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Posted in Editorials, Opinion

Swarthmore Needs More Debate, Not Less

By
February 21, 2008

The staff of the Daily Gazette was stunned to browse through The Phoenix‘s opinions section yesterday to find the Gazette’s comment section described as “hateful, vitriolic and ignorant.”

Perhaps the editors of The Phoenix need to read the comments left on the Gazette more carefully. Over the course of this past week, students have left nearly eighty comments, and the worst language to be found was “jerk.” Indeed, the comments were passionate, considered, and informed.

In fact, an editorial proclaiming a rival newspaper as “hateful” and “ignorant” is more vitriolic than any comment on the Gazette. And while the Gazette moderates every comment posted, we have only found two comments out of the 849 from the past six months to be objectionable.

The Gazette believes Swarthmore needs more forums for discussion, and apparently the Swarthmore community agrees with us. Far from being a “marginal online forum,” as The Phoenix suggests, the Gazette provides a place where busy Swarthmore students, alumni, faculty members, and administrators can talk and debate.

While The Phoenix might wish all written dialogue on the Swarthmore campus occurred within its pages, publication of a tiny handful of letters once-a-week is not enough.

Through the Gazette and the Swarthmore Admitted Students forum I ran for three years, I’ve witnessed an enormous amount of online, anonymous discussion by Swarthmore students. I know that that vast majority of Swarthmore students are mature adults, perfectly capable of handling a little freedom.

The Daily Gazette is not the Daily Jolt. Perhaps the editors of The Phoenix should look to publications that use anonymous comments, like The New York Times, USA Today, and the Daily Gazette to see how the internet can foster conversation and debate.

Miles Skorpen
Editor-in-Chief

11 Responses to Swarthmore Needs More Debate, Not Less

  1. Andrew Quinton

    February 21, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I read the Phoenix editorial and just don’t see the trashing of the Gazette that seems to be implied here. While the editorial could have done a little more to distinguish between the kind of commentary on the DG and that on the Jolt, the author(s) did make a point to single out the Jolt as the “particular” source of the hate and vitriol.

    Although its correctness is debatable, the basic idea of “anonymous debate is not an ideal state” is reasonable and worth expressing. Multiple DG commenters have either stated that their experience would be improved if more people used their real names or started to use a real name during the recent discussions. Amazon.com goes out of its way to highlight “real name” reviewers, clearly since they think their customers will respond better to a non-anonymous review. I know I do.

    That doesn’t mean that anonymous debate doesn’t have value. The Gazette has served as an extremely valuable resource through this debate. Public (in-person) forums probably won’t materialize until after many of the discussion participants have moved onto something else (if they occur at all). Some people are indeed more comfortable expressing opinions on highly personal issues online than in person, and the anonymous environment fosters that.

    But acknowledging the value of anonymous debate does not exclude one from supporting more face-to-face interactions, like the ones called for in the Phoenix editorial. When possible, they do make dialogue more constructive and progress faster and encourage people to be more accountable. The main thrust of the Phoenix editorial–which is that the use of a more personal approach by those who found the Republican flyers offensive would be effective–has little to do with the utility of anonymous debates. The point is not that the DG discussion is not useful, but that in-person discussion is also necessary.

    Yes, the Phoenix could have pointed out the positive results of the DG comments discussions and done more to distinguish between the Gazette and the Jolt. The Gazette–and you personally, since you signed the editorial–deserve a lot of credit for making that discussion possible. A gentle reminder that the DG has been the home of fruitful debate is definitely warranted, although perhaps it would best fit as a letter-to-the-editor in the Phoenix.

    But I just don’t understand the need to make statements such as “The Phoenix might wish all written dialogue on the Swarthmore campus occurred within its pages” or write that the Phoenix accused a “rival” newspaper as “hateful” and “ignorant”. I’m dating myself here, but I have strong memories of highly strained Gazette-Phoenix relations during 2004-05. Both sides invested a lot of energy bashing and plotting against the other; it was a complete waste of time. From then until I left the Gazette after the fall ’06 semester, relations were much better and the “rivalry” friendly. I’m worried that this editorial is going to incite another round of sniping between the publications.

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  2. lol

    February 21, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    More overdignified sniping between the papers? Fabulous!

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  3. Joe Wilson

    February 22, 2008 at 7:45 am

    In reading this chain and the other regarding posters, I am glad to see that Swathmore students have not lost their tendancies to take themselves too seriously, to find insult where none was intended, to create a cult of victimization, and to parse language to create antagonism and controversy instead of a sense of community and common purpose. Guys, Swarthmore is your commuinity, not two or three of your closest friends who can help you maintain your sense of “us against the world.” If you think that a small group who all think the way you do is your community, then you will either have an unhappy life or you will be Dick Cheney.

    Take a look at and think about today’s DG quote:

    “Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.” – Laurence J. Peter (1919 – 1988)

    Joe

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  4. this.is.a.stupid.argument

    February 22, 2008 at 10:08 am

    you may be dating yourself by using your real name.

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  5. Jonathan Ference

    February 22, 2008 at 11:30 am

    As someone who served on the editorial boards of both publications and as someone who was present for both the DG-Phoenix tension in ’04-’05 and for what I viewed as rather healthy competition during the ’06-’07 school year, I would echo Andrew in saying that I think you’re misreading the editorial. The criticism is with the nature of the forums, not with the DG itself. Quoting the editorial (which says: “Most of the language used on these forums, particularly on the Daily Jolt, is reprehensible —hateful, vitriolic and ignorant”) to say that “the Gazette’s comment section [is] described as “hateful, vitriolic and ignorant”" is disingenuous and borderline irresponsible.

    The DG is at a place where it can capture the trend towards online news consumption in a groundbreaking way, and it can respond to breaking news at Swarthmore in a way The Phoenix never could. Finding an appropriate balance between that flexibility is going to be a challenge fraught with growing pains — for example, I think the DG should avoid the temptation to run articles with less than three sources. The comments section, I’m still not sure about. I’ve seen some incredibly useful comments (ones either asking further questions, holding a writer accountable for missing facts or perceived bias, etc) and I’ve seen some incredibly useless and unprofessional ones (other staffers posting on articles still strikes me as inappropriate and a bit weird).

    It’s up to the DG to develop these new tools appropriately. But I think using them to respond to The Phoenix editorial in this manner wasn’t such a use.

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  6. Joe Wilson

    February 22, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Oh, no question, but I really am too old to remember different aliases for different occasions. I have a hard enough time remembering my ID’s and passwords for various on-line functions, along with my real name.

    That confusion happens when you get older – regardless of religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.

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  7. Lauren

    February 22, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Miles, I sincerely apologize if you, or any other member of the Daily Gazette, felt personally or professionally attacked by the editorial. I think what the editor meant was that people should take responsibility for what they say, and that when they just post things anonymously they have a tendency to say mean and hurtful things they normally wouldn’t, especially considering how small the campus is, and how many people read these forums.

    The Phoenix reads, “we question the utility of anonymous postings that relieve their authors of accountability.” Not “We question the utility of the DG.”

    The DG was also mentioned in the sentence, “Most of the language used on these forums, particularly on the Daily Jolt, is reprehensible —hateful, vitriolic and ignorant.” I think often people do post anonymously on this forum with words that are mocking and hostile towards certain individuals or groups when the subject in some way affects or addresses them personally.

    Other than this two phrases, the Daily Gazette is not mentioned, and I presume not meant to be criticized in the same manner as the Jolt is.

    In the immortal words of War, why can’t we be friends?

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  8. Miles Skorpen

    February 22, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Let us consider the Phoenix‘s column which reads:

    There is a clear disconnect between the language students use in their classes, among acquaintances and friends, and the language they use regularly on anonymous Internet forums like the Daily Jolt and the Daily Gazette’s comments sections. Most of the language used on these forums, particularly on the Daily Jolt, is reprehensible —hateful, vitriolic and ignorant.

    As I understand this paragraph: Daily Jolt and Daily Gazette Comments = Anonymous online forums. Anonymous online forums (particularly the Jolt — but not exclusively, apparently) = a place where most of the language is hateful, vitriolic, and ignorant.

    I understand that the paragraph stresses the Jolt, but it clearly says that both are a source of this kind of language. And while Mr. Ference is unclear about the importance of comments, I believe they are absolutely central to the mission of every news source in the world. The comments are an essential and central part of the Gazette.

    That said, I believe the staff or editors of The Phoenix did not intend to condemn the comments section of the Gazette. We’ve had some dialogue with their staff, and there are no hard feelings from either publication.

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  9. A

    February 22, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    The Phoenix is crap. They publish garbage condoning Al Quaeda and articles about people killing aliens underground in New Mexico. It’s just generally boring.

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  10. nonanon

    February 23, 2008 at 11:13 am

    You’ll excuse me for saying so, A, but that seems a bit hateful and vitriolic, if not entirely ignorant.

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  11. Stephanie Appiah

    February 24, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Guys,
    As usual, the purpose of the forum comes into question.
    If we want forums to be open and free spaces for dialogue, we shall have to put up with those few random hateful comments.
    I feel that the overall usefulness is still more important than those few negative moments.
    It’s also true that the Daily Gazette serves as a space where people can’t post opinions that wouldn’t be published as a letter-to-the-editor.
    I remember wanting to write a letter about religious institutions and being told the Phoenix wasn’t able to choose mine.
    So I feel that both publications serve their purpose to reach out to the broader campus community, and the Gazette serves to let those extra voices on the margin be heard to.

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