Editor’s Notebook: What Kind of Journalism Does Wesleyan Deserve?

by Ezra Silk, on behalf of The Editorial Board

Good news, everyone! Print newspapers are saved! At Wesleyan! For two years!

An anonymous alum has donated $20,000 to maintain the flailing New York Times readership program for another two years. The number of daily copies distributed will be reduced from 700 to 400 and the WSA has asked professors—who receive a hefty discount for their home-delivered subscriptions to the Times—to abstain from taking copies. “Faculty subscription to the Times is almost cheaper than toilet paper,” assured the indefatigable Charles Lemert. “The thing that's upsetting is that probably even with 400 [copies], there are so many left over at the end of the day.”

Upsetting, eh? According to a WSA poll, the student body—or at least the part of the student body that participates in WSA elections—is actually quite down with the print Times. In a poll that accompanied last week’s elections, 75.4 percent of those surveyed said they read the Times and 49.3 percent claimed that they read it everyday.

This is not exactly surprising. Since many of us are the children of intellegentsia types— including a few Times reporters, no doubt—paying attention to the musings of the chattering class is sort of in our blood. Some of us actually might end up being in the chattering classes some day. Wes alums have certainly gone there before.

But where does our alma mater fall on the matter of journalism’s future? It’s an important question, especially given our brand new (and slightly Usdan-like) Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. For those who don’t know, Robert Allbritton ’92 is the entrepreneur behind Politico.com, the insurgent beltway gossip newspaper that is pretty much the only news organization in America making money at the moment. Allbritton has made a lot of waves with his print/web business model for journalism, and Wesleyan has been happy to take his money, tossing him a breathless profile in the Wesleyan Connection in return. Presumably, Allbritton will be interested in imbuing his ideals on the Wesleyan student body through his new center for public life. In other words, expect a journalism class or two in the near future.

But what will be taught in these journalism classes? Will the professors be pre-approved by Allbritton himself? Will he have a say in the curriculum?

We hope not. In his lust for advertising dollars and shout-outs on the Drudge Report, Allbritton has squandered a wonderful opportunity in Politico. Now that Allbritton’s paper has taken down the decaying Washington Post with its story on backroom influence peddling at the Post, it has became all too clear: Politico is certainly no replacement. Politico does not investigate Washington. It fans the flames of Beltway insanity, bowing down to the television hacks and cynical “moderate” opinion instead of to the power of actual reporting. It is trivial, gossipy, and petty.

We thank Robert Allbritton for his money. Wesleyan is better off for it. But the buck should stop there. Having the Grey Lady firmly implanted in our hallowed halls sends an important message: Wesleyan is too smart a place to promote the ignorance that is Politico-style journalism.

  • Zip

    Let's not forget this as well: Allbritton started Politico after he and his father were forced out of their positions at Riggs Bank. They'd been helping family friend and former dictator Pinochet embezzle money. Good people.

  • http://coneymedia.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/wednesday-afternoon-edition/ Wednesday Noon Update 9/30/09 « Coney Media

    [...] NY Times. Whether or not students on the New England campus still want the print edition, their campus editors are full of enthusiasm. [Wesleyan [...]