Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter: What happened to counterpoints?

Columnists need to critique each other
Collegian File Photo

It shouldn’t be up to the comments section of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian to invigorate adversarial discussion in the newspaper. That’s the job of the columnists. The comments criticizing Greg Fournier’s controversial opinion were more articulate than most comments found on the website by a wide margin. I agree with Emma Garber’s letter about the need to hear from commenters and UMass students not affiliated with the Collegian, but the bigger issue is the vacuum of back-and-forth from the opinion section itself.

When I wrote regular opinion columns for the Collegian before graduating, sparring with my conservative friends and colleagues was what drove me to contribute. I felt that the Collegian needed a leftist voice to make the case for issues of working-class students of all backgrounds. When controversial articles about flag burning or free speech weren’t received well, I remember columnists besides myself champing at the bit to pounce on the articles’ flaws and represent the opposing view. These responses gave weight to the idea that one columnist didn’t speak for the newspaper, which is why I find it so deafening that no one in the opinion section has written a rebuttal to Fournier’s column. The silence in combination with the request for angry commenters to rebut Fournier gives the incorrect impression that Fournier’s opinion represents the opinion section at large, even if that notion contradicts the general mantra of the independent columnist whose opinion is only their own.

I haven’t read every opinion column in the Collegian this year, but I have read many of them. And scrolling back through the year’s production, I don’t see a single deliberate counterpoint piece since early October. There is some overlap in subject matter, but it’s rare. This has the effect of nearly every column being the definitive opinion published in the Collegian. This doesn’t technically mean the Collegian endorses whatever is written, and most readers understand that, but it could give off that vibe to readers less involved with their college paper.

More importantly, it fails to uphold the Collegian’s responsibility to spark political discussion on campus. Not every column needs an argument, and most issues aren’t strict dichotomies between right and left or good and evil. But the Collegian must do better than a December column about immigration policy with no alternative proposed by a single Collegian staff member two months later. More prominently, Bhavya Pant’s Jan. 22 column critiquing affirmative action was begging for a response. These issues are complex, relevant and highly adversarial, and I know there are talented, concise writers on the opinion staff who are up to the challenge of offering alternatives.

There are two solutions to the issues the Collegian faces regarding its reputation and its responsibility to the campus community: First, the columnists and editors need to revive the self-critical spirit that has driven the section in the past. Opinion pitches should be challenged and critiqued to bring out the best content. If writers disagree with the finished product, they should print those criticisms in the paper.

Secondly, issues cannot be limited to conventional political narratives. The 24-hour news cycle gives consumers plenty of panel debates between the left and the right. When we read the Collegian opinion section, we want nuance and unique perspectives and, when it comes to campus issues and personal narratives, we often get this. But opinion columns about national or social issues can do better.

These two solutions go hand in hand. Why stop at one counterpoint? Four different columnists could have divergent, nuanced takes on masculinity that don’t align with the left or the right. Political conversation is starving for this kind of insight, and it shouldn’t take a special issue of the Collegian to dig up this high standard of content. It should be the norm.

I love reading the Collegian, flaws and all, and the opinion section is especially close to my heart. The most highly critical commenters probably feel the same way, but they are expressing their disdain because columns like Fournier’s aren’t being challenged properly.

Will Keve

Former Collegian Columnist

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    NITZAKHONFeb 21, 2019 at 6:25 am

    As a frequent commenter I’m acerbic and caustic, and I admit it. A great deal of my issue, as the writer alludes to, is a simple lack of basic research on the part of most columnists.

    The Parkland retrospective lacked any discussion of the multiple points of failure leading up to the attack, any one of which would have resulted in the massacre being prevented; i.e., this report which is damning:

    Nor does it mention research by John Lott to the effect that mass shootings are not uncommon in the rest of the world; nor does it mention that most mass shootings occur in gun free zones (why, it’s almost as though criminals ignore laws!). Nor does it cite videos like the one, just below, showing that America’s murder rate is far lower than many other countries, or the fact that most murders are committed in concentrated areas, or the fact that 50+% of murders are committed by black urban men… these are important, and point to specific potential root causes that have nothing to do with guns specifically.


    The “we’re all gonna die” piece about climate change didn’t even bother looking at multiple websites that are skeptical, e.g.:

    Or address multiple issues with data collection, provable fraud and data manipulation by NASA / NOAA / IPCC, etc. These are not esoteric, but are readily available to people who are responsible columnists, not shills for the standard Leftist tripe.

    The column about Alexandra mindlessly cited her growing up on the Bronx; she didn’t – she grew up in a Tony neighborhood with a median income far, far above the state’s average.

    And so on.

    Many many moons ago I used to be a columnist where I went to school. I researched my columns and could back it up. Blogging now, the same. The vast majority of my articles have so many links to source materials that people have complained to me they can’t possibly follow them all.

    In a debate club one must research the other side’s case before arguing one’s own. Collegian columnists would do well to do that, lest they become Teflon Intellects.

    Just as an intellectual exercise, to experience diverse points of view, I strongly suggest reading just a few sites a day to taste an information and opinion flow outside the Borgleft collective:

    Minds only function when open.