Letter from the Editor: On criticism of the opinion section

Opinion Editor Max Schulman and Editor in Chief Sarah Friedman edit together in the newsroom.

Dear readers,

I want to write to you to let you know that I hear you. I hear your concerns about the Hustler’s opinion section, and I see your comments about the ideas displayed and the quality of writing. The fact that the Vanderbilt community is voicing these concerns gives me a perfect opportunity to clarify the purpose of our opinion section and why I stand behind the team responsible for putting it together and the decisions they make.

The purpose of the opinion section is not to state the views of the Hustler as a publication or of any member besides the author. The purpose of the opinion section is to provide a forum for anyone in the Vanderbilt community to voice their opinions. The job of the editorial board is to make sure that these opinions are expressed clearly and concisely, and to support writers throughout the writing process. While we defend all of the writing published and respect the people who boldly share their views, the opinions are those of the writer alone.

There are always voices left unheard in campus conversations, and the Hustler is proud to be an avenue for expressing them. The fact that these opinions stir up conversation on campus means that we are doing our jobs right. However, these conversations often devolve into personal attacks on people who make themselves and their views vulnerable, who represent communities on campus that share these views and have remained silent. The conversations that we are trying to start are not about these people themselves, but about the issues they are bringing up.

I’d like to remind you that the people who are being attacked could be reading these comments in the same dorm building as you or right next to you in class. In fact, they could be standing behind you in line or sitting next to you at Grins hearing your comments out loud. That’s not to say you shouldn’t interact with the content and debate the points brought up, but the respectful and effective way to do so is by commenting on the content of the piece, not the individual writing it. Chances are, if you knew these people, you would think as highly of them as I do, even if you don’t agree with their opinions; I frequently don’t agree with them either. Excluding things we don’t agree with is nothing short of censorship.

I encourage each and every one of you to bring your opinions to me, whether that is by emailing me or the opinion editor, Max, directly, by commenting constructively on social media or our website or by crafting a response piece and submitting it here.

I’ll acknowledge that representing opinions in a calm, collected way is challenging, especially about things we’re passionate about. There have been several occasions when I’ve felt the emotions we’ve all felt while reading things we disagree with and that don’t coincide with our values. I’ve been defensive. I’ve questioned reasoning. But then I stop to remember that the people who hold the beliefs I disagree with may feel the same way about my opinions that I feel about theirs.

For those of you who are hoping to hear from the person who works most closely with the opinion pieces, I’ve asked our opinion editor, first-year Max Schulman, to clarify what goes into his role with the section and answer some questions below.

All the best,

What’s the hardest part of your job?

It has to be the time commitment. I’m only a freshman. I place a huge importance on my classwork. I play volleyball for the club team. I’m going through the rush process. Being the opinion editor is like taking an extra two classes. I put out four articles a week. I help compose staff editorials. I hold an opinion staff meeting every week. I have to personally meet with every person who writes an article in order to edit their work. It’s a crazy amount of time.

What do you want people to know about you?

I have a poster of Obama as my phone background. I went to Bernie rallies during the primaries. I have a BlackLivesMatter tee-shirt. I’m an unabashed, bed-wetting limousine liberal. If I can acknowledge a well-articulated opinion and put it on the Hustler, anyone should be able to do it.

How do you cope with editing pieces that you don’t agree with?

I leave my opinions at the door. I’m very passionate about my beliefs, and one of them is the freedom of speech. I want everyone’s opinions to be represented–so, I isolate my ideology from my editing. I conserve the voice of the article and make organizational fixes. I don’t touch the argument.

What does the editing process look like?

I generally get an article between one and three days before it’s published. If I think it’s publishable, I send it to Sarah to see if she agrees. If she does, I comb through it and make suggestions. Then, I schedule a meeting with the author to address my suggestions. From there, Sarah has another look and we put it on the site.

What kinds of things do you choose not to publish?

I tell my staff that there’s a short checklist that they have to fulfill: a) the article can’t be ridiculously long, b) the article actually has to make a new argument that doesn’t just rehash something everyone agrees with, c) the article has to be about Vanderbilt, d) the article has to be well-written and factual. If all of those things are fulfilled, the article will be published. Nothing else gets cut.

What is does your ideal opinion section look like? What do you think we can do to work towards that ideal?

In a perfect world, there would be a statistical parallel between the opinion pieces’ ideologies and the ideologies of the Vanderbilt student body. For example, because Vandy has about twice as many liberals as conservatives, every third article would espouse a right-leaning viewpoint. I think that we’ve been working towards that–I’ve demonstrated that I want more conservative opinion writers. As long as conservatives and liberals turn out in equal proportions to the opinion section, I think we can get there.

Who gets to write for the Opinion section?

It’s mostly the opinion staff who write our articles. But anyone can be a staff member. If you show up to one meeting and get my contact info and emails, you can be a staff member. Even if you can’t handle that, you can literally email me an article and I’ll meet with you. Anyone with two braincells to rub together and my or Sarah’s email can write.

What is your reaction to the negative commentary on the opinion section?

Please remember that my job is really difficult. Whenever the Hustler needs me, I drop what I’m doing and attend to that. The Hustler takes priority over my schoolwork a lot of the time. It’s upwards of 12 hours a week, and it’s incredibly hectic. I doubt that anyone leaving comments on the Internet would be able to and want to do what I do.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY