In our previous issue we published an article about the latest Blind Duck pub event and another about the Thomas Cottage, that spooky little shack that lies southeast of the Student Centre. But what upset Kristen Blank, a UTM student, (see Letter to the Editor) was not what we covered as much as what we did not cover. Ms. Blank believes that the picture and blurb we assigned to the Light the Night event, which aimed to raise awareness about violence against women, amounted to insufficient coverage.
According to a very disappointed Ms. Blank, who in her letter neglected to mention that she is a Residence Life Staff and one of the rez Programs Coordinator, as well as a don for the previous two years, she is not just another frustrated angry student complaining about how I didnt get my way. Yet given the sarcastic bite of letter and that the fact she omitted her official affiliation with the campus residence, I felt that was indeed the case.
Ms. Blank begins her letter by informing us that the three quarters of a page dedicated to the pub is half a page too much. The pub article was, however, the sixth in terms of most hits for that week on our website. This makes me conclude that we gave it just the proper amount of coverage. (The Thomas Cottage article was fourth.)
Next, Ms. Blank qualifies our blurb as insincere (did she read the blurb authors mind? Does short mean insincere?) She takes things one step further and draws ominous conclusions about our choice of words in calling the Thomas Cottage the rapist shack. This admittedly poor term was a code name that we gave the cottage in the office. We never meant for it to wind up in the paper. But when our Features Editor Amir Ahmed, one of the most respectful men I have ever met, wrote the article, he decided to give it a jocular overtone. He thus called the cottage the murder shack. As I edited the article, overwhelmed with late submissions, worried about deadlines and perhaps thinking Mr. Ahmed had gotten confused, I replaced it with the original term, without being conscious of it, and never thought about it again.
Looking back, I now see I shouldnt have done that. The article was intended to be humorous, not disrespectful. I am sorry if a reader found it distasteful. So is Amir (read his note on this page).
Yet I cant help but to be upset, not because of a difference of opinion with a reader, but because someone who is close to me was once sexually abused. I thus take serious exception to anyone implying that I am not sympathetic with abuse victims. Perhaps Im not sympathetic either with murder victims because we called an abandoned little house the murder shack ? I could go on about the things that I found unnecessary about Ms. Blanks letter. It is tempting to compare it with UTMSU President Joey Santiagos, who obviously disagrees with last weeks opinion piece against eliminating tuition fees, but still sent us a respectful and mature letter. What matters, however, is that at the core of Ms. Blanks letter lies a genuine dissatisfaction with us. She felt we didn’t give extensive coverage to a truly important campus event and accused us of acting in bad faith. As it turns out, we didnt cover it not because we didnt care (we do care), or because we have covered it every year in the past (we have, and even splashed it across our front page last year), or because we dont care about residence students (we do, very, very much, seeing as they constitute the core of our readership, given the fact that they spend so much time on campus). The reason why we didnt cover the Night the Light event was because we had no volunteer that day.
Lame excuse? Only if we were a professional paper with dozens of staff instead of four section editors, a copy editor, and me. We put in a lot of hours in addition to having school and external work obligations, and often lack the time or the resources to do many of the things we wish we could do. Sometimes a volunteer will fail us at the last minute, like it happened with the Night the Light event. Sometimes we have too many news articles to fit in too little space and are forced to make decisions that will displease event organizers (which is why Ms. Blank should have disclosed her position: event organizers can never hold a truly objective opinion).
Lastly, I must add that since our only complaint about the Thomas cottage article was Ms. Blanks, and since Mr. Ahmed and me have received praise from three readers, it would seem that everybody but Ms. Blank realized the term was nothing but a joke, however unsavoury. I also must add that our two female team members found nothing offensive about it either.
As Ms.Blank correctly points out, ours is a school newspaper, supposed to be the voice of students. I could go on for pages as to why I think The Medium is essential to UTM. But if we are to function, we need students to write for us. We need students to provide us with positive feedback as much as with negative feedback. We need them to follow through when they really want us to cover something instead of dropping in casually only once. We need them not to assume that we dont care about their concerns or that were a bunch of insensitive brutes. Ms. Blank concludes her letter by saying, I surely hope this will be the last you hear from me on such a negative note, since I know you will continue to publish student relevant articles which I will still enjoy and pertain to me. I can only hope that she will indeed take the time to drop us a line next time something in our pages strikes her as enjoyable and relevant.