I’ve received this feedback from Peter Mooney, an opinion staffer at the Michigan Daily in 1985 and 1986, opinion editor in 1987, and a city beat news reporter in 1988. Although it sounds as if BAM-N has attempted to meddle with the Daily in the past, they had nothing to do with last year’s boycott. In fact, I’ve been a frequent and vocal critic of BAM-N, whom I feel represents few students on campus.
“I’m ex-Daily editor from the ’80s, and have read your blog and its prescriptions for the Daily with interest. First off, I agree that too often the Daily can be excessively inward looking and self-referential (if that’s not just saying the same thing twice). Your advice about appointing an ombudsman is a good one (I think one of the biggest frustrations among the Daily’s many campus critics is the sense that no one on the Daily hears them). Too often the Daily could do some easy damage control by having someone (an ombudsman or editor) address an issue where they’ve pissed a lot of people off.
However, I do think that your blog reflects an assumption that disatisfied Daily readers are predominantly those that organize against it (BAMN etc.). In my time, and I expect now, there were many moderate/conservative students who felt that the Daily ignored/excluded them, and I suspect that a good ombudsman would spend as much time addressing these concerns as she would claims that the Daily is racist.
On the racism issue, I strongly reject the BAMN demands (with the exception of more minority recruitment). Essentially, by demanding that certain beats be created or certain series be written BAMN was seeking effective editorial control of the paper. While there’s nothing wrong with attacking mistakes, poor writing, typos etc. I think that once the Daily allowed any group to determine the content of the paper on a regular basis it would cease to be an independent newspaper, and instead become an organ of that organization.
I also disagree with your argument that the Daily’s management processes should be more public. Making M-Desk meetings public would, I believe, just make official M-Desk meetings meaningless (much like Michigan’s clumsy Open Meetings Act). Power at the Daily, in my time at least, came from two sources — one, holding a formal position such as being a section editor, and second, hanging around enough that you become part of everything going on. No one can realistically expect to impact the paper by simply showing up now and again at a “public M-Desk” meeting or by being a peripheral staffer who writes a story every couple of weeks.
Finally, I sensed in your analysis a belief that the Daily should be more open to the involvement of students with outside political commitments. There were several activists on the opinion page in my day, and some tried to get involved in news. That created a tremendous amount of tension between the “committed” Dailyites (some future journalists and others who
just loved the Daily) who felt that the Daily should attempt to live up national standards regarding the appearance of neutrality and fairness, and those who felt that the Daily was just another student organization where they could express themselves. I think that the Daily will only survive (and I hope thrive) if its goal is always to be to fairness both in reality and perception, and I think that that requires a policy that excludes political action outside the Daily.”