Back when I edited this newspaper, I yelled a lot. When I read those Daily pages at 2 a.m., nothing helped me deal with grammatical errors and misleading headlines better than a good rant. But I reserved the full extent of my vocal chords for the nights when I was presented with a column about a columnist.
Not a columnist who describes his own experiences to illustrate a broader point, but one who muses about his life for its own sake, with the assumption that his readers somehow care. This distasteful practice, more LiveJournal than journalism, is called the masturbatory column. It appears only under the names of the most egocentric columnists for most of the year, but during April, this self-indulgent writing spreads like pinkeye through the Daily staff. For this is the season of the senior goodbye column.
I vowed not to produce one of these.
So what am I going to write about this week? There’s not much happening around campus that I know of. Then again, my interactions with campus in the past few weeks have been limited to hitting the bars and house parties with my housemates, Evan, Steve, Boyd, Fisher, Ben and Russ.
That reminds me. One irritating thing these goodbye columnists do is slip in a mention of their friends, clearly with no purpose apart from fulfilling a promise to print their names. Drives me nuts.
And how masturbatory is this: Some of these senior columnists actually use their final space to reminisce on their favorite memories from the past four years, as if these scrapbook leaves possessed any significance to the people who didn’t experience them first-hand. That would be like me telling readers about the powerful experience of walking for the first time into the Daily’s newsroom, less than 12 hours after the World Trade Center fell. For the first time that day, I felt an emotion other than confusion and loss as I saw how the journalists there were reacting to the catastrophe with a single-minded desire to give students some information that would help them make sense of their changed world. I started falling in love with the Daily that day. But I don’t see why readers would care about that.
Mentioning this anecdote would lead me to thank Zac Peskowitz, whose determination to venture over to the Daily that day made me do likewise. This is another popular section of the masturbatory column: the thank-you catalog. For this reason alone it’s a good thing I’m eschewing the goodbye column. Who would I pick to thank?
Perhaps the inspiring editors of my freshman year whom I idolized for setting a standard that I would never quite surpass? Or Shabina, Kylene, Jen and C. Price, whom I met every Sunday amid hangovers and paper plates to start up another week of grueling hours — all made worthwhile every time an illuminating piece of writing would arrive on our desk bearing a Ladika byline or a Kaplan or a Kraack. I would have to thank even more people who readers don’t give a damn about. I wouldn’t be able to leave out Jon Schwartz and Louie Meizlish, who taught a nightly clinic on leadership. Or Alison Go, a friend and confidant during my hardest year. I’d acknowledge John Lowe’s enormous generosity with his most precious asset, his time. I’d thank Jason Z. Pesick for stepping up when he was needed most, for achieving what I didn’t even conceive and for adding the Z. Props would go out to others with names foreign to readers: Sprow, Filice, Johnson, Bremmer, Hunt, McCormack, Ding, Berkowitz, Adams, Rottenberg, Offen.
Some goodbye columnists manage to avoid these blatant forms of masturbatory journalism while sliding into a more subtle conceit. As if giving a commencement address, they spout the life lessons they’ve learned during college. For example, if I were writing one of those columns, my advice for those who remain at the University would include:
– Pick a student group that sounds interesting and join it. If you believe in its mission, immerse yourself. Make this pursuit the center of your life. Spend every day doing it. Make friends there. Make enemies there. Work tirelessly for the group until it becomes better than when you arrived. Find people crazier and smarter than you who will do your job when you leave.
– Read a newspaper every day. Not just to improve my job prospects, though I thank you for that, but because it will equip you to save the world. Don’t just read it; complain about it. Complain about poor writing, sensational headlines, shallow stories, ethical lapses, the liberal media, the corporate media, the difficulty of the crossword puzzle.
– Open your eyes, look around campus and realize how lucky you are. Thank someone.
Schrader can be reached at email@example.com.