RUDOLPH REDUX

ON BAD REVIEWS AND WHY WE WRITE THEM

December 21, 2022

Hello SIREN readers:

If you’re one of the people who read and commented on our review of Rudolph Jr. recently, we want to thank you first of all for your time and interest.

In case you missed it, our review was greeted—mostly—with outrage and gnashing of teeth. We probably broke all our internal records for reader comments, both on our website, and on Instagram.

The response forced me to do something I’ve never had to do in the 13-year history of The SIREN: take down a published piece. (We also archived the accompanying Instagram post, too.)

And this editorial represents another first. I’ve written for some fairly well-known publications in my 30-year career in journalism, but I’ve never before had a byline in The SIREN.

Why am I doing it? Because I want people to understand why we removed the review in question—and even more importantly, the reasons that didn’t factor into that decision.

The reason we removed the review and the post is simple. It goes back to one of the most consequential free speech decisions ever: Tinker v. Des Moines.

In that 1969 case, the U.S. Supreme Court granted student protesters free speech—if their free speech did not “substantially disrupt” education. The response to our review was disrupting classes. So we took it down.

But we don’t want anyone to think that we removed the review for other reasons, which were cited by many people who complained. Some of our readers seem to have a mistaken view of journalism, and it’s our job to correct those mistakes. They include:

“It’s your job to encourage, not discourage!”

No, it isn’t.

Contrary to popular belief, The SIREN is not a cheerleader for Lincoln Park. It does not exist only to share good news about our school. It is not a vehicle for building the self-esteem of our students.

Our newspaper reports on things that happen at our school. Many of those things are good, because we’re lucky that Lincoln Park is a good place. But not everything that goes on here is good–at least, in the eyes of every single person. And a reviewer, in particular, gets to decide what’s good and bad for themselves.

(I would note, for what it’s worth, that the same reviewer just gave a glowing writeup of the Lincoln Park production of Murder on the Orient Express.)

“Your review cyberbullied those poor students!”

No, it didn’t.

The only students mentioned in the review were cited for their outstanding performances. The (sarcastic) complaints made were about the show itself—which obviously was written by adult professionals outside our organization—and about the sound in the theater.

If that constitutes “cyberbullying,” then I fear for our students in the real world, where authentically negative, authentically personal, reviews may be waiting.

(Of course, we also realize that some people who commented about the review never actually read the review—they just joined the social media pigpile. That’s the world we live in, unfortunately.)

“The adult responsible for this should be ashamed.”

I’m the adult responsible. I’ve been a journalist for a long, long time. I am not ashamed.

The reviewer here did nothing wrong. We understand that the viewpoint expressed is, overall, an unpopular one. That’s OK. We understand that some people are upset about it. That was not our intent, but we accept that as well.

We also accept the criticism that comes with having an unpopular viewpoint, and we got plenty of it. Learning to handle criticism—of all types—is part of our curriculum in the Writing and Publishing Department, from the time students arrive here at Lincoln Park.

Most people still understand, I think, the concept of the First Amendment, and the fact that free speech for students is not absolute. Fewer people seem to grasp the purposes of student journalism. I’m hopeful this might clear things up.

In the end, the one true comment made by many complainants is that we’re all part of the same team. Reviews that you don’t agree with can sting, no doubt. But all of us at Lincoln Park—SIREN staff included—should know deep down that they are minor obstacles to the goals we’re seeking to achieve.

Here’s hoping that all of us get a little closer to those goals in the New Year to come. Until we arrive, a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday to all of our readers, students, and staff!

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