Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"The Graduates" Fails To Make The Grade

Yesterday, the New York Times launched a new opinion blog, "The Graduates," intended to relay the fears of eight college seniors facing the future. I think it's the best idea I've seen in The Times in awhile - but I think it's the worst execution I've seen in the Times in that same period of time.

There are two primary reasons why "The Graduates" is different from the other Times blogs: first, it's written by eight students who (to my knowledge) are not employed or paid by The Times; second, it's written by eight people presumably under age 25. This combination of citizen journalism and classic MSM journalism is highly unusual for the Gray Lady, but very cool nonetheless.

Not surprisingly, all eight graduates are journalism or communications majorswrite for the campus newspaper: Alice Mathias is a columnist at Dartmouth, Amber Wilson is an editor at Dillar, Anna Weggel is an editor at the University of Minnesota, Juliet Moser is a columnist at George Washington, Michael Erler is a columnist at San Diego State, Missy Kurzweil is a columnist at Cornell, Travis Mitchell is a columnist at Texas A&M and Tyler Graf is an editor at the University of Oregon.

So when I read Ms. Mathias's first post yesterday, in which she proclaimed that she was "magically reporting for a not-student-run news organization from the trenches" of her last semester at Dartmouth and mentioned that "on June 10th this [safe, town-sized] bubble is scheduled to burst, at which point, along with (most of) the class of 2007, [she] will be catapulted into adulthood," I couldn't help but think:

Since when aren't you an adult? Don't you have real concerns?

Are you really running around Hanover as a child with an Ivy diaper?

I imagine Ms. Mathias is not, but something still struck me as odd about her post: Though written eloquently, the content was not at all telling of her fears. In fact, there weren't really any hard facts or anecdotes in the whole thing. Ms. Mathias, it seems, was merely a self-appointed mouthpiece for her class and generation, worried about who will be president and what we're going to do with our lives.

"What color is your parachute?"
"I don't know, I'm too busy crushing for Barack Obama."


So what, then, was the point of this blog? Tell me about the kid who struggled through Dartmouth because he didn't get enough financial aid. Tell me about the kid whose parents divorced months before his graduation. Tell me about the kid who is $10,000 in credit card debt and $100,000 in debt from Sallie Mae federal loans. Tell me about the kid who is scrambling to get her sprained knee and three cavities taken care of because his Mom just lost her job and she's without medical or dental insurance upon graduation.

You can tell me about the dreams of a college graduate, but tell me some reality, too. Otherwise, what's the point?

Though there are only two posts on the blog so far - Ms. Mathias's and today's post by Mr. Mitchell - both convey a less-than-grounded approach to breaking out and actually working as a journalist (or anything else, for that matter). In her post, Ms. Mathias concerns herself with a childhood game she used to play that would "forecast" what life she was destined to live. Mr. Mitchell's post is equally as rose-tinted, as if it were written by an elementary school child with a fantastic grasp of vocabulary. Though many of their sentences start of with a wide-sweeping negative proclamation like "only a few will be prepared" or "if my classmates and I are going to live forever," there isn't any real discussion of the real difficulties each student will have when they graduate.

Trust fund babies as an exception - and they should be, even if it is The Times - what about health insurance? How about a job? Are you going to move out of your collegiate city for another, or stay? How is your journalism/communications degree helping or hurting you? Have you found an apartment yet? What about the psychological aspects of being a legal independent? Living on your own? Doing your own taxes? Paying for graduate school - alone?

In my opinion, "The Graduates" is a stellar opportunity for not only these eight seniors, but all of the class of 2007 and beyond - yet I fear the opportunity will be wasted on writings of high-flying dreams, hopes and aspirations. Not that those aren't important - they're what get you through the day and are worth living for, believe me - but I think some real tough-love posts are due on this new blog. Otherwise, what's there to be scared of? The next president?

To boot, the blog is only available on TimesSelect, and though The Times has recently made the service free for those with a ".edu" address, few know about it and fewer know how to activate it (I did only recently, and I consider myself 'in the know'). Plus, TimesSelect expires when you graduate - so all eight of these seniors won't be able to read their own blog writing after May.

Additionally, it's nearly impossible to find, and isn't yet listed in The Times' own blogroll.

In the end, I think "The Graduates" misses the mark by not practicing what it's assumedly preaching. You can find real honesty and worries buried in message boards all over the Internet - why can't that reality be pushed into the spotlight?

A better way to do it? Select some students who aren't afraid to write honestly. Journalism students might be good writers, but writing for The Times, they're far too concerned with how they appear under such a masthead. Get the word out to major colleges and universities that the blog exists (since apparently, "no young people read the newspaper anymore") and let the comments build. But most importantly, just get the word out - it's not like students don't want to speak about their problems. (And those problems are not about whether Family Vacation or Animal House is a better movie, either.)

In the end, make sure everyone of every age reads it - because the Class of 2007 is sick of reading about how they're burdened by debt, job prospects and politics from people who are old enough to be their parents.

Let them speak for themselves. And let them speak the truth.

19 comments:

Travis said...

Great feedback. Keep checking the blog, keep writing your thoughts and don't be surprised to find a less flowery post come out at some point. Both are necessary. I-banking and international communication are important topics to come out the gate discussing. But you are correct. We have more to say.

Travis Mitchell

The Editorialiste said...

Travis,

Thanks for dropping by (and checking your Google Alerts). And you are right - there's definitely importance in international relations on all levels. I'm just glad you were able to understand what I meant underneath it all.

Make no mistake, I'm truly glad that you are all blogging, and look forward to reading what's to come.

Blogspeed to you and your peers.

Always,
The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. Where is the real story? I am the girl who finished graduate school with almost $100,000 in loan debt and now a year later am temping- unable to find a permanentjob, without health insurance, and in major credit card debt to add to my student loan debt. Everyday I worry about how I will pay my bills that month (IF I will pay my bills that month), what will happen if I get sick or hurt without insurance, how much further into debt I will go before I find a solid job, and will I be able to get my finances on track being this deep in debt?

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous: Thank you so, SO much for commenting - you are precisely the person I am talking about. It is your story and those of your peers that I think should come to light.

Should it be a blog of complaints? No, not at all. But should the "fears" of "The Graduates" include all of these prospects? Absolutely.

I, for one, would like to know what each author's plans are for next year, and exactly how they plan on accomplishing them - realistically.

In my own opinion, it is injust that you are saddled with such pressures while simultaneously in pursuit of the realistic dreams of working a job, getting an education and living a financially sound life.

Thanks so much for commenting, anonymous.

Regards,
The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

anyway it is restricted to those with Times select ... so it is useless as a blog ... will be read by precious few

Anonymous said...

Blogspeed?

no.

-ris ;)

Anonymous said...

Me again...the girl with massive debt and stress.. I think the reason stories like mind don't come out is because the people writing these blogs aren't people like me. They are people who have parents who pay for their schooling, rent, etc and most likely help them out financially when they first start out after finishing school (and possibly beyond). They don't have these worries. They start out in a completely different place than people like me.

Get Fresh said...

I think you may have been a little too critical of the "graduates". Yes they failed to delve into the "harsh realities" of transitioning into adulthood, but who cares? It's only the first post. The blog is a place for them to express their fears not run off a lithany of complaints. I think it was a good introduction and I look forward to reading what follows. The logistics of that entire blog is pretty screwed up. I agree with you on that one. The NYtimes dropped the ball.

BTW I like this blog. I'll start checking it often. Great writing

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous: You're right, sometimes. I don't necessarily agree that all of those students on "The Graduates" have everything paid for them, and I'd certainly like to know how they were selected for the job. Nevertheless, we shouldn't assume that just because they blog for the NYT doesn't mean they, too, don't have financial problems. For now, at least, they're just not writing about it - and it seems to me to be more an editorial/creative decision on the part of the blog and less on each individual's part.

Nevertheless, you are correct - it's very difficult for someone to keep up when they've started the race in a different position. So please - keep the stress down, pay off those bills bit by bit, and don't forget that you should be working to live, not living to work!

@get fresh: You're right, I made a lot of presumptions by judging the blog by the first post. But you know what? There have been more since then, and I haven't seen much difference. Plus, don't forget - the first post is always the most important. To think Alice Mathias wasn't aware of her position to set the tone of the blog would be equally as presumptuous. In my opinion, her first post wasn't shocking enough to make me want to tell someone else about the blog.

Thanks so, so much for reading, get fresh!

Cheers,
The Editorialiste.

greenarcher03 said...

"How about a job?" Haven't found one yet.

"Are you going to move out of your collegiate city for another, or stay?" Haven't decided either. I hope to stick around in the next few months to figure things out.

"Have you found an apartment yet?" No.

"Living on your own?" It's a real scary thought, being that my parents helped me all throughout college.

"Paying for graduate school - alone?" Even scarier since I know my folks can't help me anymore.

I'm amazed at how you've managed to capture all the things I've been thinking about. I've been putting in much thought into these questions (among others) since last semester, and I still feel like I haven't found any answers.

I suppose I'm at a dead end. Hopefully I can figure things out. Soon.

Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah. There is no journalism or communication major at Dartmouth, nor are there semesters.

The Editorialiste said...

@green archer: Thanks for writing in. I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking of these things. But you're not at a dead end - we're in the same boat, and I don't see myself at a dead end, or even a patchy stretch. I see a big, four-lane highway that I can get on to go where I want to, and I just need to figure out how to pay the toll and merge without getting into an accident. Do keep reading, and please tell me more about your situation!

@anonymous: I'm aware of how Dartmouth works (D-Plan), I know people there. I intended to say student journalists, because I meant to refer to the fact that all write for the campus rag. The correction has been made.

All the best,
The Editorialiste.

John Kuczmarski said...

• The great thing about “The Graduates” is the material is NOT reporting the trials and tribulations of people suffering with thousands of tuition debt, or the minority student who faced racism at school, or any of those “tragedies” – those are a dime a dozen, and frankly, trite. The Graduates is a great blog because it addresses the small, but serious adjustment concerns, the philosophical uncertainties of life fulfillment by people who – while adept, educationed, and intelligent – are a wee bit disillusioned about the real world.

• There is a major market for this. Disillusioned young adults are mass-produced by superior, incredible, great “academic” schools, that prepare for the books, but no so much for real-life savviness.

• Truthfully, I don’t think there is ENOUGH of an abrupt shift from the college life to the real world. It seems like there isn’t enough of a transition because those sphere’s have overlapped.

The Editorialiste said...

@ John Kuczmarski:

I couldn't disagree with you more, though I can see the appeal of skirting over the details in favor of the more thoughtful aspects of an abrupt change in life. What I'm saying is this: "The Graduates" is completely ignoring this aspect of graduation, and I think it's impossible to talk about the "philosophical uncertainties" without talking about debt and things like that. If you don't think managing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is life changing, you clearly haven't had the opportunity to play that game. It's one that many of my peers would gladly opt out of.

You mention that there is a major market for this, but never mention who that market is. Who? TimesSelect readers - the college-educated, affluent and nostalgic? If that's the market you're talking about, you're probably right. But what the hell's the point of making it a blog if it doesn't really address true fears? And how long of a run could the Times make with graduate daydreams? I, for one, would like to read how one of those students actually makes it work.

Finally, your talk about a lack of an abrupt enough shift to the real world is highly generalizing. I attend an urban university and am not subsidized by my parents - how isn't that enough of a transition? Sure, maybe someone at Colgate or Cornell can't get it together because they're so used to that collegiate bubble. But for all the hundreds of thousands of students who don't get to live in dorms, and don't get to "all-you-can-eat" on a meal plan, or carries two jobs outside of class, or even someone who pays their own insurance -- real life is right up there at the forefront.

John, I often explain my college years as such: I lived my life and attended classes, not the other way around. I'm not the only one, either. These stories are not an exception to the rule; they are not worth ignoring because they have become common as a result of higher education's take on finances; and they are the farthest thing from "trite."

I'd be happy to hear your comments on this, John. But let's be frank: you'll have to offer up your background as context for why you feel all of the problems you and I mentioned - "mass-produced" students, a lack of a transition, racism, unwieldy debt, health insurance and so on - are worth eschewing completely for pillow talk from a secluded campus setting.

Thanks for reading and commenting,
The Editorialiste.

Megan said...

Too funny -- today in the Times one of the students talks about how she'd rather do a worthwhile job than one that pays well.

Pay the bills yourself for a few years, honey, and see how you feel about it then.

Macy said...

Your comments are en pointe. I paitiently wait for an article to comment upon the recently reported student loan scandals involving Citibank, Sallie Mae, and Student Loan Xpress. I've contacted the head of Public Affairs at my private university, as well as the Office of Financial Aid, and their responses were thoroughly uniformative. A student is saddled with a six figure debt and a mere two hundred dollars is seen as proper recompense?

Ahhhhhh...I love the smell of rising interest rates in the morning.

What the Times blog desperately lacks is relevancy and a harsh smack from reality.

The Editorialiste said...

@megan: Yes, you're correct. Only a few days after Travis mentioned that "we have more to say," a girl from Minnesota shows us that she's not at all in tune with "the big city" and "the real world." Her optimism, while endearing, is naive. Should you follow the job you want to work, regardless of pay? Sure - but let's be realistic: bills are going to be a big part of your life as a result; even more so in a big city. This large void in the coverage of "The Graduates" blog is just startling to me.

@macy: Yes, you're right too! Not a single post about college loans. How many friends do you think a Sallie Mae or Citibank loan holder talked to after that hit the headlines? It's a huge story, and not a single "graduate" has mentioned his or her loans. Is it private information? Sure. But come on - one of the biggest fears of graduates is having that six month grace period expire.

I'm starting to think this blog should be called "The Undergraduates," because this type of wishful thinking is what I heard in high school, not college.

To boot, the first three comments are always senior citizens commenting on how good of a writer the person is who posted that day's blog (before the rest of the thread is overrun by real students saying "you've got to be kidding me"). Give me a break! Of course "the graduates" can write, that's why they work for the paper. It's not a unique quality - they're journalists. But that elusive "editor's feel" for relevancy? Hmm, I think there's a lack of that in "The Graduates."

Plus, it's hard for me to read those comments left by parents saying "ignore the naysayers!" They just don't know what it's like to have this kind of debt. It is exclusive to our generation, and their comments are as irrelevant as the posts they're attached to.

@both: Thanks for commenting and sharing - your voices are all too important. I hope to read many more comments from people like you.

Merci and thank you for continuing to read,
The Editorialiste.

P.S. - At this rate, don't be surprised if this topic comes up again on this blog. It's too big to ignore.

John Kuczmarski said...

@ the editorialiste,
Okay this a response to "the editorialiste's" aka Andrew Nusca, response to my post.

First off, you and I are interested in the same field: communications media happened to be the major I crafted during my college years.

However, despite those similarities, you seem to have difficulty hearing out communication because you skimmed over my points and either purposefully distorted them, or just missed them entirely. For starters, "the appeal to skirting over the details" as you put it wasn't the brunt of my argument. You, however, over-emphasized it as if it was.

Secondly, if your world view is so incredibly materialistically myopic that your only view of the "life game" is "managing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars", you seriously need to get a reality check, possibly find a religion that works for you, possibly actually try to hear out some of the messages of "The Graduates" instead of criticizing them. I'm not saying you need to retreat to Walden pond for a decade, but if your perception of "life changing" events and activities involves debits/credits of a bank account, you'd be dangerously disillusioned, yourself! Judging from your eloquent vocabulary and articulate arguments, however, I'm sure that's not entirely the case;)

Moving on, as for the "market" for those "philosophical uncertainties", again, you missed the point that. Sure, to the fears and dilemmas of Darfur refugees, to Holocaust survivors, to those that have experience catastrophic scenarios the small, but serious adjustment concerns of the Dartmouth graduates appear trivial. However, considering the nature of fear's subjectivity, the small adjustment concerns are entirely valid. You ask "what the hell's the point of making it a blog if it doesn't address true fears", but that's precisely what it does address. As said before, minor concern fears will always be eclipsed by horrendous catastrophic-scale fears, but anxiety or mere timidity of the real post-college world still hold value in addressing.

Futhermore..."lack of an abrupt enough shift to the real world is highly generalzing". OF COURSE it's bloody generalizing! If your talking about "college spheres" and "real world spheres" -- vague, ill-definied terminology -- I'm sorry but generalization from any angle is going to, inevitably, be part of the process.

But reading your arguments bolstering the work-study kids or the students who had a non-dorm-room residential transition before the end of the college years, it's clear that you actually understand what I was saying about the merging spheres. Those work-study, non-cafeteria students had the opportunity to merge with real world. I, apparently you, and a high percentage an average student body were cooking most meals, and living out of the dorms, but again, you can't define emergence into the real world by one's utilization of dorm rooms, cafeteria food, and/or work-study programs, to do so would be -- again, back to an original inherent problem -- myopic.

You describe your college experience as "I lived my life and attended my classes". Talk about generalizing..."lived my life". What the hell does that mean? That could mean anything from earning money to startign a family to...anything. If you're making yourself into the "rare collegiate breed" that made academia second to life, trust me, you aren't without many. Most college students these days merge tedious life jugglign concerns with their studies. Frankly, I think you're overly-defining your juggling of jobs and studies into somethign special, when it's not. Copious students throw in a few jobs during their studies. But I don't think you're putting yourself up on a pedestal; the intelligence of your responses come across to clearly for that to be an issue.

In regards to offering up my "background", don't turn me into the covert arguer. I'm the one who doesn't need an alias to post on this blog! My own blog can be reached at www.validatelife.com. I am a Colorado College graduate, class of '06, juggled a sport, a job, book writing and publishing, finances, and marathon training, along with classes during the collegiate experience, but I don't think there's any point in boasting that I managed real world activities with college students, because the majority of students that I knew did that as well, and more! It's no biggie! But the crucial necessity of nurturing concerns for life after college -- the feelings, the doubts,the curiosities -- or in ANY transition, can never and must never be denied, hushed, excluded, nor suppressed.

Again, all of those problems-- ""mass-produced" students, a lack of a transition, racism, unwieldy debt, health insurance and so on" -- are NOT worth eschewing. They are, contextually and with social subjectivity, very pertinent and great to not triviaize, but embrace and resolve.

Your lengthy response affirms your interest in this topic and your vocabulary shows you're a very savvy writer, yourself, so I'd love to continue this discussion in any venue (voice, typed, etc.) I am most likely going to start offering classes addressing these concerns of so-called "mass-produced students, if not to address their fears, but my own as well!

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