My four years at Duke University have been characterized by political tumult and global uncertainty, undergirded by a growing mistrust in journalism—and more fundamentally, disbelief in the truth. Attacks against reporters became more common, with both online criticism and physical violence increasing in recent years. The news became “fake news.”
Nationally, we think about this problem in terms of our national and international news organizations. Many hold up organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post as examples of respected institutions that can (mostly) be trusted, while criticizing others as biased and fake. Yet many of these views are similarly biased as the biases they claim to find in the news.
There is a growing movement to educate the public about the process of journalism and how articles—be they extensive investigations, short government pieces, food reviews, or sports gamers—end up on paper and on the screen for anyone to read. But college newspapers have been doing this for decades. And journalism in the United States would not work without the work The Chronicle and hundreds of other college newspapers have done to give Americans an introduction to the news.
When I came to Duke as a first-year student, I did not have much of an interest in joining The Chronicle. I was interested in science and medicine and had no interest in journalism. A then-senior who was giving me advice about the different organizations on campus piqued my interest when he said that The Chronicle was terrible, and I should not join. As someone who is always curious, this comment had the opposite effect, spurring me to go to an information session the following day. Within a week, I had written my first article and taken photos of my first event (sadly, the newswriting part did not stick).
As I would learn over my four years, this senior was by no means the only person who took issue with The Chronicle. I always found it interesting to compare the problems people claimed The Chronicle had and the information I knew from being involved in the newspaper as a photographer. What I realized was that many of the problems people identified had more to do with them not understanding how a newspaper works or what the purpose of a newspaper is.
People did not understand how an editorial board works (which I can somewhat understand, since every paper seems to run their editorial board a bit differently). Some did not understand that if you do not want to be quoted by a reporter who properly identified themselves as a reporter, you have to ask to ask to be off-the-record or refuse the interview in the first place. Many did not understand that letters to the editor are typically not rejected for ideological grounds—the very foundation of a newspaper is freedom of speech. A few did not understand that newspapers will not simply talk to one source and follow that source’s narrative in a vacuum, without any external context.
In many ways, a core responsibility of The Chronicle is to correct these misunderstandings. And I think we do a pretty decent job. I have seen our staff explain the inner workings of the paper to countless students on campus. Our opinion section has gone to significant lengths to differentiate editorials, columns, and letters and highlight what those categories actually signify. Our reporters regularly educate sources about how to interact with reporters despite it sometimes not being the best thing for them to do as far as “getting the story” is concerned.
Plus, The Chronicle—and college in general—provides a slightly lower stakes environment for mistakes to be made and learned from. After all, being quoted on one’s opinion about the new restaurant on campus is hardly going to ruin anyone’s future. This is not to say that The Chronicle does not publish life-altering and important pieces. There have been numerous investigations and scandals of national attention during my four years that would counter this narrative. But these are the abnormal; The Chronicle is typically more focused on the hyper-local and transient in significance.
I have immense respect for and pride in the staff and editors of The Chronicle that came before me, the ones who shaped my experience at Duke, and the ones who will be here after I leave. For a group that is oftentimes misunderstood and has to spend a significant amount of time educating the public, they do an amazing job on the front lines of defending American journalism.
To the 301 Flowers crew, thank you for a spectacular four years of learning, growth and mentorship. Keep on fighting the good fight.
Ian Jaffe is a graduating Trinity senior who will be working in emergency management before pursuing a career in medicine. He would like to thank Carolyn, Jack, Likhitha, Bre, Hank, Amrith and Mitchell for all of the amazing experiences and wish Charles and Mary Helen the best of luck.
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