I’ve typed the words “falls short” more times than I’ve flossed. Of course, my flossing regimen hasn’t set the highest bar for clearing, but, nonetheless, as a former three-term arts editor, “falls short” was once my default print headline. (In print, space proves minimal and patience, scarce) “Birdman” was pretentious? Headline: “’Birdman’ falls short.” “Into the Woods” didn’t do it for you? Headline: “’Into the Woods’ falls short.” Think “The Big Short” was too short? Breaking news: “’The Big Short’ falls short.”
As one might imagine, I got some flak for that around the office. And yes, some nuance or headline variation or really anything resembling effort might have been more decorous. Yet, I stand by my laziness.
There’s not a great deal of real estate set aside for print headlines, and often the first casualty is the author’s value judgement, that inkling of criticism leveled against a middling production (often paragraph five of six or, in rare cases, six of seven). “’Birdman’ was pretentious” becomes “’Birdman’ soars” or “’Birdman’ reviewed” or some other less-than-clever pun involving a noun, a verb and a weak imagination. And I’d rather run “falls short” than sanitize a writer’s valid disapproval. (Now here’s where I try to make an argument.) For, if we fail to acknowledge that which is bad, it becomes rather difficult to communicate the distinction between the excellent and the mediocre.
In the majority of journalistic endeavors, existing in neutral is normative. Bias is about as welcome as a sudden and ill-explained shift in the way a given administration chooses to address alcohol consumption (*sighs*).
The pursuit of objectivity is noble, ethical and indispensable. It is the foundation upon which good reporting is built. But I also fear that we, at The Daily, sometimes forget to be angry at the world, to channel passion and bias into something productive. Bias, after all, is inherent. So if life falls short of our expectations, why not grow some teeth and learn to bite? (Because puff pieces are toothless; was that clear?)
As gatekeepers of information, it’s our job to stick our noses where they don’t belong and refuse to accept complacence when complacence seems to be the only way to stay afloat. Printing a daily paper is hard.
So we made a magazine, a re-assertion that passion and narrative and experience and stirring up shit are all of genuine value to us. If something is broken, let’s find the words to fix it. If something is shrouded in darkness, let’s shine a light on the black. If something needs to be said, let’s pen the narrative. And, if we fall short, they can’t say we never tried.
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.