Monday, September 19, 2011

Reviewing 'The Student Review'

Today was the debut for the first edition of The Student Review, an alternative student newspaper for BYU. Of course, as a longtime employee of The Daily Universe, I had some personal interest in what type of publication the Student Review would turn out to be.

Because it is an official part of the campus curriculum, The Daily Universe does have some limitations, and sometimes those limitations do get annoying. There is still some confusion between the Brimhall Building and the Smoot Building as to the primary purpose of The Daily Universe. And there have been moments when I've felt riled up. But I've calmed down and learned that I don't need to be an activist all the time.

For the most part, we write stories that would be published with or without administrative approval. After all, we do like BYU. We wouldn't go out of our way to try and make BYU look bad. And the Universe has published plenty of deep, serious, investigative articles, even some that could spark some controversial discussion (two examples from me: Some missions causing RMs to change political beliefs, Cougar sports by the numbers). It's not just the Police Beat. Of course, the journalistic environment is unique here. But part of that uniqueness is what makes the Universe an award-winning newspaper. Having a foundation built on competent professionals, instead of a group of students who have a bone to pick with their university or any other authority figure, means the Universe has something to offer that other campus newspapers across the country do not have.

True, I've never personally been the target of a BYU inquisition, and if I were maybe I would still hold a grudge. And maybe now that I'm preparing for law school and not preparing to be the next Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, I've lost the journalistic fire in the belly. Maybe I just want to please people. But I still believe strongly in freedom of speech and the First Amendment. And even at BYU, I don't have to be a martyr to stand up for those rights.

So, when I heard that an alternative newspaper was trying its luck, I was worried that it would have an agenda and rally others to its cause. I was concerned that it would be simply an extension of our opinion page and just be filled with complaints. Basically, I wondered if it would become the newspaper that sometimes the administration perceives The Daily Universe to be. I thought it might try so hard to stand on a soapbox and stick it to the man that it might compromise good journalism standards. A newspaper article can stir up conversation without stirring up trouble.

This morning, I picked up the inaugural issue and read it from cover to cover. And I was very impressed.

The Student Review is ambitious yet simple, professional yet informal. It included stories that would be difficult to compile into one edition of The Daily Universe. From campus clubs to Arizona politics to sex therapy to the Freemasons, there's a lot of great information for anyone interested in the world around them (which I hope would be anyone at BYU). And in general, the stories are written as well as any BYU communications major would write them.

In fact, what struck me was that there isn't much that would keep these stories from being included in The Daily Universe. Some of them would not be published, but not because they are inappropriate or seditious, but simply because they are more suited to a magazine than to a newspaper. There's no false doctrine in the Q&A with the Provo sex therapist, there was nothing I didn't hear in my premarital class at the Student Health Center or my marriage enhancement class in the JKB. And I don't think the subject is completely untouchable by The Daily Universe. It would just be handled with more of a newspaper style than a magazine style. And there is certainly need for both styles to be in circulation.

I'll point out some other differences that I found between The Student Review and The Daily Universe:

- "Student's bladder explodes while waiting for parking spot" is undoubtedly funny and well-done. But, since The Daily Universe is not BYU's "The Onion," it's not likely a fictitious, humorous story would find its way into the newspaper.

- The story about the USGA club might be, in the Student Review writers' minds, the epitome of a story that wouldn't see the light of day at The Daily Universe. But actually, I think all it would need is a little more doctrinal context, even if it's just a general authority quote from a recent conference.

- The conversation about Men's Services with the BYU operator was funny and poignant. But again, The Daily Universe doesn't give space for dialogues. The "Overheard at BYU" Facebook group would be a better fit.

- I couldn't tell what side of the issue "GQ magazine slams Provo for lack of fashion know-how" was on. Was Rebecca Ricks making fun of Provo too? Or defending it? I'm not saying that it's completely missing the mark, just that it would need a tweak or two before showing up as a viewpoint on the opinion page. As one of our lab editors says, when it comes to editorials, "Take a side."

- Even though "Fresh off the boat with Eden Wen" was written by an Asian, I'm sure it will be easily misunderstood. Could you imagine the response that would come if that letter were on The Daily Universe's opinion page? I don't think Eden Wen meant anything racist, but I'm sure others would. I'm not saying her article was out of line, just potentially problematic.

- Besides being more Seventeen than New York Times, the other obstacle for publishing "Romney & Huntsman: Who's hotter?" or an article like it in The Daily Universe is the reference to family jewels. Not only is it an innuendo that most newspapers would edit out, it's also just not that funny to me.

- Nowhere in "Two different pictures of BYU" did the article happen to mention that the Church is actually, to a certain extent, pro-evolution. It didn't say the Church was anti-evolution either, but it leads the reader to believe that it is. Even around 1911, the year referenced in Alex Christman's article, the First Presidency issued a statement on the relationship between religion and the theory of evolution. The three BYU professors dismissed must have believed in evolution to the point of not believing in the restored gospel. But a reader who only has a superficial knowledge of any of these topics would not understand that topic, and think only that a research institution like BYU is against science.

-  The thing that probably bothered me most of all was the introduction's implying that The Daily Universe excludes articles written by anyone other than communications students. Even though the Universe is a lab newspaper and is part of the curriculum, we don't turn away articles just because they didn't originate in "our little club." Anyone can write a letter to the editor, and anyone can submit an article as a "cub reporter." True, there might be better channels for those letters and articles than The Daily Universe. But if the word on the street is that we're keeping students on the outside, I hope that misunderstanding is cleared up soon.

I don't want this list to be interpreted as railing against The Student Review. This isn't a collection of flaws, just differences. There is certainly a place for almost all of The Student Review's material, and just because that place isn't The Daily Universe doesn't mean that material is worthless. There's a place in the world of journalism for both magazines and newspapers.

There is a lot to be praised in The Student Review. I liked "Mormons & Masons," I thought it was great that Jeffrey Stott interviewed Valerie Hudson for his article, the calendar is very useful to anyone in Provo looking for something to do (by the way, I liked that The Student Review's attitude is that Provo is a great town with lots to do), the "This I believe" story was very interesting and thought-provoking, "Entering a brave new world" was a great way to catch up for a casual fan who hasn't been following the changes in BYU sports, and there needs to be more points of view like Shereen Emara Salah spread around the world. And, generally speaking, it's always good to have more content available.

I wish the founders of The Student Review only the best of luck.


  1. I appreciate the review. I feel that it was very insightful and provides a way for the reader to be more news literate now that there are two campus papers. With this much information coming at us, even on campus, I am grateful for the contrast/comparisons made so I can make better decisions regarding what is really news and what isn't when I read the Review.

  2. I hate to be antagonistic, but this review reeks of condescension shrouded in praise. Rather than a review, it reads like a defensive response to a perceived threat.

    The Student Review, while positioned as a Daily Universe alternative, fills an entirely different niche. There is no need to quietly jab the style and tone of authors writing for a monthly periodical. And pointing out that "there isn't much that would keep these stories from being included in The Daily Universe," while then noting the needed changes in each article is unnecessary and patronizing.

    Yes, The SR is different from The DU, and perhaps the differences are subtle. I may remind you that these students, too actually *like* BYU. There is no need to assume a covert agenda or to check for doctrinal accuracy (doctrine does not always encompass objective truth anyway, so I found that odd in itself).

    Finally, it is interesting to me that a mere recent graduate, no matter how distinguished, would assume the tone (as you do in this post) of a seasoned journalist who is prepared to critique and impart wisdom from an exalted level of theoretical knowledge and experience.

    Forgive me if my comments are harsh, but I believe this review misses the mark. The Student Review has made an impressive entrance to the BYU scene, and it is well on its way to accomplishing its purpose of providing a voice to the several unheard members of this community.

  3. Beauregard,

    Thanks for being thoughtful in response. It's always a breath of fresh air when someone disagrees but does so without insulting me, haha.

    Mostly my point was that what makes The Student Review different is not that it's the "unpublishable" stories, because of the subject matter, just that it's a different style. And of course, there's nothing wrong with that. Like I wrote in my post, "it's always good to have more content available." Newspaper style and magazine style are both valuable, and I'm glad they're both here.

    I had no intention of pretending to be a seasoned journalist. For one thing, I actually haven't graduated yet. I'm no expert. I just wanted to express some observations from the point of view of a BYU student, the intended audience of The Student Review, as well as the point of view of a journalism student who probably pays attention to the state of newspapers more than the average BYU student. But I don't think my opinion is any more worthwhile than any other BYU student, or any other journalist.

    I hope that clears some things up for you.

    Thanks for reading!


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