I am endlessly fascinated by how the undergraduate student journalists at the Yale Daily News cover their university’s host city. It is as if, rather than full-time residents, they are tourists in town for a few days or hours and don’t have time to get a full grasp of their surroundings.
Granted, these are novice writers acclimating to the difficult craft of mainstream journalism, at a student paper with tight deadlines, at a school without a full-fledged Journalism program. But there’s a matter of perception here which is distinct from any journalistic abilities.
Only in the Yale press could the rock club Toad’s Place (which doesn’t serve food) and the steakhouse/bar Box 68 (which doesn’t book live music) be regularly debated as if these were equivalent choices for late-night fraternizing. (The only similarity appears to be access to liquor.)
In recent days, the Yale Daily News has:
• reported that 20 members of the Yale community attended a Master’s Tea featuring five notable mystery fiction writers, without noting that those same writers were all in town for a charity event that same evening, to be attended by hundreds of paying customers at the Shubert.
• described the New Haven Register, one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the United States, merely as “a daily metro paper that covers New Haven and its suburbs,” not even awarding this centuries-old mainstay media outlet a “the” instead of an “a” in that dismissive description. The story notes that the Register “stopping printing its own paper in-house on March 4, 2012 (it is now sourced to the Hartford Courant location),” clearly confusing these rival entities as sister papers rather than as partners in a strictly-business arrangement which has one using the other’s press equipment. The New Haven Independent, meanwhile, which is run by a Yale alum, is mentioned twice in this Daily News article without apparently needing an introduction at all. The story’s headlined “New Haven Register to return to city,” as if the paper’s longtime Long Wharf address was not within city limits. (It is, and less than two miles from campus.)
• shown a curious attitude toward city politics. Both candidates in the current mayoral race attended Yale, so there’s not that sort of bias. What’s evident is a sort of scattered interest in the race which forces wishy-washy faux-analytical articles such as appeared on the front-page of the Yale Daily News’ Oct. 9 edition. On page one, the story is headlined “Swing Voters May Decide Election.” When the story jumps to page 4, the head reads “Swing Voters Role in Mayoral Election Unclear.”
• attended a lunch in honor of former Yale President Rick Levin (who stepped down from his post this year) and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. (who is not running for reelection), when both men received “Founders Awards” from the Long Wharf Theatre. The final paragraph of the story reads “The Long Wharf Theatre was founded in 1965 by alumni of the Yale School of Drama.” Technically, this is not true, since co-founder Jon Jory actually quit his Yale School of Drama studies in order to start the community-based Long Wharf, and never finished his degree. And a follow-up sentence in that paragraph might have been obliged to mention that in 1966 the university created its own regional theater, the Yale Rep, in direct competition with the year-old Long Wharf, and just a few months later caused considerable consternation in the New Haven arts community by mentioning plans to take over the Long Wharf and absorb it into the School of Drama.
• noted the relocation of CitySeed’s downtown Wednesday farmers’ market from outside City Hall (on Church Street between Elm and Court) to New Haven Green (at the corner of Chapel and Temple). The story begins “The New Haven Green is celebrating its 375th birthday with its first-ever farmer’s market, which opened this summer to great fanfare.” The second paragraph repeats that the move was due to “the Green’s big anniversary.” A more astute reporter or editor might have mentioned that 2013 is in fact the anniversary of the founding of the entire city of New Haven, not just its Green. Town surveyor John Brocket did not formalize the famous nine-square city plan (with the Green in its center) until 1641. A bit more thought on the part of the writer or editor might also have led to the obvious realization that town greens historically are marketplaces, so that it’s a stretch to think that CitySeed would be New Haven Green’s “first-ever farmer’s market.” In fact, the Green was known as “the marketplace” before it was known as “the Green,” and foods were traded there for centuries. The Green has also had a meeting house, a cemetery and for many years a State House. It might be hard for Yalies to imagine New Haven as having a center of its universe that was not Yale University, but so it was.
Such errors and misconceptions pepper the Yale News on a daily basis, causing constant amusement and/or irritation among those of us with deeper understandings of the city of New Haven. These mistakes, misstatements and confusions seem to emanate from indifference as much as anything else.
If Yale’s traditions and details (from a cappella society pledge nights to major university awards to the correct labeling of an alum’s school and class year) were as casually treated in the university’s main news source as are New Haven’s, one suspects there’d be hell to pay. In townie matters, ignorance prevails.