The Year of Engaged Readership

When this column was created two years ago, it was intended as a setting for outward reflection. At the time, the Exponent was recovering from a $30,000 deficit and working towards a sustainable and stronger future. The hope was to have a designated place for big-picture thinking that would facilitate conversation both on-campus and within our staff about the Exponent’s place on campus.

Since then, staff members have come and gone with time and graduation, but the need for big-picture thinking remains. If the Exponent wants to be an integral part of campus life, we need to look beyond our weekly production cycle to reflect on our place and purpose at MSU.

The primary goal of the Exponent and any news publication, I would argue, is fundamentally simple — communication. The pages of our paper would ideally be used to enable students to connect with the university by giving them the opportunity to be informed about what is happening around them. They would fairly represent the views of those profiled and the news would be accurate and timely, but the editorials and opinion section would be unafraid to criticize decisions made by campus community members. In its very essence, the Exponent should be a forum for student and administration discussion, an outlet for frustrated voices and work tirelessly to accurately capture campus life.

The challenge presented to our staff members, then, is reflecting the endless intricacies of campus life. Ideally, the words in our articles would be warm, caring, funny and human, but also honest, professional and informative. Accordingly, our rag-tag team of untrained student-journalists would perform on a level of equitable to any professional publication.

We don’t always achieve these goals, of course, and they are admittedly romantic in nature, and perhaps impractical in application.  But the extent that we do achieve our goals remains hard to assess. Without feedback from the larger campus community we serve, it is impossible to know if we do our ideals justice. After all, journalism that makes only its writers and editors happy is not proper journalism at all.

That feedback, however, is hard to come by, especially from the ultimate constituency we serve — MSU students. Perhaps it would be simpler to accept the apparent apathy of our campus community and acknowledge we often yell into an empty void. But I’m afraid I find that a too easy answer, and to accept it would be to don a cloak of irreparable cynicism.

Certainly, it is not that students don’t care what is happening on their campus, as to be a part of a community is to care about it, at least on some level. We are charged, then, with finding a way to connect with students in a way they accept, whether it is through diverse events, reaching out to different  groups on campus, or covering old topics in new ways.

Beyond journalistic ideals, and on a much more informal level, the Exponent forms a sense of community for the staff and, we hope, the reader. Through technology woes and personnel changes, through revenue shortages and surpluses, the paper (hopefully) gives us something to be proud of each week. It gives us something to work towards as a whole, and sometimes, the words that mark this page seem more for benefit of the staff than the community.

As with any student organization, the challenges facing the Exponent are often frequent and unpredictable. But we hope to move forward, taking the challenges in stride, pushing towards that ever-elusive future.

As always, I can be reached for questions or comment at editor@exponent.montana.edu