The Brazen Word

I measure the success of a college newspaper with a simple equation: compliments received + complaints received. It’s great news when someone tells me they love The Torch; it’s even better news when I hear that someone hates it.

Inciting a reaction, negative or positive, should be as important to a college journalist as coverage, justice, and overall writing quality. I say that hate is a more impressive emotion to incite than love because, I imagine, people can certainly be more consumed in anger than euphoria after having read a story.

In George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” he explains that inciting change is part of why he writes. “Political purpose,” Orwell explained, “-Using the word political in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction…The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

By these standards, the letter to the left of this column is a beautiful and rare commodity for a college newspaper: a tangible document that marks a change or reaction.

In response to a Sept. 6 letter to the editor by Mike Wirsch, Sodexho clarified to the workers at Montgoris Dining Hall that disposable containers can be removed from the premise.
Many probably see this letter as something minor-who cares about something as trite as a policy about hot chocolate?

For the editors of a college newspaper, though, it is a landmark to justify why they write, why they work so hard every week on a project that makes them no money, that gives them little glory.

It reveals that an executive at Sodexho, the self-proclaimed “leading food and facilities management services company in North America”, took the time to read a college newspaper. It shows us that what we write matters, that what’s inside our weekly paper can incite a reaction, cause a change, carry some political weight.

It demonstrates the potential of rhetoric. It proves that language matters, that words can lead to change.
It legitimizes what we do.

I once asked Gabriel Brownstein, a fiction writing professor of mine, why he writes. He explained that he writes to discover who he is and explore his imagination and how he conceives the world.

Similarly, my dad, an oil painter and art director/teacher, explained that he paints “for the same reason that people leave messages on bathroom walls-to prove that I exist.”

The end result we call art (which both of these people are really referring to) is the manifestation of the creative process. It demonstrates that abstract ideas in the mind can come to be manifested on the page or the canvas.

Certainly, as even Orwell admits in his essay, writers write because they are full of themselves. What drives someone to write is their love of writing, their interest in a topic, or just “sheer egotism,” as Orwell phrases it.

But the success of a piece cannot solely be based on its quality or how good one feels after writing something. As Brownstein explains, a written piece is somewhat of a failure if it does not reach an audience.

When describing an amazing short story that never reached an audience of strangers, Brownstein said, “Certainly it did not meet its writer’s ambition, and that ambition was to reach readers beyond his group of friends. I think finding a reader marks the completion of a work, that a work will always be incomplete until it finds a reader-a stranger-who enjoys the book and thereby makes it whole.”

It’s letters like the one from Sodexho that proves the success of a publication. It proves its success at reaching an audience.
When someone asks me why I write I’ll think of that letter.