In the time I’ve been on the Daily’s Opinion staff, I’ve noticed something: This campus has a lot of opinions and no shortage of people who want to share them.
It’s been that way for the last 125 years, and that trend shows no sign of slowing — just look at my e-mail inbox. That reality, though, has left the Daily’s Opinion page having to deal with serious questions about its purpose.
“Is the Daily a forum for all? Or is it a controlled forum?” Julie Becker, who was editorial page editor from 1995-1996, asked when we spoke in early September. “And if it’s controlled, who are we to be controlling it, and what are the standards by which we’re going to control it?”
And as Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press who served as the Daily’s EPE from 1991-1992, told me, “It’s said (the Opinion page) serves two purposes: one is to advocate for the positions the institution holds and is trying to advance, but the other is to provide a place for everybody, and especially for opposing points of view, to get some air time.”
That said, I think it’s important to recognize what David Schwartz, who was EPE from 1990-1991, told me when I spoke with him. He mentioned how many issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict aren’t going to be solved on the pages of the Daily and effectively said the Opinion page, in many cases, is just a place to be heard.
As the current editorial page editor, I grapple with the questions and comments from Becker, Henderson and Schwartz every day. Most of the time, those questions are answered for us; we don’t have enough content for the day, so we run what we have. But other times, we have to make a choice. If we received two or three pieces on sexual assault, the BDS movement or wealth inequality, how do we reasonably pick what is fit to print? How do we make sure those opposing points of view get the page space they deserve? And if we have to pick one person’s point of view over another’s, does that imply the opinion we choose is more important than another one?
While often times we go with the piece that is the most “grammatically correct” or “well-written,” in many ways, we are ranking views, and that makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps even more uncomfortable than choosing individual pieces to publish is when we hire columnists each semester. We get more applicants than there are spots, and choosing who gets to write about mental health or environmental issues or politics can be as difficult or more difficult than choosing opinions to publish from issue to issue.
Of course, there are also logistical factors that play into these decisions, like space on the page and the time we have to make these decisions. But the point remains the same: not all people and issues on campus, minus bigots, get the recognition they need or deserve.
Activism on campus comes in all shapes and sizes, and I’m willing to bet that many, if not all, past EPEs desperately want the Daily to be a go-to space for activists to voice their opinions on issues they feel strongly about. Henderson spoke to this point when I talked with him in early September.
“That part of the job (receiving submissions from campus groups) was at least as much work and took as much thought as the editorial part of the job did, because you had these deeply passionate groups and individuals. And deeply passionate about very serious issues,” Henderson said. “The stuff that they were talking about … was big stuff. It wasn’t little things. And so there was a lot of pressure, I felt, to handle all that in a sophisticated and fair way at a pretty young age, when I had no previous experience doing it.”
I certainly feel that pressure, which seems to boil down to one question: How do you balance between wanting to produce a high-quality newspaper with the best writers and the need to present diverse viewpoints?
To me, that is a battle every opinion page will fight indefinitely. I see it as my role as EPE to work with groups to meet in the middle; I want to get their writing to a point where it is acceptable for our publication. This takes time and effort, but it’s important work.
Arching over all of this, though, is what Schwartz said: Issues don’t get solved on Page 4. Homelessness in Ann Arbor was being written about 25 years ago, and it’s still an issue. Sexual assault was a relevant topic in the early 1990s, and it’s even more so now. The same goes for institutional racism at the University. The administration continuously fails to listen to students, and that leaves many frustrated.
As Schwartz puts it, “I think that the dynamic is the same between activist students and an administration that is often much slower to adapt or to change than the students would like. I think that’s likely to be true of the U of M going back to the ’60s and going forward from here.”
To me, what Schwartz is saying is all the more reason to maintain a vibrant, expansive opinion page. Though the issues themselves may not be solved in print, the voices fighting, explaining or advocating for these issues matter. Submitting a viewpoint or writing a column is an exclamation of the statement, “I am here and I matter.” Because of the Daily’s rather large audience, I feel an immense responsibility to give people that chance to announce their presence. Even though questions regarding how to do so must be wrestled with continuously, the Daily has been a place for sharing voices for the past 125 years, and will continue to serve that role in the future.
Page 4 is a place to say that we, the students of the University of Michigan, care about the world around us and will keep fighting the good fight — whatever that fight may be.
Derek Wolfe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.