Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

When I’m asked about it, I tell people, “Ah, I just have this job because it’s the easiest one on the paper.” That may or may not be true. A piece of journalism tells the amount of work invested in it. If my output is poor, if it be lazy, the article will be as much “about” me as it would be about what I am writing of. If you were to read two 2,000 word articles, one by a tireless reporter and dogged researcher from the Christian Science Monitor and another by some lazy, faded, club-hopping alcoholic with Stuff @ Night who got to work two hours before deadline, and both were about the history of Newbury Street, you can infer which one would perhaps teach you something that makes you smile the next time you walk past the French Library and which one would be full of vapid gushing about Sonsie.

I leave it to you to be my judge, but I take my job seriously. I consider each second I spend on campus time working. I may not always be scribbling down disjointed bits of offhand information or pestering busy people for an interview, the stuff reporters usually do, all the time. I try to channel what’s going on during what may be a telling time for our school. Sometimes I’m passing sneaky notes or bumming smokes from someone who’s interesting. I work by osmosis. If I get yelled at for dropping my butts on the walk, it’s something I mention so James the custodian doesn’t have to dress someone else down. If everybody’s laughing to keep from crying in bitter rage when they’re late for a test because of construction on Morrissey or the parking “situation” (which I hear less and less about these days), I try to find space for it. I don’t mention things like the half-dozen or so people who’ve (reportedly) been rounded up by Campus Police for smoking the doober in a certain stairwell in Wheatley, but I could. I put my hours in.

The strength of any newspaper, though, is reflected in its letters to the editor, and here more than anywhere readers make the paper. A useful newspaper serving an engaged public can be counted on the have a cracking letters section. My model newspaper, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, has one that runs on for sometimes a half-dozen broadsheet pages. It’s full of neighbors, life. I’ve followed several dramas, border disputes and blood feuds featuring pugnacious and hilarious older women, new-age space brothers, seedy drug dealers from central casting. A newspaper is different from a textbook because news isn’t necessarily about something “an expert” knows but about what your friend across town knows. It’s just that the newspaper got to you first.

Ideally I wouldn’t write a word in my section, ever. I would be free to go run after whatever weirdo story caught my fancy for News or Arts, and my section would run itself. As it stands, I assigned myself the task of helping to initiate an open and running dialogue shortly after I got onto the staff here. I refuse, out of principle, to run news wire opinion columns, and am proud to run the vast amount of the contributions I receive, be they letters to us or addressed to everyone in the school. That is not to say that I run every crank letter I receive from anyone in the school (I get some doozies) but if it’s germane to any aspect of our shared situation I run it.

Part of this goal of maximizing inclusiveness will be realized if the Mass Media continues to improve as a paper. We only deserve a response if we produce good copy. But part of it has to do with how engaged you, the reader, are. It’s not only that we have to be hotshot, big-deal journalists. If the people who make up the population are detached and apathetic, no news will be good news. This isn’t a plea for school spirit. “School spirit” will come naturally enough once our school’s identity is more settled. And let’s face it, the climate involves everyone is basically to school and then…peace! What kind of community involves people that don’t talk to one another? One without a shared identity.

So this is what I propose. I will pay $50 in American cash out of pocket to the person who guest writes next week’s column for me. Not a check: straight cash homey. I do not see this as a prize. I see it as a charitable donation, and here is why.

The theme of next week’s column will be, “The Urban Mission.” It will be no longer than 1,500 words, but there will be no minimum requirement. It does not even need to be an article. It can be a poem, or an interview, but no interpretive dances. They do not translate well into print. Otherwise, use your imagination.

Now, I say “write my column” and not “write me an article” because the winner is someone who speaks for me. I’ll do the usual editing I usually do during a usual workweek, as usual. I shall consider this gratis work. The point here is that this column is yours as much as it is mine. And I want us, together, to help do a part in defining the energy of our school as it starts its new era.

I must attach a few conditions: first, I need more than three submissions. If I receive two submissions, and they both stink, I’ll just write the dang thing myself. Secondly, no one attached to the Mass Media qualifies (sorry, guys). Other than that, anyone with even the most tenuous connection to our school may enter.

And, I foresaw a bout of laziness next week, and know I won’t feel like writing. I just can’t keep a paycheck I don’t earn. Send all entries to [email protected].