It’s no use always being right

Pond dwellers, porters and ‘racist’ universities: the devil’s advocate-eye view on a year of controversy

Journalists are the lowest form of pond life. This is not an exercise in puritanical self-abasement: I absolutely mean what I say. We whinge, we pick holes, we are often inexcusably self-righteous. We have a tendency to ignore good news in favour of muck-raking. We are quick to pass judgement and slow to provide solutions which, when they are offered, have a habit of being simplistic and ill-conceived.

In spite of all that, the British political set-up has drawn a wide gulf between government and electorate. Were it not for the free press intervention, an MP would scarcely be accountable for his stint in office. Equally, the Fourth Estate has carved out a comfortable little niche for itself at York, ensuring the students remain well-informed and the University remains accountable for its actions.

Criticism, even in the absence of alternative solutions, has an important function. Student journalists who have inherited this role should perhaps be viewed as medical leeches: parasitical, but with practical application.

This academic year, Nouse has reported on a wide range of student affairs and developments. For the most part, the paper’s reporting has been accurate and responsible. Only two main stories stick in my mind as actively inviting criticism, and it is my intention here to suggest some areas where – with hindsight – I feel Nouse got it wrong.

On this subject, I may be a lone voice shouting into the storm: YUSU’s response to the perceived “porter crisis” spawned at its zenith a rainforest’s worth of bombastic green flyers, while Nouse lent its voice to the campaign with an open letter to the University authorities accompanied by a petition. At the time, there were accusations of ‘bad faith’ levelled at Messrs Cantor, Batten and Lilley. The crisis was short-lived and normality has now been restored, with the exception of Langwith College, where budget cuts have led to a reduced porter service.

Nevertheless, the University came good on its promises to address the staff shortage as soon as possible. It seems wrong that we started with the assumption that the University didn’t intend to keep its pledge.

The headline ‘Are we a racist university?’ was also met with some resentment. I found the suggestion was unwarranted. I thought the statistical evidence was sketchy and the examples of campus racism dubious. When a motorist launches an egg at a foreign student and the charge is student racism, two important questions have to be asked: Was the motorist a student? Was the incident necessarily racially motivated? There seems to be no evidence to suggest either. My verdict: not guilty. A driver of a BMW behaves in an intimidating manner towards a foreign student crossing the road. This was also cited as an example of student racism. A student… driving a BMW… really?

Some people suggested that, unlike the porter crisis which constituted a series of actual events, the ‘racist university’ leader was a non-story blown out of proportion by Nouse, as a clear response to a Vision article. This gave rise to some lively debate in the Nouse office. Personally, I have dwelt on those occasions this year when I think Nouse came up short of the mark. Significantly, I have mentioned only two stories. This is because I?believe the way in which those two stories were conducted marked them out as exceptions to the usual rule.
Nouse, as a rule, is of an exemplary standard in both journalism and production. As for the paper being ‘No-Use’, ‘politically correct’ and other cheap shots – some accusations just don’t merit a response.

2 comments

  1. 26 Jul ’07 at 2:35 pm

    Jenny O'Mahony

    Hi James!

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  2. 1 Aug ’07 at 12:19 am

    James MacDougald

    damn your eyes, mahony. for a blissful moment, i thought someone had responded angrily to my comment piece. i was just gearing up to write an impassioned defence.

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