The Practice of Doing Journalism

Readers may know that I occasionally “do” journalism, and have received a certain amount of education and job experience about how to be a writer, reporter, journalist, thing. I’m used to being the interviewer, and so it’s been awfully interesting to find myself in the middle of the media coverage of Princeton’s new gender-neutral housing option and be the one answering student reporters’ questions.

Yesterday I spoke to a reporter who, among other things, asked me about the tenor of other students’ reactions. Had I heard any negative feedback? I explained that I hadn’t from individuals, just read anonymous Daily Princetonian comments, which are about as reliable a source as YouTube comments. The reporter confessed to difficulty finding anyone with a negative reaction, and really kept pushing that. I cautioned her against the old Prince trick of just getting a statement from the Anscombe Society, who is against everything cultural-values-related that the majority of the campus is for, and then hinted that maybe, if she couldn’t find reliable negative reactions, maybe that’s just because there aren’t any.

A number of people have pointed out both in person and on the Internet that they can’t really see what all the fuss is about—for them, gender-neutral housing is a total non-issue, and they can’t imagine why the fact that Princeton has taken this long to implement it should be getting any attention. And as much as I’m pretty proud of the fact that we did this, I can’t blame them: I’ve said from the beginning that what Princeton would be doing by implementing gender-neutral housing would only be bringing the university into sync with the heterosociality of the real world, and that preserving gender-segregated living is totally artificial and totally outdated.

But when you write a story, you need a quote from the opposition. At least, that’s common wisdom, something ingrained into every journalism student’s head at some point. Of course, though, what that means is that you give the opposition the same weight as the majority view, even if that’s very far from being the case. When the Prince does it, they render the views of the two dozen members of Anscombe equally important as those of the 4,500-odd undergraduates not in Anscombe. And when the national media do it, they render the views of the minority who believe that health care reform would institute “death panels” equally important as those of the majority of Americans who don’t believe that, and who would actually rather like some health care reform, now, if at all possible. It’s tricky, dangerous territory.

To all those folks who wondered “What’s the point?”, I’d say that this story is still a story, even if it’s not controversial. The story is, in fact, that gender-neutral housing at Princeton is not controversial—that four decades after there was a serious and fully two-sided debate around whether to admit women to this university, it has finally become in touch with reality. As far as I’m concerned, that’s really exciting.


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