Reflecting on my relationship with The Poly

By Justin Etzine February 13, 2019

I disagree with The Poly quite often. Don’t get me wrong—I think we have great students involved in The Poly, and I believe they fulfill the vital function of student media on our campus. In theory, these two statements may seem contradictory; however, in reality, I believe this dynamic demonstrates a healthy relationship between government and media.

Hopefully, your elected leaders—in Student Government or otherwise—take actions because they genuinely believe the methods and outcomes will prove beneficial to the people they serve. Unfortunately, as history shows, not all leaders truly act this way, and the consequences of those with malicious intentions can be quite harmful when given the ability to act through their office. Most situations provide formal channels and structures for checks on leaders to prevent this, but the most important check comes from the general public. Furthermore, as Ken Auletta—a writer for The New Yorkeronce noted to the Public Broadcasting Service’s FRONTLINE in 2007, the framers of the United States Constitution “gave the First Amendment as a way of giving a fourth branch of government—in fact, the press—an ability to question those in power in any of those three branches of government.”

Nonetheless, the press’ good-faith fulfillment of independent checks and balances can still feel abrasive and personal to the elected officials under the scrutiny. Public office can quite frequently feel like a thankless job, and journalistic critique of our actions can feel excessive or even unfair when we feel we are truly trying our best to act in our constituents’ best interests. Human nature seems to show that, when it comes to feedback, the negative can often overshadow the positive, which matches the proverb, “no news is good news.”

This does not mean, however, the press should simply “back off” when an elected official acts with good intentions. Since no one will ever be truly perfect, we will sometimes make mistakes and act incongruently with the good intentions we aim to advance. And, just like we should admit our mistakes when we make them, the press must continue their fair assessment of each situation regardless of intent. I don’t believe the small mistakes we make define who we are or the terms we serve, provided we work to learn from each and commit to change in the future. However, when unchecked and not self-recognized, small mistakes can easily compound into larger ones, which in turn would likely prove more detrimental for the communities we aim to support.

The same expectations with mistakes, of course, apply to media organizations as well—even I can recall cases where I admitted mistakes while serving on The Poly in 2015. One might think my past involvements with a media organization would allow me to feel more comfortable with the healthy relationship between media and Student Government, but the arrangement still proves just as difficult. If anything, I believe my time on The Poly made me realize the necessity of open lines of communication between Student Government and the media, and I will stress this necessity when transitioning with my future successor in just two months time.

I write this editorial both as a retrospection on my experiences over the past two years, and also as an implicit promise that I will, most likely, disagree with The Poly at least a few more times before my term expires. That being said, such disagreements will signal a healthy relationship and, hopefully, just another instance of business as usual.