This year’s symposium took countless hours from countless faculty, staff, students, and guests to set up and run, but it only took one issue of the Concordian to ignore its effect.
I was somewhat shocked when I picked up the September 29th issue of the Concordian and at first glance saw no mention of the massive 2016 Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium. Surely an event big enough that classes are cancelled and instead convened at the conference warranted at least a small feature, especially when it features guests such as Farah Pandith, a former member of both Bush administrations as well as the Obama administration and Clinton State Department.
However, as I looked closer, I did find one article that – at least on a surface level – appeared to be related to the recent symposium.
On first reading, my reaction to the piece “America and the Middle West” was confusion. Obviously it was supposed to be satire, but was it directed at the recent Middle East symposium? What was it trying to advocate? Had I just simply missed the point?
After conferring with classmates in my news writing class, it became apparent that my confusion with the piece was not an isolated incident. The general consensus seemed to be that on a first reading, the article sounded like it was mocking the recent events of symposium that had dealt with America’s relationship with the Middle East.
I am no stranger to satire, and I am well aware that not everyone “gets it.” However, I am also aware that good satire is excruciatingly difficult to write, and when it goes wrong the consequences, despite being unintended, can be pretty negative. While after more in-depth discussion my class determined that this was likely supposed to be commentary on the fact that next year’s symposium will be dealing with Lutheranism, it took us much more time to reach that conclusion than the average reader would spend on any one article.
One of the things this satirical piece lacked was any sense of prompting the reader to change their view or take action on something. Satire relies heavily on sarcasm, but when it loses its sense of advocacy, it ends up sounding like mocking rather than commentary.
Additionally, the article runs into an ethical issue when it comes to the use of fabricated quotations. Bringing Sonja Wentling (co-chair of this year’s Middle East symposium) into the article confused the subject matter – it made it even easier for readers to interpret the article as mocking this year’s symposium – but the fact that she had not been contacted prior to the article’s publication is also a fairly significant breach of ethics in journalism.
Even in the April Fools issue of the Concordian where all of the stories are fabricated, those quoted in the fake articles are asked for their permission before having their names included.
If there was a point to be made by this article, I don’t think this was the way to go about it. The Concordian should be a place to explore all views and opinions – especially controversial ones – but that can only be done through open and honest dialogue. Even when venturing into satire there needs to be standards to insure that satire is actually achieved, rather than something that feels much more like mocking without a message.
This article was submitted by Danny Kocher, contributing writer.