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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Offended? Maybe that’s not bad

    Last week was my birthday. I had the requisite house party, during which I managed to avoid being red-tagged, and there was cake in the newsroom and lots of dinners paid for by various friends.

    And with that, another birthday season is behind me, and all I’m left with is a house that smells a bit like a bar after closing time and the realization that I’m now another year older.

    You see, I’m an old man, at least by UA undergrad standards. I took “”a few”” years off after high school, which in the blink of an eye turned into eight. Finally I decided it was time to grow up and get to college while I was still a kid … except I learned quickly that, at least to most of my new classmates, I was anything but. I learned not to put my birth year on my Facebook profile, because promising friendships with my peers, particularly female ones, quickly withered once they discovered my age.

    And then, last September, came Daily Wildcat columnist Laura Donovan and her column “”Older UA students elicit mixed emotions.”” I was having kind of a bad day anyway when I picked up the paper and read it, and a bad mood quickly got worse.

    As a member of the “”pervasive older community”” she wrote about, I instantly related to her reaction as one I had experienced repeatedly in class. And I was pissed. I started writing a letter to the editor several times, each draft loaded with bile and invective. I fumed publicly, and I gave the opinions editor a piece of my mind.

    One thing I never considered, though, was the possibility that I could have read the column in advance and killed it, or made the columnist change it. You see, unlike most readers, I was the managing editor of the newspaper with a seat on the editorial board, and, at least in theory, I was in a position to demand such a thing.

    One thing you quickly learn being around a newsroom, even if you’ve never taken a journalism course, is that certain things are sacrosanct. You don’t interfere with a reporter when they’re working on a story about something you have an interest in, and you don’t interfere with a columnist, pretty much ever.

    Sure, there are times when a column gets rejected – it libels someone, for instance, or the argument is entirely based on incorrect facts. Otherwise, though, a columnist has pretty broad freedom to do their thing.

    You see, unlike news content, which is created with the goal of telling all sides of a story, a good opinions piece is supposed to be biased. In fact, one of the goals of the opinion page is to spark dialogue and debate, and you know you’ve done your job when the Mailbag fills up with responses.

    These are the goals of the opinions section of any newspaper, but if you ask me, it’s even more important at a world-class university like ours. After all, few communities anywhere are blessed with our diversity of background and experience. We’re surrounded by highly educated people, and people who aim to learn from them. This is the place to have important debates on the issues that face us all, here in Tucson and around the world. And the Daily Wildcat is proud to provide a forum to do just that.

    Do I agree with every opinion that’s expressed on the opinions page? Absolutely not. But I’m awfully glad that the page exists, and I hope that in our way we’re contributing to debate, and ultimately, understanding.

    And it doesn’t always happen, but sometimes you can actually change some minds. Although I never sent in any of my angry letters, plenty of older students did and many of them were far more eloquent than I could have ever hoped to be.

    Two months later, Donovan wrote another column – “”Older students offer wealth of knowledge”” – in which she essentially recanted much of her earlier column and wrote about the new friendships she had formed with her older classmates as a result of her first piece.

    She included this simple sentence, her take-away from the whole experience, and an important thing for all of us to keep in mind:

    “”The lesson I’ve learned here is know someone before judging them.””

    Nickolas Seibel is the editor in chief of the Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at 621-7579 or at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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