Earlier this week, The Appalachian, the college newspaper at Appalachian State University, reported via Twitter that a popular local Mexican restaurant was closing its doors. Turns out the rumors of the eatery’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The Appalachian corrected the report, but not before a flurry of tweets and phone calls from concerned students.
So The Appalachian decided to (sort of) apologize on its editorial page—but in the process it hauled its readers out to the woodshed. To wit:
“Sorry burrito lovers, in a list of the most important issues covered this year, the potential closing of Los [Arcoiris] wouldn't even make the top 10. … Instead of suddenly mobilizing when your quesadillas and margaritas are at stake, start engaging with issues that actually affect you—and the thousands of dollars you pay this university each year.”
Not surprisingly, most readers didn’t take kindly to this scolding.
In an email to media blogger Jim Romenesko, one of the newspaper’s editors said the apology was meant to be “snark—not condescension or deflection of our original responsibility,” but she admitted, albeit grudgingly, “the tone in which it was delivered was far from ideal.”
In a world where a billion humans are starving, millions are homeless, and shooting people earns as many cheers as jeers, I agree with The Appalachian—a restaurant closing shouldn’t register on the panic scale. But an editorial smackdown of its readers did exactly what the paper claimed it never intended: It belittled students while minimizing its own error. Rather than kindle constructive thought and dialogue, the editorial board gave its readers a collective Finger.
The sad thing is, The Appalachian could have made its point effectively and powerfully if it had raised it with respect for the audience. The error opened the door to a discussion on what’s truly important, what motivates people and how such passion can change things. Instead, the paper chose to slam that door shut in favor of “a little more room for sass.” Its apology rang hollow, and a valuable message became lost in the uproar.
To be fair, The Appalachian’s editorial isn’t as sanctimonious as some of the anonymous commenters who troll news websites these days. But let’s hope this approach never rises above that of a mistake by young, inexperienced student reporters. I shudder to think what would happen to the Fourth Estate if real-world journalists (beyond the occasional self-righteous examples) sank to this level as a matter of course.