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Putting context into events

My collaborator Partha notes that the Princeton-Yale hullabaloo wouldn't have made such a media splash if it had been Kansas-Kansas State instead of two Ivy League schools. I agree, and I think the reason is simple: reporters enjoy storytelling rather than reporting. The latter is boring; any third rate hack can compile a list of events in article form. But if you can write about the big picture, you're a Journalist, not just a reporter. And Kansas-Kansas State is just an amusing anecdote. It happened; it was strange; the end.

But Princeton-Yale? That combination allows for "insights" like these, from the New York Times:

"This report reflects the heightened craziness about admissions decisions," said James O. Freedman, a legal scholar and the former president of Dartmouth. "It probably wouldn't subvert the Constitution, but it is competitiveness taken to a dastardly length."

Robert Schaeffer, the public education officer for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who follows college admissions closely, said this case illustrated how the competition by selective colleges for a handful of top students had become "an arms race in which each side tries to one-up the other."

and from the Washington Post:
But education experts say the larger lesson may be that the fierce competition between elite Ivy League universities for top students has finally gone too far, sparking the kind of lapse in judgment that is certain to bring renewed scrutiny to the college admission process.

"In this game, the top colleges all want to land the same students right now -- they want to win," said Alvin Sanoff, former managing editor of U.S. News and World Report's annual guide to colleges. "It has never been more competitive on either end, for students competing to get in and schools trying to land the best students."

Nowhere is that competition more strenuous than at Yale and Princeton, two of the nation's wealthiest universities. For years, they have battled over many of the same high school seniors, using financial aid and admissions reforms to lure the most attractive applicants.

Now, about five seconds' worth of thought will make clear that "fierce competition" for students and "heightened craziness" have absolutely nothing to do with this incident. It happened after both schools had already made their decisions, and provided Princeton with absolutely nothing in the way of useful information.

But if this is just a stupid, but essentially harmless, lapse in judgment, then there wouldn't be a story to tell. So both papers have to "put the events into context." Even if they have to invent the context.


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