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Wednesday December 6, 2000

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Media, society have important roles to play

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By Brett Erickson

Relationships are funny sometimes. Take family or boyfriend-girlfriend ones for example. Each person puts in a lot of emotion, but a lot of times, and for different reasons, things don't always work out as intended.

Various facets of the media and the general community have a relationship that is perplexing, to say the least. For the most part, a college newspaper like the Wildcat serves to inform (news articles), entertain (sports, comics) and intrigue (in-depth stories) its readership. And while students and campus organizations are not too disturbed when the Wildcat does any of the above three - especially when the coverage sheds them in a positive light - they nevertheless don't always understand the role that a newspaper is supposed to play.

(I say supposed to, because most papers - including the Wildcat - sometimes fall short in this pursuit.)

With the exception of the comics, editorials, and commentaries, each section of the Wildcat is presented in a non-biased manner. Journalists don't (or they shouldn't) pick and choose which stories to cover based on who they like and who they dislike.

UA Greek Life, for example, is an organization I am a part of through my involvement in my fraternity, which has a mission important enough to me that I rode my bicycle almost 4,000 miles last summer for its betterment. This semester, though, no UA-affiliated organizations ran into as much trouble as fraternities and sororities. Stories about an ill-planned scavenger hunt, a Halloween assault and 40-man attack all graced the front page of this newspaper during the semester.

It's important to understand that the Wildcat did not hand-pick the police reports detailing these stories. We did not set aside the "ASUA in brawl with RHA" story to pick on the greek system. Had such a police report existed, trust me, you would have seen a font size as big as the one on top of the "frat fight" story.

But, what we do, and what every newspaper in the world should strive to do, is hold organizations accountable for their actions. That is why we're here, and that's the business most of the people at the Wildcat are dedicated to working in. Students in fraternities or sororities are required to abide by certain rules, and it is a newspaper's responsibility to tell people when they aren't.

But, as most Wildcat readers discovered this semester, this aggressive pursuit for reporting news often leads to mistakes, sometimes embarrassing ones where the wrong person in a photograph is identified as a person charged with murder. Certain mistakes are inevitable, but also acceptable considering the important role newspapers play in society today.

Were it not for the news industry, the average Joe would have no idea that a certain area of campus has been targeted by a string of assaults lately. Or that health centers are short on flu vaccines. Or that Lute Olson and other Division I coaches are lashing out against the NCAA.

What many people outside of the newspaper industry don't understand, though, is just like other professions, real faces are behind the people who work at the Wildcat. To many in the UA community, I'm the jackass editor in chief who foolishly printed a staff editorial criticizing Residence Life for maintenance delays. To those who know me, I'm the kid obsessed with his cowlick and the Denver Broncos who can't seem to graduate!

The same goes for every employee in this windowless, home-away-from-home newsroom that we all hate to love and love to hate. (Especially Chris Martin, but I won't divulge his true identity until we both FINALLY graduate in May.)

And just like other relationships, I have a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth after exhausting myself for the past four months. And though many of you might disagree with certain things I or the Wildcat have done this semester, you have a very important role - holding the Wildcat's editors accountable for their decisions. God knows you did that with me, and truthfully, that is a necessary check-and-balance for the media. That's the beauty of this relationship - both sides get to critique the other.

Brett Erickson can be reached at