Letter to the Editor: Do better

I consider myself an avid reader of The Williams Record. At some point every Wednesday I will find time between classes or over lunch to leaf through this paper and try to find something interesting, engaging or funny. But more often than not, I now find myself increasingly disappointed by the utter vacuity of the Record’s current iteration. Let me explain, and I don’t mean to be unnecessarily harsh here. I simply mean to tell it the way I see it. I speak for no one else.

I don’t need your news. This is a small campus full of intertwined lives. If something important or interesting happens on campus, I will probably know about it, whether by personal experience or Facebook or, god forbid, Yik Yak. The editorial board needs to provide more than reportage of events to make me want to read this paper. To make it worth my time, I want, as a reader, at least one of these three things, in relation to those others avenues of information sharing: faster and more complete coverage of events, superior writing and superior analysis and investigation.

The first is impossible to fulfill. A newspaper (already a dying form), and a weekly one at that, could in no way stake a claim to providing the most accurate, up-to-date information on any developing news story.

Superior writing? Well, what can I say? Purely from a personal perspective, I have had my name misspelled, my class year reported incorrectly and colleagues on theatrical projects misattributed or forgotten entirely. These are not nuanced grammatical errors, they are fundamental editorial errors that betray a lack of oversight or, perhaps more likely, a stunning apathy for the subject at hand. And this is not to say that the issue lies with the writers. We all make typos or misplace a clause, but the fact is that this is an editorial problem, a problem that stems from what seems to be from the outside a complete lack of ambition to provide anything more than surface-level coverage.

But the worst journalistic crime of them all is the Record’s stunning lack of bite. The amount of times I have seen the Record “commend” or “applaud” something College Council (CC) has done is absurd and in fact dangerous. I literally cannot remember the last time The Williams Record took a stand fundamentally contrary to the administration and/or CC.

Your recent article on the Frosh Revue censure is a case in point. I was not in Frosh Revue, and I have no feelings (nostalgic or otherwise) towards Frosh Revue as an institution. I, like you, applaud students for coming forward if they feel threatened or unsafe. Let me be absolutely clear about that. I am not in any way making a statement about the guilt or innocence of those involved in the accusation. But your article, and the editorial that accompanied it, did nothing to advance the discourse on this issue. The 851-word article can be fully summarized by the statement, “College Council cuts funding to Frosh Revue, with other discipline possible. We have no other solid information.” That’s not a news article, that’s a tweet. In fact, I am reliably informed by a member of CC that censure does not involve a cut of funding, but simply requires the organization to bring individual funding requests to the council (again, I don’t need your news). But I can take a little misunderstanding. The article is not the truly offending body here at all. I am much more disgusted by the frankly ridiculous show of sanctimony that took place on the editorial page. Unless the Record’s collective well of knowledge about this topic goes far deeper than mine (which includes reading the CC minutes, your article and personal correspondence), the Board’s opinions about necessary steps of discipline are extraordinarily unfounded. And if the Record’s knowledge is in fact so much more complete than the public’s, I would ask that the author kindly include it in the article next time. The Record cannot simultaneously assert that their article is as complete as possible, due to the College’s strict confidentiality rules, while making such broad subjective statements about guilt and punishment as exist in the editorial piece. The assertion that actions “clearly crossed a line” is a value judgment never specifically supported anywhere in the article.

I have no idea what happened behind the scenes at Frosh Revue. I’m not asking the staff of this newspaper to stop investigating Frosh Revue and other such controversial issues that come up in our community. I’m asking you to actually investigate them. Find out exactly what happened. You are furthering the endangerment of many students’ academic careers, by whipping up sentiment, without doing the investigative work to justifiably do so. And maybe if the Record actively pursued these issues, acts of alleged hazing such as these could be exposed sooner. Stop being CC’s lapdog, taking their words as Gospel, and critique the powers that be. Make your own decisions. CC collects over $400,000 of our money every year, and as such they deserve to be scrutinized consistently and closely. And if you do that and are still convinced that Frosh Revue is at fault for a systemic culture of hazing, so be it.

That this opinion has been published shows that the Record has promise for its investigative future. But the very fact that dissenting viewpoints must be found outside the organization indicates there is still work to be done. This paper markets itself as the “Independent Student Newspaper of Williams College.” I implore the Record to start acting like it.

Matthew Conway ’15 is a history and theatre double major from Reading, Mass. He lives in Morgan.

  • Question

    How do I upvote this?

  • Concerned alum

    And for the love of God, please get some people on staff who actually know how to write. Nobody wants to read poorly written articles. (prime example: the article in this week’s issue on Eph marriages.)

    • Sarah Rosenberg

      I’m a former editor at the Record (2011-2012). It’s easy to hate on the Record, having not been in it and tried to run it. It’s my experience that the Record has for a number of years (since I was there, for sure) been in a vicious cycle: it’s hard to recruit staff and writers, partly because of the Record’s reputation and partly because of the enormous amount of work required (the average editor spends 30-40 hours per week working on the paper). In turn, with a relatively limited pool of interested participants, we don’t always get the school’s best writer’s and editors, which is not good for the paper’s reputation. Plus, the fewer people who volunteer to write articles (that’s the system), the more editors have to write and the more they are stretched thin.

      The editors of the Record basically do a full-time job in addition to their schoolwork. The school then judges them in comparison to professional papers. If students want a better Record, go join it and write for it!

      In my opinion, the best thing that the Record could do to improve quality would be to get rid of the paper version, because the design and production of the physical paper product takes about 12-15 hours per editor per week.