To Change or Not to Change? Questioning the Title of “The Observer”

By: Makena Owens and Elana Kook  |  February 11, 2015

Over the course of the year, we as editors have been confronted with an interesting question.

“Why do the men comment on what is going on within the university, while the women merely observe?”

The basis for this question lies in the titles of the uptown and downtown student newspapers. Individuals both within Yeshiva University and beyond have expressed frustration over the title of our student newspaper. According to these individuals, when comparing the title of “The Yeshiva University Observer” to the “The Yeshiva University Commentator,” there seems to be a misogynistic implication that is inherent in the difference between these two titles.

Some women on campus have even approached us and expressed that they have considered only writing for the “The Commentator” due to the insinuations of our newspaper’s title. One student in particular asserted that she feels that the difference between these two names is “disempowering” and borderline sexist. Yet another student communicated that the title of the “The Observer” even implied that, perhaps, the paper itself is on a different stratum of journalistic standards.

The bottom line is that strong writers are being deterred from voicing their opinions due to the the newspaper’s title. After all, why should the women sit from the sidelines and just watch what’s going on, instead of directly partaking in the happenings within Yeshiva University?

If this had been a one-time occurrence, then perhaps we would not be writing this editorial. However, as student leaders determined to accurately represent the sentiments of the student body, we have decided to contemplate the request to change the title of “The Observer.”

So, why change–or not change–the title of a newspaper that has been around since 1958?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “observer” is defined as “a person who pays close attention to something and is considered to be an expert on that thing,” or, “a person who is present at something (such as a meeting) in order to watch and listen to what happens.”

For those who focus on the latter portion of the definition, the word “observer” does connote a certain passivity or non-activity. Someone who observes is a spectator at events instead of an active participant. There is an implicit connotation in the title of “The Observer” when juxtaposed to that of “The Commentator,” purely based on the definition of the titles. This juxtaposition suggests that the official paper for Stern College for Women and Sy Syms School of business is passive, and perhaps even secondary in terms of reporters who are capturing the events of the university. It suggests that the women’s campus reporters stand by and watch what happens, as opposed to taking initiative and being involved in the heart of the action.

And in terms of the title’s historical longevity, times have certainly changed since the 50’s, and so has the student body. Our society’s sensitivity to gender roles and biases causes women’s issues to gain more recognition both within academia and beyond. Many are striving to pave the pathway to equality, and that includes the elimination of classic–and often arbitrary–gendered binaries.

Aside from contemplating a title change as a way to retain and attract those strong writers who are advocating for a new header, we want the student body to feel that their values are represented in their student newspaper, not stifled. If the title of the newspaper contradicts their values, then students will feel wary about voicing their opinions or even writing an objective news piece. Our goal is for the student body to feel comfortable and confident that the newspaper will be a medium for their voices to be heard.

But then there are equally valid reasons that hold us back from redesigning our masthead and buying a new URL for our website. Chief among these is the concern of turning an apolitical student media outlet into a politically charged statement. Enacting such a change may in fact deter even more students, both current and prospective writers alike.

Given the historical context in which “The Observer” was founded, it’s actually deeply feminist. The 1950s was a revolutionary time for American women; they advocated for their voices to be heard in the public sphere and one outlet of expression was printed media. The original “Observer” editorial staff was undoubtedly, acutely aware of the political climate in which it was a part of. So when choosing the title for the paper, a publication run by female students for female students, surely the thought of “The Observer” being anti-feminist would have sounded ridiculous.

A simple Google search also reveals that in fact, there are more professional news outlets titled “The Observer” than “The Commentator” or something of the like. And surely these editorial teams are composed of both men and women who seek to do their jobs as journalists: observe an event and then report on it. Recall the former part of the definition of “observer”: someone who is an expert. The title for these newspapers is not, then, reflective of a feminist or anti-feminist agenda, but instead a testament to the job of a reporter–to carefully, critically, accurately and actively observe.

Perhaps this tension over the paper titles between campuses is exacerbated by the often competitive nature between the two media sources. In past years, students have witnessed editorial “face-offs” month to month with “Observer” and “Commentator” EOCs challenging the journalistic standards of each other’s works.

This year, the sentiments for the uptown paper among the editorial staff at “The Observer” is far different than in the past. We view the two student newspapers as a way to accurately reflect the views and events that are unique to each respective campus, and to the greater concerns of the institution at large. By reading both papers, one could gain what is hopefully a well-rounded picture of the Yeshiva University student body. In that sense we are not in competition over who is the “better” reporter–each editorial staff is quite talented and qualified–and instead are two parts of a larger whole.

We now ask you, the students, our writers and our readers, to consider the perspectives put forth here and tell us how we should approach our decision. Answer the poll at the bottom of this article and on our Facebook page. The poll will offer different titles, a place where you can suggest your own, and an option to keep the title of “The Observer” as is. Continue to reach out to us personally as well; without your direct input, the goal of this editorial would be lost.

Take our poll and have your voice be heard. Please be courteous and only vote one time.

Questioning the Title of The Yeshiva University Observer

To Change or Not to Change?
Tell us what the Yeshiva University Observer should do?

 Keep as is
 The Advocate
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