March 8, 2023

FRIEDMAN | Keeping Them Honest

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As Andrew Morse ‘96, a distinguished media executive, wrote in a sentimental 2011 Sun piece, “I still have such great reverence for The Cornell Daily Sun.” 

In an exercise of deep contrast, in November of last year, one Reddit user wrote: “Why do these kids treat every article like a blog post. I’ve never seen a university paper so unprofessional and simply hard to read.” Another wrote in 2018: “In my opinion 90% of the newspaper is irrelevant to every day student life, uninteresting, or intentionally provocative.”

During my time writing for the paper, I have been fortunate to receive favorable reviews from faculty and other University stakeholders. As a reader of the other columns, I have also found a number of columnists discerning and thoughtful.

Most Cornell students arrive in Ithaca with some command of the written word — a lack of intellect is clearly not the problem. Still, no matter how smart or savvy a teenager or twenty-something is, appealing to the thoughts, perspectives and outbursts of 15,000 loud and divergent students while satisfying a loud minority is quite a Herculean task. Even for a person of any age or experience level, exhibiting discretion, wisdom and moderation while appealing to a wide audience is difficult — the word difficult being a dramatic understatement. For an example, take one look at mainstream political media.

As Morse stated in his 2011 article, The Sun is a place well-suited for cutting a writer’s teeth. Cutting teeth means sharp criticism, a commodity as common as oil in American life. This extends even to public shaming from anonymous internet users who are too scared to email the editor in chief, but not afraid to rattle off an insult from the comfort of their bedrooms. In my view, however, these nameless, disguised displays of arrogance reveal more about the commenters than the leadership of this paper.

Cynicism is never the answer. Faulty premises should be questioned, but not at the expense of tearing down editors and writers, many of whom sacrifice hours of sleep and other commitments in order to keep the legacy going.

Some will use “blog” as a pejorative term to describe The Sun, while others will call the paper a work of art. The reality is up to interpretation.

Some Sun columns do indeed read as vignettes and personal memoirs, as opposed to hard-hitting takedowns. Personally, I support more coming-of age-stories in The Sun and less self-interested takedowns and provocations. I’ve written that Cornell’s apolitical nature is positive for cohesion, and I stand by that notion. 

If you disagree, you are free to reply to a particular article you wish to oppugn, framing your argument and attaching your name. An active dialogue that utilizes respectful, undersigned publishing is the only way forward. 

The era of anonymous online sniping is over; our future and our collective pursuit of happiness depends on it.

The Sun’s perfection — or lack thereof — aside, writing, learning and experimenting are supposed to be cardinal virtues in an academic campus setting. Instead, an expectation of professionalism or perfection supersedes one of betterment and development.

Students often feel pressure to excel academically, participate in extracurricular activities and secure internships and job offers. The school’s reputation for excellence and the high standards set by faculty contribute to the expectation of perfectionism. While this drive for perfection can lead to success, it can also have negative consequences, such as stress, burnout and mental health issues.

Though in theory, Cornell might be most enjoyable as an open-admission intellectual playground, standards surely do matter. Don’t standards precede success? 

Quite the contrary. To forge more successful alumni like Morse, high standards alone may not be enough. 

Instead, as Morse said himself, we must allow our fellow students to fail time and time again.

Aaron Friedman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honest AF runs every other Tuesday this semester.