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Don't bore your readership
I spoke with Lindsey Kerrigan, president of the IU Republican Women, last night. I asked her if she was going to write for the Indiana Daily Student at some point. (She was a columnist this past summer, generating a lot of letters to the editor.) Her answer surprised me. She would not be allowed to write for the IDS because her involvement in the College Republicans presented a "conflict of interest". Apparently, the IDS does not want student activists to be columnists.
This is a stupid decision by the IDS. Over the years, the most memorable columnists have been activists. In fact, the IDS has in the past recruited student activists for the op-ed page. This livens up the opinion page and makes it a more interesting read.
Former IDS columnist Reid Cox, for example, had achieved near-legendary status with his column. Cox could have written a column about how he enjoys a sunny day and there would have been three letters to the editor about how a "racist, sexist, homophobic bigot" like Cox does not deserve to enjoy a sunny day. People may not have liked Cox's opinions, but they would always pick up the paper to see what he was saying this week.
Other columnists that have livened up the opinion page have been recruited from the College Republicans, the College Democrats, the Student Coalition, IU Students for Life, the Animal Defense League, and OUT. You always knew their columns would be interesting even if you found what they had to say to be offensive. There was a time when I would look forward to reading the IDS each day to see what was being said today, but that is not the case any more.
In a mainstream newspaper, I can understand why you would not want an activist writing opinion columns due to conflict of interest. However, a student newspaper is a very different animal than a city newspaper. Student newspapers should be cutting edge, especially on the opinion page. Since you are not going to be drawing from professional journalists, your talent pool is smaller. A student newspaper's lifeblood is the opinion page, and motivated activists help keep it vibrant.
One of my main complaints about the IDS opinion page this semester (and for the past few semesters) is that it is boring. Prohibiting activists from being columnists contributes to that. It is common sense that the worst thing you can do in media is bore your readership or your audience. Controversial columnists generate interest, but a boring opinion page will be ignored. I urge the IDS to not only allow activists to be columnists, but to start recruiting them again.