Is the op-ed dead?

Maybe it’s time for a cash-strapped Daily to send its columnists and editorialists packing.

Jake Parsley

So how exactly does a columnist such as myself begin a column in which he argues his newspaper probably doesnâÄôt really need columnists anymore? Yeah, this could get awkward. First off, let me say that IâÄôm saying all this with the notion that The Minnesota Daily is in some dire straits, financially speaking. If what IâÄôve been reading in my various Daily e-mails is true and the Student Services Fees Committee has actually significantly reduced the amount students will be paying toward the DailyâÄôs budget in the years to come, the paper will have to make some hard choices. HereâÄôs a suggestion to the powers that be here at the Daily: If you have to cut content, I recommend you start with the opinion section. ThatâÄôs right; if someone has to vacate the Daily offices, letâÄôs ship the columnists, the editorial board and even the political cartoonists. Now, I promise IâÄôm not just saying this because IâÄôm graduating in a week. This column isnâÄôt about me keeping a job; itâÄôs about whatâÄôs best for the University of Minnesota community. Now donâÄôt get me wrong; in an ideal world where news organizations have zillions of dollars to spend any way they please, I would totally support a robust, free-wheeling opinion section. Scorn from the liberals! Disgust from the conservatives! Christians, communists and corporate apologists would all have a seat at the hypothetical table of opinion. It would be a veritable smorgasbord of worldviews! But of course, anyone who follows either a) the current economic status of print media or b) the current economic status of the University community and/or state of Minnesota at large can tell you we are not operating in an ideal world. And since money is tight, difficult decisions will have to be made. One thing is clear: The news reporting that Daily reporters do every day around the University is just too darn important to let slip. DonâÄôt cut the reporters. We absolutely need those people out there in the community, holding our administration accountable and keeping our students informed of local goings-on. If the Daily doesnâÄôt cover the ordinary goings-on of the University community, nobody will. So I propose that we do whatever it takes to save the reporters. ThatâÄôs where the opinion section comes in. Or, as IâÄôm proposing, itâÄôs where we go out. As in, out the door. ItâÄôs not that I think the current slate of columnists or editorial writers is doing a poor job âÄî quite the contrary. But opinions are available everywhere nowadays. Talk radio, cable news, blogs âÄî all of these forums are basically opinion forums. So do we really need to be dedicating precious newsprint to add more voices to the mix? And if these voices really need to be heard, canâÄôt they make use of those other opinion forums to get their views out there? Consider for a moment the Daily editorial. Do we, as poor college students, really need to subsidize another group of anonymous college students so they can tell us (as they have within the past few weeks) that Obama should repeal âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt Tell,âÄù or that the SEC must take action against Goldman Sachs âÄúwith bold and common clarity,âÄù or that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is âÄúa rare master of coalition-building between justices of all political stripesâÄù? IâÄôm skeptical. ItâÄôs not that I think these opinions are invalid. I just donâÄôt think we need to spend Daily resources on them. I mean, we donâÄôt even know who these people are. And letâÄôs be realistic here, folks; there are literally thousands of websites available full of commentary on the aforementioned subjects from more qualified, more educated and more informed individuals than an unnamed editorial board of college students. And thanks to the Internet, itâÄôs all available to any one of us to access any time we want. So if it comes down to cutting a reporter or an editorial writer, the decision should be an easy one. Sorry editorial guys, whoever you are. The same goes for the columnists, including (especially) myself. Why should the student body have to pay me nearly $50 to spout off 900 words about whatever I happen to find interesting in a given week? I really have no specialized knowledge or unique qualifications, and neither I nor the other Daily columnists tend to bring any truly new information to the table. All of it is already out there somewhere, weâÄôre just adding our own two cents. Honestly, weâÄôre basically writing blog posts on crushed, dead trees. So again, when it comes time to make the tough decisions, let the columnists crumble. Of course, the opinion section apologists will argue that the paper needs op-eds to spark debate within the student community, to make people angry, sad, happy or maybe just a bit more thoughtful. To those who hold such opinions, I say maybe itâÄôs time we just ceded that work over to talk radio, cable news and the blogosphere. TheyâÄôre already doing it anyway. And so, if things are really as bleak as they appear here at the Daily, I propose we sacrifice our anonymous editorials and preachy columns for the greater good of the paper. The University simply cannot afford to sacrifice reporting. Opinions are important, of course, but there are so many avenues for editorial expression in cyberspace now, I just find it indefensible that a penny-pinching paper continues to expend resources to compete in the viewpoint marketplace. Blogs, after all, are free. This column youâÄôre reading is not. So IâÄôm volunteering. Daily powers that be, when it comes time to tighten that belt, send me and, if need be, my opinionated comrades packing. (But do it quick; IâÄôm graduating in two weeks.) Spend that money on some good hard-nosed reporting, and donâÄôt worry about us. WeâÄôll be fine; weâÄôve still got talk radio. Jake Parsley welcomes comments at [email protected]