THE PUBLIC EDITOR: Making the most of Your Weekend in Baltimore (Hopkins bubble optional)

By JACOB TOOK | February 13, 2020

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What is Your Weekend?

I’m not talking about the weekend, those horribly magical two days during which you can both take a breather from the last week and work yourself into a panic about the next. Nor do I mean The Weeknd, whose mixtape collection Trilogy remains perennially underrated. And while we’re on music, I should clarify that I’m definitely not thinking of SZA’s timeless sidechick anthem “The Weekend.”

No, I’m bringing the heat to Your Weekend, the News-Letter section tucked just inside the paper’s B-section. Last week, The News-Letter published “The top five places to get food in Charles Village,” ranked as follows: Brody Cafe, Chipotle, Ajumoney, Orient Express and, taking the top spot, Honeygrow.

Let’s acknowledge the truth of critical reactions to this piece — this list is sadly under-representative of the breadth of dining options waiting just off campus to enrich the palettes of hungry Hopkins students. Plenty of local student favorites — Bird In Hand, Carma’s Cafe, Tamber’s — may rightly feel snubbed in favor of huge chains (and not exactly acclaimed chains, either, sorry Chipotle). That’s not to mention restaurants further afield who would surely welcome a contingent of adventurous Blue Jays (if you haven’t tried Taste This, you should).

It’s particularly disappointing to see In a section that can do more than most to encourage healthy engagement between students and the city we live in.

But that dovetails back into my leading question — what exactly is Your Weekend? That’s the question I set to Your Weekend Editor Jesse Wu, and I was surprised to find quite a few different answers.

“My typical answer is it can be anything you want,” he said with a chuckle. “There are guidelines, but they’re mainly suggestions.”

He referred me to the paper’s coverage of Butterfly Tacos y Tortas, the newest addition to Levering Dining Hall. While a news report might read as a simple who/what/where/when/why, he said, “Your Weekend is where we can delve into the details — how’s the food? How’s the service? What does it mean for campus? Softer aspects.”

Your Weekend hits right because readers want the writer’s voice, their thoughts, opinions, impressions. Articles describing forays into Charles Village and beyond can offer students endearing personal testimony that such trips are worth making. For Hopkins students who may be wary of Baltimore, reading Your Weekend might let them discover more positive narratives about the city to counter the negatives we’ve all had about enough of.

Despite Your Weekend’s power to shape readers’ engagement with Baltimore, Wu approaches his role as an editor with a keen focus on his writers.

“One of the most valuable pieces about The News-Letter is how it encourages its writers to go places, do things, talk to people and also put themselves out there a little bit,” he told me right after our last News-Letter editors meeting. “I hope that writers at least try something new, try something that they haven’t done before.”

News flash — naming Honeygrow the top restaurant in Charles Village probably won’t encourage anyone to try it for the first time. I don’t think anyone needs to tell Hopkins students to go to Chipotle. 

That being said, Wu characterized his piece as a representation of the most consistently tasty spots with the best bang for your buck, rather than an article diving deep into one establishment that might more typically appear in the section. “I am a Hopkins student in my final year, just talking from a student perspective,” he added.

As a space for students to set Blackboard aside and write about doing something enjoyable in their free time, Your Weekend writers typically take a light tone as they report back from the front lines of off-campus fun. A typical piece in Your Weekend is chock-full of cute anecdotes, menu tips and memorable moments shared by students discovering something new.

Writers probably have more leeway in Your Weekend than any other section. An album review in Arts & Entertainment still has certain standards, a balance writers must strike between the qualities of the music and their more subjective impressions. An op-ed, while representing a writer’s opinion, must still be rooted in research undergirding the argument at hand. In Your Weekend, we just want to know what happened, and why the writer cared enough to write about it. We want the softer aspects.

But that raises another important question: when Your Weekend wades into contentious territory or touches on hot-button issues like the historically strained relationship between Hopkins and Baltimore, is Wu obliged to factor that history into the section’s coverage?

Given the role News-Letter editors can take in shaping narratives about Baltimore, Wu agreed that they should be aware of the dynamics between the Hopkins and Baltimore communities.

“That’s something that Hopkins has a history of struggling with,” he said. “As people who are acting as an interface between the University and the city, we should be the ones taking charge and absolutely considering those things.”

However, Wu stopped short of insisting that these considerations be brought into every piece. And if any section can skirt around these heavier issues in a lighthearted piece about food favorites, it’s Your Weekend. News coverage of local restaurants would be incomplete if it failed to reckon with the pressure Hopkins and its students face to support local businesses. As what Wu might call a softer section, Your Weekend is held to a much more relaxed standard of balanced reporting.

Was publishing last week’s roundup a grievous oversight? No, particularly given Your Weekend’s record — by my count, of 27 articles published this year prior to last week, 20 encourage students to get off campus and into Baltimore City (usually to restaurants, but I’m including local businesses and other spots like parks).

But despite not breaking any rules, last week’s piece was disappointing for reasons already stated — it seems to reinforce the history of Hopkins students being holed up in the Homewood bubble. The News-Letter can cover a lot of ground showing students the best parts of Baltimore. It’s frustrating to see a piece so sharply underuse that opportunity.

What is Your Weekend? At the moment, it’s the latest section to draw the Public Editor’s eye. I’ll be watching closely to see where the section’s writers go this semester — and I hope that I have the chance to learn about at least one new local business popping up near campus.

With my ears perked up to this story, I hope more readers from outside the Hopkins bubble join this conversation with me. I’ve kept my scope narrowly trained on last week’s Your Weekend piece here, but this is far from the last time I’ll consider how the paper as a whole fits into the dynamics between Hopkins and Baltimore. Please, get in touch with me and use this piece as a launchpad for your thoughts.

We want you to be part of this conversation! We encourage our readers to email publiceditor@jhunewsletter.com with questions or comments about our practices and published content.

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