“Specifically, while Princetonians are taught to be critical and should have opinions about many topics, the Opinion pieces of the ‘Prince’ can be quite negative in tone and can seem to have just one focus: complaints about the University,” wrote Jorge Aguilar ’06, former writer for The Daily Princetonian, in a letter to the editor.
Aguilar is not alone in his opinion. A similar concern — that opinion pieces published by the ‘Prince’ are too often critical of the University — was raised in an opinion section meeting a few weeks ago.
It is a question worth pondering: Is the ‘Prince’ too negative?
I argue that the ‘Prince’ is not and cannot be too negative. This very belief reflects a fundamental problem in the way society perceives the role of journalism: The sentiment that news coverage or opinion pieces can be too negative reveals a privileged point of view.
Aguilar writes that he wonders if students could “write about issues beyond complaints against the University, such as pressing public policy issues.” Yet, the grievances students find with the University are, more often than not, indicative of larger societal problems that are not unique to Princeton’s campus. The University is not an establishment with a culture entirely separate from the rest of the country. It is equally susceptible to the societal ills and injustices that plague any other establishment — academic or otherwise. Princeton’s robust investment in the fossil fuel industry makes it an active contributor to global warming, the administration’s decisions to foster academic freedom plays into greater society’s battle with censorship, and the Caterpillar referendum being debated in USG reflects global concerns for Palestinian and Israeli people.
Princeton’s status as an elite university means it attracts not only the world’s best and brightest, but also the most affluent and opportunity-privileged students. Inequality on campus is an often exacerbated reflection of inequality in society. It is rare that a ‘Prince’ piece critical of the University will not have implications that reach beyond FitzRandolph Gate.
I would go so far as to say that it is crucial for ‘Prince’ opinion pieces to focus primarily on University-specific grievances, rather than solely on larger, ever-looming issues. When students call on the University to divest from fossil fuels, pay for all course books, or improve mental health services, the likelihood that their writing provokes change is much higher than if they had broadly written about climate change, socio-economic inequality, or healthcare access.
Aguilar also wishes that ‘Prince’ columnists would write about subjects that “truly reflect students’ interests and intellect.” Presumably, Aguilar believes that if students wrote about topics that truly interested them and that they were knowledgeable about, the pieces would organically cover topics outside of the University. However, pieces submitted to the ‘Prince’ are not obligatory for any student, and therefore it is unlikely that a student would devote time to a subject they are not genuinely interested in or knowledgeable about.
In fact, opinion pieces are often inspired by personal experience and driven by a writer’s passion to improve the Princeton community and society as a whole. Kelsey Ji ’24 wrote in her recent column that she believes Princeton should not mandate vaccinations past the third dose in light of her adverse reaction to the booster shot. Hannah Reynolds ’22 advocated for a sexual assault allegation framework of “survivorship over victimhood” after experiencing first-hand the alienation that accompanies “victim” rhetoric. Audrey Chau ’25 called on CPS to “stop putting students into boxes” in light of her concerningly impersonal consultation with a CPS counselor.
Opinions are indubitably influenced by an individual's surroundings. It is worth acknowledging that the life of a Princeton student is often consumed by the Orange Bubble, a phenomenon experienced predominantly by elite university campuses. The effects of which can, and do, leak into the writing of ‘Prince’ columnists. However, as long as the majority of opinion pieces continue to be applicable to greater society in one sense or another, I believe the suffocating effects of Orange-Bubble-thinking are successfully held at bay.
Insofar as the problem of excessive negativity is concerned, the sentiment that the news is undesirably negative is not exclusive to Aguilar’s letter to the editor. Beyond reporting at the ‘Prince’, the issue of “bad news bias” is a genuine concern of journalists and readers alike. The prevalence of bad news bias has led to a shared feeling of distress among readers and a notion that the news is overwhelmingly negative. A report found that the U.S. emphasized negative coverage (rising cases) on COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and underreported good news (downward trends in cases). The result was an inaccurate portrayal of the pandemic that made it difficult for Americans to gauge what COVID-19 developments were truly alarming and which were not.
Clearly, skewing coverage of current events to be more negative than reality is cause for concern, as in the case of journalism amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this alone cannot and should not discourage critical pieces. We must recognize the distinction between negative and critical opinions. The former can be thought of as having a negative tone for the sake of negativity, without any real intention behind it. Whereas critical opinion pieces seek a desired outcome — a call to action. While “bad news bias” may be a genuine concern, ‘Prince’ opinion pieces overwhelmingly end with a call to action: a hunger for change, not unnecessary negativity.
Students at the ‘Prince’ are not critical of the University simply for the sake of being critical. While it may be less pleasant to read complaints against the University than praises in favor of it, it is unfair to dismiss such grievances when students suffer as a result of inadequate University action, resources, or policy.
Ignoring injustices or University failures in favor of more positive coverage not only does our peers a disservice, but ultimately the University as well.
Ashley Olenkiewicz is a first-year from Porter, Texas. Her columns focus on campus culture and University policy. If you have questions or comments she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.