This may be the end.
After three years writing for this preeminent newsweekly, my time as a reporter, editor, and columnist is ending soon. Over the course of my time covering campus news, I have covered both breaking news and issues that have been stewing for some time; both the wonky and the accessible; both the important and self-important. But I chose to cover all of it for a reason, and each article reveals an aspect of campus life.
Yet an aspect of student life that we often overlook is the role that campus media plays. Georgetown University is the District of Columbia’s largest private employer. With over a $1 billion in revenues and expenditures, the University is a major corporation where over 20,000 people study and work. An additional 16,000 people live in the Georgetown neighborhood. So the Voice and The Hoya have a lot to cover.
Even though it may seem like Congress and the President hold a powerful sway over the lives of ordinary Americans, much more power is wielded by local representatives. In the past six years of the Obama presidency, the major accomplishments the White House can tout are the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd/Frank Consumer Protection Act, the abolishment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the stimulus. These policy changes are each very significant in themselves, but, thinking about myself, none of them directly affected me, whereas policies about who gets graduation honors affect me directly. A requirement that juniors live on campus affects me directly. Club funding affects me directly.
I’m sure many others in the Georgetown community have similar experiences. Local issues affect people more than they think. In the rest of America, education policy affects more people than same-sex marriage. But what gets people to protest?
In short, there’s an imbalance about what people choose to care about. Unfortunately, negative attitudes about local current events pervade public opinion, though I have reasons to be hopeful. Whenever big news breaks, I hear people talking about it, and they do seem to care. Then again, maybe the circles I socialize with include a disproportionate number of student leaders.
As I’ve written about before, plenty of people would dismiss local news as a class of media. One particularly egregious comment left on Vox Populi article about the proposed satellite campus stuck with me: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students rallied around issues of broader scope and much more significant impact than a satellite campus? … Bougie Georgetown students are upset about having to take a bus to class while others struggle to simply live.”
Comments like this miss the fact that reporting is an essential element for the integrity of any local community. As the aphorism goes, daylight is the best disinfectant. People in power have the incentive to act against the will of their constituents. Sometimes, they can do that covertly. A reporter’s job is to examine public records, acquire information from public officials, and write about what these initiatives mean for the community. To deny that Georgetown needs reporting is to deny that Georgetown is a community, which is a proposition that I disagree with deeply.
Like the media at large, the student newspapers serve as a linking institution between the general public and officials in the University administration, members of student government, and local politicians. Having a public record of events enables a community to orient itself. It enables political action, and is necessary for an electorate to be informed. While this function is necessary on a national level, it’s vital on a local level.
Georgetown is all about serving the community. Some people choose to volunteer for service. Others choose to run for student government. Others still picket and protest. But student journalists serve the community in their own way as well.
While I don’t claim that the Voice acts as the true “voice” of Georgetown, in my time as editor, I have tried to give space to whoever takes the initiative to write an opinion and attach their name to it. Some stories have been contentious, but, for there to be a dialogue on campus, there must be oppositional viewpoints. Yet there is a tendency to question whether we actually need free speech on campus—which presents the most serious threat to the integrity Georgetown community.
Too many times, I have been told I shouldn’t have published an opinion piece because some people find it offensive. Too many times, student activists have suggested that a controversial speaker should not have been invited. Too many times, have people insinuated that free speech is no longer necessary on campus.
This position is usually argued by progressives, who, after spending decades fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, have decided that the principle that allowed them to push for such change is obsolete.
Both freedom of speech and the press are necessary for a community to be open, fair, and honest. As I disappear from the Voice’s masthead, I hope those values remain strong at Georgetown long after I am gone.