Spec on the grill

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specAs part of its never-ending quest to figure out why people either a.) don’t read the paper or b.) bitch about the paper, Spectator held a Town Hall tonight within the welcoming, safe space of Earl Hall’s auditorium. Approximately half of the approximately 80 people at the event were from Spec–Bwog knows this because one savvy participant had all the non-Speccies raise their hands–but enough external students showed up with beef to keep up a lively discussion.  Having done this sort of thing with the Harvard Crimson and the Philadelphia Inquirer, moderator and Journalism School associate dean Arlene Morgan ranged through the audience commenting on the comments (so Spec editors didn’t have to, unless asked).

Student council kids sat in, cultural organization kids represented, and activists complained about being misquoted and decontextualized. Sometimes staffers even tentatively spoke up. The dialogue wasn’t overwhelmingly negative, but there are more than enough disgruntled sources out there to keep Spec busy for a while: among them, SGA President Eman Bataineh complained that Barnard was lumped with GS, David Judd of the ISO let us know that a correction had been made a year after the fact, and Ad Hoc Editor-in-Chief Alex Jung pointed out that he’s the only person of color to have a column. Said one Barnard woman: “I don’t think the Spectator understands what my life is like at all, in any way, shape or form.”

This bwogger, along with several participants near the end, gives Spec credit for caring.


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  1. hmm  

    nice to have coverage of this, but I'd like to hear what more of the complaints were.

  2. Lisa  

    The statement by Jung is incorrect. There are several columnists of color on the staff, most prominently in the sports section with columns by Jon Kamran, Jon Tayler, Anand, and Kartik just off the top of my head.
    In addition, I think that there is probably a record for representation in the Spec world of Barnard women, so it's hard to tell if the Barnard woman's complaint was that Spec was not personal to her, or that all of us BC students on Spec are allowing our own lives to go misrepresented.

  3. obviously  

    he was talking about the opinion page.

  4. i'm sorry...  

    ...but Alex Jung's behavior is completely out of line...his expectations are unrealistic (and vague) and his attitude is unprofessional and immature. Spec, learn from tonight but don't give much credence to Jung's comments.

    • i'm sorry  

      that some anonymous commenter feels that a list of adjectives is a substitute for an engagement with someone's positions. it's a mistake I don't recall Alex Jung making in his column, which is generally one of the most interesting in the Spec. i'm also sorry that above person is attempting to talk about anyone's personal credibility while posting anonymously. it doesn't reflect badly on them - obviously impossible, except for the Bwoggies who have our IP addresses - but nor does it reflect well on Columbia, at which "i'm sorry" is presumably a student.

      and yes, Alex was obviously talking about opinion, which is why, as i recall, he gave a number, "1 out of 10".

      i'm surprised Bwog didn't say more about the moderator. she did about 50% of the talking and had a tendency to stop people to argue with them. it was really kind of annoying. Spec doesn't need 40 people sitting in a room to get this woman's comments, the Town Hall i thought was supposed to be so they could hear student concerns.

      • journalists  

        are impudent. and insular. so protective of their little world and the "expertise" they believe has given them the right to divulge the news in what can only be the one, true path. god, spec is so saddled with this elitist, conservative (and I don't mean the political kind) tunnel vision.

      • To be fair...

        Maybe the fact that Alex was talking about opinion was obvious to all those present at the Town Hall. Based on Bwog's report alone, though, it seems that he meant that he was the only columnist of color for the paper as a whole.

  5. Stephen Colbert  

    Yet another example of elitist, Ivy League liberals trying to make race an issue. I don't know why Alex Jung can't be more like me and not see color. People tell me I'm white, fine - I don't see it.

  6. clarifying  

    the Barnard student said that as a "BLACK, Barnard woman," she didn't feel represented.

    i think the reason behind the moderator was so that it wouldn't allow spec to be defensive or make excuses, which i think was a good effort. but yeah, she talked WAY too much and i feel like we could have touched more issues if she just gave us a mic.

    • model minority  

      I'm a transgender adopted navajo with a severe disability, raised by wolves, and commuting to columbia from japan. I don't really feel that spec represents my viewpoint. nor that of all transgendered people, navajos, disabled people, or japanese citizens...because as monolithic groups we all obviously have united opinions, even if they contradict themselves within my individual person.

      • that  

        really sounds like just as significant a potentially excluded group as Black Barnard students, for both numbers and reasons of historical discrimination... tool

        • better  

          a tool of rational thinking than of leftist dogma. how do you "represent" a group of diverse individuals united solely under the rubric of skin colour. the media does us a great service by ignoring this identity politics rhetoric in favour of critiquing the deeper contexts by which people come to arrive at their viewpoints.

      • idiot  

        ugh im so sick of people like you.

        • sick?  

          I'm so sick of being fitted into cultural archetypes like "the black barnard woman"...or being presumed to fit into "the perspective of the black barnard woman". This sort of group categorization is passe in anthropology...why does it continue to rule our social discourse...and ruin it, as it has since the 60s?

          let's grow up and stop searching for our "identity" in cultural groups. we all know what a cheap rhetorical trick "why do all the white kids sit at the same table?" is. I wish the national guard could forcibly tear apart all the self-segregation on this campus.

    • oh come on  

      who cares if black barnard women aren't represented on spec? it's a newspaper, so your representation will come through media coverage. if black barnard women have black barnard women events that are worthy of media coverage, then they should call the spec to get some. either that, or join spec instead of complaining!

  7. spec  

    doesnt understand people's lives much at all because their lives are only spec. they need to be of the people, not of the spec, to report on the people.

    ok, well, that idea made sense before i wrote it down.

  8. McFister

    I find that burning the Spec for fuel improves it quite a bit.

  9. why  

    do people care about being represented by Spec? It's just a newspaper.

  10. oh jeez  

    If you're going to be dismissive at least try not to erect a straw man. Nothing about what the girl said intimates that she thinks a black barnard women would magically speak for her and all black barnard women just because of skin color. The point is not that a person of color working at the paper is wholly representative of that group of people, just that it adds a different perspective (whether it's cultural, economical, in terms of educational back ground, etc). Personally none of the people I've come across who've ever mentioned a problem with spec think that more spec reporters of color will improve coverage just by itself, or that this by itself will diversify coverage, but they do wonder about the homogeneity of the newsroom and what keeps it that way. People do notice for instance that there is not one african american male in the newsroom and wonder why that is, whether such a perspective would be welcome, etc. Talking about these things is not "leftist dogma", these are legitimate questions.

    • correction  

      that's black barnard woman reporter, natch

    • foolish  

      the problem is the assumption that any "diversification" of spec will somehow lead to better reporting. it presumes that the current regime at spec is culturally blind or insensitive solely because of its preumably "homogenous" makeup (a judgement made on the basis, seemingly, of skin color...for all I know, spec could be filled with albanian refugees, italian supermodels, and who knows what sort of interesting person). it presumes that a "more diverse" staff would be more invested in "representing" different viewpoints, when it could be that newspaper culture attracts people of different cultural backgrounds but similar mindsets that are easily adopted to the spec status quo. it presumes that there is a way to "better represent" life on campus that does not wind up creating similar deficiencies in reporting...I think it's apparent that giving more coverage to cultural groups is an inherently flawed way of going about "diversifying" reporting, just to name one. in short, I think there's a lot of implied belief in the cultural self-interest of reporters and the seemingly magical way it would manifest itself beneficially in the paper if the identity of the staff was somehow altered...the connection between cultural background and reporting interest (not to mention quality), however, simply hasn't been proven.

      • but  

        it's not actually unknowable who makes up the Spec staff. in reality it's full of a lot of people who are pretty similar in a lot of views, as demonstrated in the slant of editorials and news both. this has a number of causes, but one is a lack of racial diversity. for fucks sake people... you don't have to think that all black brown and yellow people are the same to think that it's a problem when a purportedly university-wide institution is almost all white. uh, duh.

  11. perspective  

    is spec really under attack by cultural groups and or minorities and students of color, or are the legitimate perspectives of a FEW persons of color being interpreted as "THE perspective of the black/gay/Asian community," by so many of my suppposedly enlightened white peers.

  12. Well, what then?  

    For me, the real question is why nominally oppressed minorities at Columbia don't want to be on the Spectator opinion page. (And yes, applications were race blind, so let's assume for the moment no one is actively discriminating on the Spec opinion page. It seems likely that Alex Jung was among very few minorities who applied).

    As a minority, why adopt an attitude of victimization at the fact that there are some groups that are predominantly white? Here at Columbia, we've removed all the barriers to entry except the perception on the part of minority applicants that for some reason they will be oppressed. That, frankly, needs to stop, and it won't as long as minority students write off so many organizations and institutions on this campus solely because they are or were at one time not as diverse as statistics suggest they should be.

  13. wow  

    From the Spec article, priceless quote:

    Spectator editors said they were surprised about the dissatisfaction expressed regarding accuracy. "I was struck people feel so strongly about being misquoted," said Jimmy Vielkind, CC '07 and former Spectator city news editor, after the event.

  14. daniella  

    1. I'd just like to point out that our Editor in Chief in 2005 was a Barnard student.

    2. If you guys saw the list of people actually applying for Managing Board/Deputy Board/Associate Board positions, you'd understand Spec's general diversity (or lack thereof). Maybe 2 or 3 black students apply per year -- and generally only for Associate-level positions. It's kind of hard to diversify when you don't have the applicants, eh?

    3. From the Asian perspective, I'm not entirely sure why Jung is so upset. Walk into the office on any given night and almost all of the photo/production associates will be tiny Asian females. Half of the news board last year was S/SE Asian. A significant portion of The Eye's management is Asian. So, you know...

    • excuses

      thats what AA is for. just because there are only a few black candidates, doesnt mean you shouldn't automatically promote them over everyone else!

      Jimmy's quote is priceless. I love him. And he's actually a real journalist (writes for the Daily News).

    • missing the point  

      "2. If you guys saw the list of people actually applying for Managing Board/Deputy Board/Associate Board positions, you'd understand Spec's general diversity (or lack thereof). Maybe 2 or 3 black students apply per year -- and generally only for Associate-level positions. It's kind of hard to diversify when you don't have the applicants, eh?"

      A lot of people would say that Spectator would have more black applicants for higher positions if they were first made to feel comfortable in the lower positions.

  15. Tom  

    I'm on Spec and like to think that I have a life, though it's of course questionable. One thing I'm starting to realize is I think problems come up indirectly when, at the beginning we new reporters sometimes overcompensate as journalists in that great evil myth that is professionalism and worry more about the basics of journalism before discovering/questioning the context and further meaning of the discourse we're taking part in. I think Spec is in a period of change--this is one of the first few years where there are enough people to even think about a beat chief system in the news section, for example. The overarching theme of the night for me was that we need to make sure the new beat reporters are in much more active communication with their sources. This should help alleviate a bit of both problems mentioned above.
    But I'm French, and if you think Spec is bad, you should see the media in France. On a lot of issues (cf: Iraq) the French are better, but on the local focus...eek.
    Now I'll stop commenting half-anonymously like a tool on a post that's probably been forgotten already.

  16. Stat man  

    I havent checked it fully, but is the spec staff representative of the student body? According to this site:

    Columbia is 6% black, 5% hispanic, and 11% asian

  17. hahaha  

    Oh good lord. "The Asian Perspective," right because that's the only perspective an Asian like Alex can have? haha. As if that makes him suddenly indifferent to everyone else on this campus. This isn't Legend of the Hidden Temple of whatever that Nickolodeon show is called where they divide you by colored t-shirts.

  18. carbondioxide  

    Wow, I love these broad sweeping generalizations about "minority mentality" that has been expressed on this board! Really goes to show how enlightened and conscious you all are, congrats columbia!

    The thing is: the vast majority of the whiny minorities you imagine in your head actually don't give a damn about Spectator. Because believe it or not, we are involved with life outside of this campus and with lots of other organizations and jobs.

    Can Spec improve its white-centric perspective? absolutely. See the Eye last year, for instance. To be politically correct? NO, nobody gives a shit about political correct, its a principle of being accurate to columbia as a whole period.

    This sudden "pressure" to be all raced out is internalized (i'm guessing it came with that piece in the blue and white), minorities aren't going around columbia sweating about spectator.

    The complaints (legitimate) of a few minority students from student groups have suddenly been interpreted (typically) by the rest of you all as this MASS hysteria protest against Spectator. Very few people give a shit or are too damn busy!!

    Spec needs to move on, as this whole race thing was raised for reasons that had very little to do with people actually giving a damn about race relations.

    But what it HAS shown is that you people continue ignoring the agency of people who aren't white.
    The minority perspective. Jesus, you people.

    • scuzi  

      Way to attack sweeping generalizations with your own sweeping generalizations. You people!

    • so sorry  

      to waste your time with our poor unenlightened drivel, whoever you are. of course, one wonders what the hell you're doing on this blog you find so stupid...

      on a more serious note, the truth's somewhere in between: the people there raising concerns were activists and group leaders who felt uncovered by the spec, and wanted more attention. so while their concerns are based in legitimacy, that's what they (the student leaders) are supposed to do: make sure their group is heard.

      on the other hand, they should realize that if spec isnt covering them, it may be because that group just isn't making news, not because of some bias on the spec. it's unrealistic to expect spectator's editorial board to be involved in multiple other student groups, since (as these student leaders should know) running a student group takes time and energy. And if these student leaders don't think it takes that much time to run a group, then maybe that explains why their group isn't making any news.

      • not #35  

        but i didn't get the impression that they find the blog stupid, only some of the commenters...

        i was at the town hall, and people were talking about the quality of coverage, not primarily the quantity. someone said that the BSO hesitates to look for coverage partly because they're so frequently misquoted or misrepresented... i dont think thats an uncommon sentiment

  19. okay  

    that makes sense, but spectator doesn't do anything to discourage black writers from joining. yes, some of the upperclassmen may feel shafted and so choose not to participate.. but they don't get black/hispanic/whatever freshmen either. not even to an open house.

    they of course need more applicants and more representative coverage but nobody from these cultural groups is telling them how to recruit for spectator without being offensive. i was at the town hall, and there were very few pragmatic suggestions.

    how are they supposed to do it? how do we bring minority students in? maybe the minority students here just don't like writing... who wants to encourage people who arent interested in journalism to join -- shouldnt that trump everything else..

    more importantly, how do they do it without being offensive simply by targeting specific groups

    • Not "Real" Sarcasm  

      "Spectator doesn't do anything to discourage black writers from joining." Consciously, heavens no they don't, because otherwise I would have gotten the fuck out of training on the first day. However, I think that this comment as well as a few that suggested that minority students actively "write off so many organizations" and play the victims, as one writer said, wrongly assume a completely rational-individual argument from which to evaluate human actions. Please consider that each and every one of us is indeed shaped by our social situations, unconscious signals given by others, responses that we ourselves unconsciously bring forth from others, perception of situation, world view, etc. etc.

      It doesn't matter that Spec doesn't consciously discourage more minorities from joining. And the problem certainly isn't that not enough minorities on campus like to write (???!!!) or that they're "writing off" publications. But I do think that part of the problem does stem from the fact that we ignore the larger factors existing outside of ourselves that govern our decisions and how these might produce the current situation. I genuinely believe that in undergoing this year-plus-long process of seriously looking at how it goes about coverage, Spectator has and will continue to open itself up to clarity through introspection, and will change people's perception of it and its perception of itself.

      I personally had some odd experiences in high school regarding representation and inclusion in publications, when: 1) one of my friend's poems was rejected from the school's lit magazine because it was deemed "too ethnic"; and 2) the news editor under whom I worked could not grasp the interest that the school newspaper might have in publishing an article about the differential treatment of African Americans at my school. She had never experienced it; I had (and have both my mother- who was a teacher in my school district- and my experiences in discussion panels with school faculty and admin to back it up). Obviously Columbia was a welcome change to this environment, but even if shit's not conscious, the consequences are real.

      Had I but time, I would actually look into the issues I've described above and maybe offer a concrete solution. But I keep myself busy... Which, by the way, happens to be why I personally have not nor do I ever plan to apply for a leadership position at Spec specifically. Oh, and if you consider the total percentage of Spec staff that do apply to positions and then apply that same proportion to the minority staffers of the newspaper, then of COURSE only "2 or 3" black kids apply every year. Which, I believe, leads us back to the original discussion.


  20. A Real Solution  

    We go to poor, inner city high schools, like some in Harlem, and find minorities who have few alternatives. Spectator recruiters can then badger them into joining Spec!

    I bet nobody else in the whole country has thought of a recruitment plan so brilliant.

  21. hold up

    from comment #2, this was all about race. could we hold up for a second and ask: why is it news that Spec sucks? i think it's been sucking for decades.

  22. soboredwithyou

    "the vast majority of the whiny minorities you imagine in your head actually don't give a damn about Spectator"
    -actually, several of them have posted in this thread, so they can't be imaginary.
    and as for being "made to feel comfortable," well, life isnt like that. if you want something, sometimes you have to do things that aren't "comfortable." you know, even WHITE people have to do that sometimes. so deal with it, kid.

    • Grandmasta  

      Not to mention hat things one imagines can't properly "give a damn" about anything.

      I hadn't realized there was so much racial tension on this campus. Angry black people, way-oh!

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