September 7, 2009

Former "Backpage" Writer Responds

One of last year's Backpage writers, Eliza Thompson '09, just sent us this exclusive statement.

"As a former editor of the Backpage, I am very upset by the news about the Misc's decision to cancel it, and I think you should find it upsetting as well. Whether or not you thought it was funny, it attempted to poke fun at Vassar and campus life, and if you have been there longer than a week, you probably know that the school and its students often take themselves waaaay too seriously. We worked very hard for many hours to produce content that was funny and well written, and sometimes we succeeded and sometimes we didn't, but in any case, the goals behind it were simple: provide an arena for criticism and satire of Vassar life, in a paper otherwise filled with serious content. We know that all of you didn't find it funny, and that's fine--obviously two or three people cannot appeal to everyone's sense of humor at once. For example, many people find Family Guy to be very hilarious, while I find it mostly unwatchable except when I'm extremely drunk. The same is true for the Backpage. Many people have told me it was the only section of the Misc worth reading, while others thought it was not funny at all. Either way, I think its presence on campus is something worth fighting for, and not just because I used to write it.

As to why it was cancelled: One reason given is that the section does not have a byline and so seems to reflect the opinions of the paper itself. This is a legitimate problem but an easily fixable one: put the writers' names on the page (which are also inside on the masthead). This was discussed while I was there, and though I suggested it several times as a solution to the "paper's opinion" problem, nothing was ever changed. The second reason is that the Backpage supposedly generated too much controversy and received many complaints from the Vassar community. However, while I was Backpage editor, none of these emails or letters were forwarded to me, and despite my continued offers to field questions and comments from readers, the editors repeatedly told me it was unnecessary. I was never given any information about complaints except vague things like "someone didn't like that women's studies joke, no more women's studies jokes." If the section actually did generate a lot of controversy, I was never given an opportunity to address it myself, and never once saw an actual letter or email about offensive content or spoke with anyone in person.

But even if the Backpage did inspire tons of angry letters, I wonder why the current editorial board is so afraid to court controversy in its paper. That's what real journalists do, it's part of the job description. A journalist who's afraid of pissing people off is like a pilot who's afraid of heights or a drunk celebrity afraid of the paparazzi. This is not to say that the Backpage ever produced hard-hitting journalism, but the principle is still the same. If real-life editors avoided criticism and controversy in the same way that your current Misc editors do, nothing of consequence would ever be published. Even if you didn't like the Backpage, the fact that it existed at all should mean something to you, and the fact that it's being cancelled now should show you what kind of people are in charge of the school's newspaper.

Furthermore, I would like to address Brian Farkas's statement, which I found incredibly offensive. First of all, while I was editor, the Backpage was NEVER "poorly/hastily planned." Ben Grinspan and I put a lot of time and effort into the Backpage, as did the people who helped us with photos and ideas from week to week (special shout-out here to Mike Alberti for that one time we made him play Jesus), and I don't appreciate Brian's belittlement of something that we worked so hard to produce. Secondly, saying something like "thank goodness" in response is just a TAD rude. Many people spent a lot of time on the Backpage over the years, and while Brian did not find it funny and didn't like answering all these alleged complaints about it, to brush it off like that so flippantly makes me question the amount of respect Brian has for the people who helped him put his paper together. No one who disliked him as an editor-in-chief took to a website to publicly rejoice in the end of his career at the Misc.

Molly Finkelstein (your Backpage editor 04-08 and my career mentor) and I are in the process of starting a letter writing campaign in an attempt to restore the Backpage to its rightful place in the Misc. In the mean time, go ahead and send misc@vassar.edu an email in protest if you're interested in saving the Backpage. If you're not, that's fine, but remember that your editors are very afraid to deal with controversy and a little bit of button-pushing. If you think the Misc is going to get any better under their control, you best think again."

14 comments:

danielle said...

it's so funny watching all these grads have their little revolt. don't they have jobs?!?

A.T. said...

and people wonder why we have such a shitty alumni network; they're trying to help us and you're being a bitch why?

danielle said...

i'm being a bitch? have you seen these posts? these people, eliza especially, are taking themselves and the backpage wwaaaayyyy too seriously. i mean, i'll miss the backpage too but this is really not that big of a deal.

lavishluau said...

If the bosses at the Misc. don't appreciate The Back Page, then why don't the people who (used to) write for the Back Page send a big FU to the Misc. bosses and start their own publication? The independent Back Page blogs are certainly a good start.

It just seems like a waste of time to fight with the Misc. editors when even if the Back Pagers win, they will still be perceived as subordinate to the rest of the writers. Since obviously the bosses don't like The Back Page.

The most famous college humor magazine is The Harvard Lampoon, they use the rivalry with the college newspaper to generate publicity, and publicity is what sells magazines (or generates page views).

charlnic said...

the back page was terrible
i found it consistently offensive, mean-spirited, ugly, and embarrassing.

Eliza said...

Actually, Danielle, I have three jobs, and Molly has two. There's nothing wrong with alums getting together and trying to save something they care about.

Molly said...

Even more interestingly, unlike most Misc alums, Eliza and I have jobs in JOURNALISM. Sorry for caring about the state of journalism at our beloved alma mater.

Phil said...

When is Tea?!?!?!?

The Librarian said...

Great letter Eliza!

Let's face it, now that the backpage is gone there is NO reason to read the Misc. I'm pretty sure I can live without learning about how "Twisted Soul incorporates latino flair into Raymond Streets development".

Willa said...

Whether or not the Backpage was or wasn't great is NOT the issue (I was/still am a fan). Rather, the issue is the fact that Brian Farkus has any power at all over this matter. Not only did he constantly try to stop the backpage from being at all controversial (at all funny/interesting), he also completely IGNORED me when I tried to get in contact with him numerous times about my OWN problem with the Misc (which still haunts me via the google). Basically, the Misc can't have people in charge who are just there to promote their own agenda, whether I agree with them or not. And to Danielle: I have three jobs as well, and I most certainly DON'T have time to be thinking about this, and am immediately going to stop thinking about it as soon as I finish writing this hasty comment. The only reason I'm writing this is because of you, and the fact that you don't know anythin' about nuthin'. Ha! We will have our little revolt, and eat it too.

danielle said...

eliza, molly (and willa), congratulations on your success. but to say that the backpage ever had anything to do with journalism is laughable. no matter who was writing it, it was always a pretty low-brow humor page that seemed disconnected from the rest of the paper.

Molly said...

danielle, you tard, whoever the fuck you are, of course the backpage didn't have anything to do with journalism. we're not saying it did. not much else in the misc has anything to do with journalism either. also if you think the backpage was lowbrow, you just didn't understand the highbrow parts.

Rebecca Arian said...

I'm sorry danielle, is there something wrong with alumnae/i taking interest in there former institution? Moreover, don't you have homework you should be doing instead of criticizing people for articulating their opinions?

caitlinmae said...

When I came to Vassar as a prospie, I got a copy of the Misc. I don't remember if I even got through it, but I do know I remember I SAVED The Backpage to show my friends the sense of humor of this new place I was to call home, and how neatly it matched with mine.
When I was cleaning out my parents' house, I found that saved backpage. It was still funny, even funnier having experienced four years of the irreverent, esoteric sense of humor that was uniquely Vassar.
I had the privilege of living with a backpage editor (HEY BITCH) and watching its production over four years. Anyone who thinks it was "hastily thrown together" is mistaken, plain and simple. I agree with Eliza- that "thank goodness" is an unnecessary barb, as was the majority of the rest of the statement.
I would hope that current students depart from this institution with the same dedication to preserving its integrity as the students behind saving the backpage initiatives.
--Caitlin Burke '08