Corey Jacobson: The columnist’s dilemma

My friends like to joke about me being a columnist. If anyone crosses me, they say I’ll write them up in a Hatchet column. 4-RIDE takes too long? Column. I find a fly in my food at WOW? Column. Someone didn’t read my column? Column.

Of course, that’s not how The Hatchet operates, and it certainly is not how I have approached my work over the past couple of years. Aside from the all-in-good-fun banter, no one has ever questioned my true motivation for writing columns. But as I set out to write my final one for The Hatchet, a friend’s comment made me wonder. She told me that during her college search, her mom had mentioned how critical The Hatchet was of GW. Though not about my work specifically, the comment made me reflect on what Hatchet columnists are really trying to accomplish on this opinions page.

You see, the perennial challenge for any columnist is to write something that adds a fresh perspective to a tired conversation or brings to the forefront something unfairly overlooked. The perfect column is ever-elusive, but it’s the standard we strive to meet time and time again, despite often having a deadline set before knowing what that next worthwhile topic is.

It’s easy for a columnist to criticize. After all, it’s our job to give commentary, and just as sex sells, people will always be more interested in contention than agreement. We all complain at times, and it’s tempting to use our print space to join the choir.

But ultimately, the constantly looming deadline does something important. It motivates us to scavenge campus, ask questions, challenge the conventional wisdom. We dissect what we take for granted and put things in context. It prompts us to say, “You don’t like the food at J Street? Great, neither do I. But let’s put that in perspective: Is it any better at other schools? What specific actions can we take to change it?” Sometimes that means criticizing the University, and other times, pointing out our own hypocrisy.

We’re not always successful. As my friend’s mom noticed, sometimes we are overly critical. Sometimes we lose that battle against preaching to our peers and doling out undeserved disparagement to the University. At the end of each piece though, our next deadline pushes us back on the prowl, looking out for events that require commentary and agonizing over every word needed to fully capture the nuances of an argument. It is this struggle that has led me to every corner of GW, and it’s why I have found myself asking friends and classmates what’s on their minds everywhere from the classroom to McFadden’s.

If there’s been one underlying theme among all of my columns, it’s that we should always dig deeper, that we should never stop challenging the status quo. This speaks to the core of what we’re doing on the opinions page. It’s a means to an end, essentially – a way to promote the kind of introspection that helps break through the apathy and push our community to evolve. At the end of the day, we get satisfaction not from criticizing those around us, but from seeing positive changes to the University’s amnesty policy or increased communication from the Student Association.

I’d like to think my columns helped move the conversation forward, whether regarding the city’s battle with food trucks or the funding restrictions for the Alternative Breaks program. But, while I may not have achieved that perfect column, what was most important was the pursuit of it.

Criticism, when deserved, can be useful. So can giving credit where it’s due. In that constant search for perfection, we should care enough to never stop asking questions to move us forward.

And that is every reason to write a column.

Corey Jacobson, a senior majoring in business, is a Hatchet columnist

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