU. It is yours. Have it. I am a mere caretaker. Despite what my lengthy articles on Trump and liberal terminology may have you think, I do not like filling up all of my space with self-produced material. It sucks to see only my name on an entire page in the newspaper — every single word in the column coming from me, every thought produced by my own mind, and no one else’s. It does not come off well, and appears that I am reserving the space in my section for myself only. It is off-putting, it is indulgent, it is embarrassing. My job is primarily to edit (hence the title of editor), not to write. Writing my own stuff is secondary; helping you guys with your pieces is what should come first.
I can level with you, though. It is difficult, in this troubled age, to sit down and crank out an article on a subject that has the potential to generate controversy. Nobody wants to be a target on a campus where the people who you could enrage are around you all the time, where you have to sit next to and work with people who have access to a paper that contains your honest opinion on a touchy subject. A damaged reputation is an understandable concern. I assure you, though, that protecting popularity is no concern. The students of Gettysburg College are respectful of one another’s opinions and are open to hearing the ideas of others. The Gettysburgian staff monitors the comments on the online newspaper and social media, so all inappropriate comments will be censored. There are no worries as far as publishing op-eds goes. I myself have had my share of controversies.
Most recently, I managed to get under the skin of some readers with my longest-yet piece, a well-intended article with which I attempted to explain to Democrats the reason that decent, rational people may have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The article brought back a sour taste in some people’s mouths, something that I did not anticipate. Sure, I thought that there would be some agitation (and there was), but not on account of the reason that the agitation came about. The part of the article that annoyed people the most was the topic: the presidential election. Some readers just could not get over the fact that people voted for Trump. Well, I did my part: I explained an opinion, and the readership made their own opinion about my opinion, however I feel about it. There is no control over the reaction of the audience. There was a response to that article, but it did nothing to damage my popularity. The same can be said for any other writers who contribute.
Predictions are welcome, as well. Last November, I predicted that Trump would act more presidential once he was in the White House. While he certainly never acted entirely presidential, he still, at one point (albeit a very brief point), put on a more presidential demeanor. His speech on global terrorism in Saudi Arabia was an improvement on his past un-presidential transgressions. Of course, he tanked right after and has been floundering ever since. Nonetheless, the prediction was still worth it. When a writer makes a prediction, the writer is essentially expressing an opinion unsupported by any actual facts, as all that the writer has to go off of is what they have at their disposal at the present time, in the present world. That requires some risk and so is highly respectable — even laudable at times, depending on how thorough and how accurate the prediction is.
In this turbulent political and social climate, it is beyond this editor that no one on campus would have anything that they feel that they should share with their peers. Come on, look at all the topics that you could write about! The Secretary of Education rescinded popular Title IX guidelines in September; football players are taking knees in front of Old Glory on fields throughout America; Harvey Weinstein has been exposed to be a sexual predator; Kevin Spacey came out as homosexual and admitted that he may have sexually harassed a child actor back in 1986; Paul Manafort has been indicted; the Russia probe is heating up … again; the annual controversy over political correctness in Halloween costumes has been upon us for weeks; Christmas commercials have come on television way too early for the umpteenth year in a row. There is plenty going on in the country to form an opinion on.
And not only national affairs call for coverage. There are several possible topics for discussion that are local matters. Just on campus, there are the Senate’s budgetary issues to consider; the defunding of the dinner for Gettysburg’s widows of fallen veterans; the Free Speech committee; reevaluations of Greek life after the death of Tim Piazza in Penn State University; the tightening of hazing restrictions and sexual assault prevention measures in the wake of the Title IX revisions; Trump’s recent rally in Harrisburg; the progress of the renovations and new construction ongoing on the school grounds. I have heard students talking about these things many times in the dining hall, before and after classes, on field trips, and inside each other’s dorm rooms. Why interested people who hold such strong and important opinions about sensitive subjects and yet are so reluctant to share them in a written form is difficult for me to understand.
This is not meant to call out anyone. It is hard to speak up in such a loud environment. But it is harder still to do so when there are so many voices shouting all at once, so it should be a preferable option to use paper as a means to speak out in a way that people must listen to your voice now that it is isolated from the rest. They must read what is written in front of them. The concluding paragraph of this article is excerpted from an advertisement that I will be periodically posting in the Digests:
My section relies on writers from outside The Gettysburgian staff to submit articles for publication in the school newspaper. This way, the views of a variety of students on campus are shown and everybody has an equal opportunity to let their voice be heard. You may write as an individual, representative of a cause on or off campus, or a member of a campus organization. The guidelines are flexible. I will personally help edit and rework any and all pieces with the cooperation of the writer(s). Writers who contribute one-three times are given the title Guest Columnist, and writers who contribute three+ times are given the title Columnist.