I presume that many of my fellow seniors can relate to the feeling of not wanting to move on. The specter of life after college looms large wherever we look. For me, leaving The Michigan Daily symbolizes the myriad of changes that lay ahead in the next few months. As you may imagine, writing for this paper has significantly shaped my experience in college and I’m sad to see it go. It was in the second or third week of my freshman year that I first made my way to Maynard Street to attend an Editorial Board meeting. And in the three and a half years since then, I may not have been a fixture in the newsroom as others have — but the paper has defined me nevertheless.
It’s hard to reflect on my tenure at the Daily without immediately thinking about all the people who’ve hated my columns. Pessimism is in my nature, so this may not come as a surprise. Over the years I’ve maintained some loyal readers, of course — here’s a shout out to my girls at the synagogue sisterhood — but I also developed a colorfully diverse set of detractors. And from this latter set, I’ve heard a remarkably extensive range of criticism.
In response e-mails and comment pages, they’ve accused me of being both a spoiled son of privilege and a militant socialist bent on class warfare. I’ve been called an agent of Zionist propaganda as well as an anti-Israel pawn of the Left. Many have accused me of pushing a radical gay agenda. Yet just a few weeks ago a printed viewpoint accused me of projecting heteronormative ideas onto others.
Hyperbolic to say the least, these seemingly contradictory criticisms highlight an important element of my writing over the years.
As I’ve articulated my opinions, I’ve at least attempted to look at issues from multiple angles, even if my work generally took one bias or another. I mean, let’s face it — this was opinion writing. But from all of the back and forth involved, it’s no wonder that my criticism would be so varied. This, I think, was the most valuable part of writing my column: the chance to figure out exactly what I believed. In some ways it was dangerous to put into writing opinions that may not stick with me throughout my career. But from the feedback I’ve received, formally and casually, my opinions and my logic were sharpened immeasurably.
One criticism has been that I’ve taken my writing too seriously. Indeed, this is something I’ve heard about the Daily more generally as well. Musing on this, I think there are two important truths here.
The first is that college newspapers don’t matter a whole lot. Skeptical friends and critics are often quite willing to point that out. With the exception of some University news, college newspapers only somewhat provide information that other sources — other news outlets, blogs or gossip, for instance — don’t. Articles are written and edited by unseasoned journalists and opinion writers are almost never experts on the subjects they discuss. And in a culture that’s dominated by social media, the college newspaper is no longer the go-to medium for campus communication.
But in a sense, the college newspaper is the only thing that does matter. For freshmen writers, the paper can provide journalistic experience to build upon. And for opinion writers, it’s a springboard for formulating ideas. Both these instances epitomize the ways in which college is supposed to benefit those who can go — teaching both practical and theoretical skills. More important still is the way in which the paper enhances the University’s ability to develop an educated and thoughtfully critical citizenry. Though it often plays second fiddle to other pages — sports, much to my chagrin — the opinion page is the frontal lobe of the newspaper. It contextualizes the stories written in other sections, and it’s the section with the greatest stake in social justice. I often tried to remember this as I wrote my columns.
And whether or not I succeeded in imbuing a greater social awareness in my writing, I can only hope that my successors will continue trying to do so.
In the past few years I’ve written roughly 37,500 words in about 50 opinion articles. That’s more or less 130 pages of double-spaced, elected, extra work. Though I could surely continue finding material within the news and in day-to-day life, I’ve decided it’s time to tuck away my byline and give someone else a pen.
I thank you for reading my work over the past few years, for sharpening my judgment and for keeping me honest. You may have hated my flaming liberalism or my occasionally questionable outlook on life, but this experience has been unparalleled for me. It’s truly been an honor to write for you.
Matthew Green can be reached at email@example.com.