Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Abysmal State of Journalism, or "We Do Not Question Things at the BYU"

This will be a rage post.

This morning I read an article in The Daily Universe. This automatically puts me in a minority of students at BYU. I don't know if anyone else remembers, you know, last year when it was still a daily paper that published something that resembled news—thanks to the AP syndication.

Nudey Gaugin from my grandmother's home
There is so much wrong with The Universe, it's hard to know where to begin. The name alone is absurdly pompous for such a myopic rag. I could talk about how the kinda-weekly-or-so model is stupid, and no one reads anything but the Police Beat online, anyway, but that's not my main issue here.

As stated above, I read an article this morning in The Universe. It contained no news, no real research, and no insight. Here it is, an article about how great the Art Department is because they don't allow nude figure drawing on campus.

For everyone's sake, I'm not going to issue a treatise on why I think the university's policy on nude figure drawing (not to mention the no-nude policy in the MOA) is ridiculous. I'm not an artist. J. Kirk Richards, a man whose religious art I respect more than any other living artist's, wrote plenty about the morality of nude art here. Also, you should absolutely buy his beautiful new book on the Nativity.

But I will say this. Nude art is not inherently sexual. I have never been aroused by a Renoir, and no 14 year-old boy has a nude Degas tucked under his mattress. This summer I actually spent an afternoon staring at Degas' nudes in the Orsay, and I wasn't titillated in the slightest.

An instructive Renoir nude
On the contrary, nudes have a lot to offer society, even and especially those who (like myself) are religious. If you do a Google image search for "Victoria's Secret," you're going to find a lot of young, thin, sexy models. Contrast that with the nude to the left. This painting is beautiful, the woman is beautiful, and her body is beautiful. Paintings like this teach us that women can be beautiful without fitting into our narrow, unhealthy, fetishized ideas of the female figure. I think we could handle seeing more images like these and less lingerie ads.

But anyway. I didn't mean to focus so much on that. My main point is that The Universe is a joke, and that article had no business being printed. A friend of mine who is neither a BYU student nor LDS said it best when she pointed out that the article was at once self-congratulatory and self-conscious. That attitude plagues BYU's campus, policies, and PR.

Just think of the caffeine fiasco that unfortunately fizzled out over the past few months. When the LDS Church made clear that they have no anti-caffeine policy, people started asking BYU why they conspicuously sold no caffeinated drinks. The official response was, "It was a decision made by Dining Services based on the needs and desires of our customers. It hasn't really been an issue." Riiiiight. And every restaurant adjacent to campus sells real Coke because…no one buys it?

This may seem like a silly issue, but the university's stance is so clearly a steaming pile of crap. It gets frustrating that I'm enrolled in an institution that's teaching me critical thinking and analytical reasoning, but any attempt to question that institution's seemingly arbitrary policies is stonewalled. Don't get me wrong. BYU is a great university, and I don't regret for a moment my decision to come here. In fact, I'm very grateful for the opportunity. But the administration and the students can be ridiculous sometimes.

Enter the Student Review. I had such high hopes for the Student Review. Here was a publication that was unaffiliated with the university and could actually facilitate meaningful discourse. I even wrote two articles for them. So this afternoon when I saw the latest issue of the Student Review on my doorstep, I was giddy with anticipation.

Then I read the letter from the editor. I'm going to give Tamarra Kemsley the benefit of the doubt that she is not an awful and aggressively ignorant person. Her piece was about how modernity has been creating more options for consumers, therefore, we're on the brink of breaking from the two-party system. This is a lunacy that betrays a deep misunderstanding of how the country—you know—is. The two party system is a product of our Constitution, not a lack of multi-faceted discourse or freedom of the press. The Electoral College pretty much guarantees that there will always be two major parties, because there's no way a third party could begin to be competitive with the way votes are allocated. That's the result of a winner-take-all system in states' votes.

Perhaps her most egregious assertion, though, was, "True, there are still a lot of old people without Twitter or Facebook accounts. These are the people who still receive their advertising through costly TV ads and the like. But they're on the up and out and replacing them are Millennials – those born in 1985 and on – and not only do we dislike the breaks for ads on Hulu and Spotify, but we're also highly skeptical individuals jaded by politics and slander campaigns. In short, the old tactics just won't work on us."(emphasis mine)

Ah. So it's all the older generations' fault for not being savvy enough to log onto Facebook and Twitter. As soon as they're dead we'll all be living in a "jaded," "skeptical" Shangri-La.

Has Ms. Kemsley been on Twitter or Facebook recently? Social media platforms are inundated with nothing but two-party discourse.

Are "Millennials" old enough to be "jaded by politics and slander campaigns"?

And how about the arrogance in "The old tactics just won't work on us"? Why? Because you watch Modern Family on HuluPlus? Watch out, we've got a legit political philosopher over here.

But that was just one article. Surely there was more to this issue.

Not really.

The next article was titled, "What Does Jimmer Have That I Don't?" Answer: something to write about. Seriously. Andrew Alston, our illustrious author, had nothing to say and even went off on some bizarre, extended hypothetical about how patrons at the BYU Bookstore wouldn't have recognized Gandhi because they were paying too much attention to Jimmer Fredette. Because recognizing the ghost of turn of the century activists is such an important skill set to have when entering college bookstores.

I read a review of the new Mumford & Sons album that was as inarticulate as it was uninformed. It called Sigh No More an "overnight success." If we're calling three years "overnight," then sure.

There's a frivolous article called "Elder Holland Meets Chuch [sic] Norris."

Luke Swenson's "Speculation on the Future of Literature" opens with a colossal misunderstanding and miscalculation of text. "Reading has been stripped almost entirely of its historical function as entertainment…." Harry Potter? Hunger Games? Twilight? Have you read a book in the past ten years? I also call into question his assertion that the historical function of reading was entertainment. I don't think Romans read Vergil primarily to be entertained.

The "This I Believe" article was unreadable. It was all about how hard life was for super-logical Johnny Harris, and how difficult it was for him to tolerate his fellow Mormons' platitudes. No one should ever write in earnest anything that even resembles, "To an objective and dangerously analytical mind like mine I find my logic…" But then Johnny's heart grew three sizes that day, and suddenly he could tolerate his peers' "nebulous catch phrases."

Then their election coverage (the ostensible purpose of this "2012 Election Issue") was a farce. There was an article with more drunken third-party speculation, an article titled "Political Uniformity Limits Diversity" (WHOA! Slow down, Sherlock), and then a poll of eight students. Four of the students said they were voting for Romney. The other four said they were voting for Obama. (So much for that third party…) All eight of these students had a mini bio and a quote as to why they were voting for that candidate. But the quotes universally neglected to articulate anything outside the scope of buzzwords. "Romney. Economy." "Obama. Healthcare." "Hulk. Smash." There was absolutely no discourse or insight into a single policy.

And whoever typeset this monstrosity needs to rethink their life. I really don't understand it. Anyone with enough know-how to launch InDesign should know better than to leave no padding between images and text, to put dark red text on a black image, or to leave the column guides on the final copy. What happened?

What happened, Student Review?

Anyway, if you've made it this far, I'll reward you with a nip-slip.


  1. Thanks for that nip-slip. I will now be going through most of the day in a semi-aroused state trying to get it out of my head by singing a hymn that only reminds me of more nude art. Vicious cycle.

    I gave up on the Student Review after its second issue (and you know how i feel about the DU). The SR published a letter to the editor that was as, if not more, ignorant as anything in the DU. It was highly critical of the Student Rev itself, which was fine, but it was so poorly written that I couldn't help but feel that the SR published it just to say, "Look at us...we are open to dissenting opinions, even if they are unpleasant for us. We're liberal." The whole issue mistook saying something unpleasant for quality work. Not that sth can't be both, but still.

    I don't know if I've told you, but I have been planning to apply for some positions at newspapers/magazines and at some journalism masters programs. The whole exp has been a bit frustrating b/c 99% of these places want previous journalism/comms majors, which seems silly, being that at BYU being such would taint your name as being associated with the DU.

  2. This is a great blog, btw. And now I'm famous! Regarding the design of the publication, I'm pretty sure all of the beef you had with it was absolutely intentional and conceptual. As in, they were breaking the "rules" on purpose. You could argue that breaking the rules for the sake of breaking the rules is stupid, but that kind of debate is the fun part of design. It gets really meta. I kind of...really like it actually. It's subjective. But they definitely should have turned off hyphenation. And I agree the articles were total crap.