The principal mission of any local newspaper is to tell the stories of its community.
Sometimes, though, those stories are best told by the community itself.
The Daily Bruin, like any credible local media organization, offers members of the public the opportunity to respond to published content and share their viewpoints about issues related to the community. These pieces are published in the paper’s Opinion section and collectively labeled as submissions.
Submissions have historically been the lifeblood of Daily Bruin Opinion. Students and administrators alike would send in letters to the editor to share their campus experiences or have their side of the story heard. Fraternity leaders wrote about broken typewriters, minority students responded in the 1960s to the Greek Life takeover of UCLA’s undergraduate student government, and administrators defended themselves against stories about some of their more questionable practices. Even then-California Governor Ronald Reagan wrote a letter to the Daily Bruin – albeit, to cover up an administrative ousting and to accuse the paper of peddling fake news.
That mainstay has since receded. The Opinion section went from a series of pages to a single page. And an understanding of how to submit pieces to the Daily Bruin – once a part of the campus literacy – has led to myself and the Opinion editors preceding me starting nearly every email from [email protected] with a description of what submissions and the technicalities surrounding them are.
Perhaps the need for a reputable marketplace of ideas in print or online lost its following with the advent of online forums and social media. Pressing the post button on Facebook is much easier than jumping through hoops to get your words published in the Daily Bruin. And those who care to go through the trouble are often student leaders or administrators looking to project their voices or update the campus on their agendas.
Of course, I’m not here to commiserate about the difficulties of filling the Opinion page.
I’m here to make a simple announcement: The Daily Bruin is no longer referring to submissions from the public as “submissions,” but rather “op-eds,” much like how other reputable newspapers do. The idea is to make it easier for readers to identify what pieces from the public are, and perhaps even convince more to write to the paper.
And to be honest, when Jacob Preal, the Daily Bruin’s editor-in-chief, approached me about writing a letter regarding the change, I didn’t imagine it going for more than 150 words – 200 if I was going to put on my “I’m writing a paper for a class” hat.
But at a time when the free press has come under attack, when people in power are increasingly guarded against media coverage, and when we’re becoming more socially attuned to the narratives of underrepresented communities, newsrooms need to think hard about what they are doing to tell everyone’s stories.
The Daily Bruin has had that conversation a lot. I know because I’ve been in many of them.
The community still has many untold stories. These are stories we all need to hear – stories about clandestine administrative decisions, an increasingly mobilized student body, silenced voices, antiquated social structures and an underfunded institution.
The conventional way to bring these to light is to report on them: to have a journalist write about what they see or hear, careful to not inject their biases.
Sometimes that isn’t good enough, though – sometimes the story is best told by the people living it.
It takes a lot of courage to do that. And, perhaps most importantly, it requires knowing there’s someone who’s always willing to listen.
That’s who we at the Daily Bruin strive to be. This change is a chance for us to bolster that effort in earnest.
Yes, it’s semantic – literally replacing a 10-letter word with a four-letter one. But behind the scenes, there’s a commitment, and hope, to offer a platform for people to share their stories and drive the campus discussion and narrative.
Submissions from the public can be promotional avenues for campus leaders to share their ideas. But they’re also a space for those without a voice to have one – for those who can to bring to light the stories that haven’t been told, be it about something as seemingly minute as campus vending machines to something as serious as losing your job for speaking out against an injustice.
And yes, submissions from the public are also a room for the university to respond in earnest to the campus community.
Take this letter whichever way you want – a tired college student rejoicing at not having to repeatedly explain things, an attempt to appease concerns about bias in coverage or a plea for more write-ins from the community.
Regardless, we’re here to listen.