If you’re a college student, or use Facebook, or have any sort of concept of what the Internet is, you’ve probably seen an Odyssey article.
And if you’ve seen an Odyssey article, you probably have an opinion about the site.
The sheer exposure that Odyssey garners is enough for it to establish itself as driving force in millennial culture, with benefits and drawbacks accompanying its ascent to relevancy. On the bright side, it allows college students to generate ideas to publish on the web, giving legitimacy to their voices. However, inherent in this amplification of voices, is the drawback: Sometimes, Odyssey articles just aren’t that good.
I’m sure we’ve all seen them. The articles with choppy syntax, or poor cogency. The thousandth listicle over-aggrandizing Greek life. Or the pseudo-intellectual opinion pieces bemoaning feminism, or some other social idea, crafted as an assertion of fact. They creep onto our timeline, invade our readership, and force us to question what the purpose of this writing platform is.
While I definitely encounter Odyssey articles every now and again that bring me sadness due to their grammar, or my frustration with their message, I don’t subscribe to the overall sentiment far too vigorously promoted that Odyssey is ruining modern journalism. Rather, I think the idea of a platform that empowers Millennial voices, without imposing overly stringent requirements, is an excellent way to start — and continue — the cultural conversations we need to have.
To understand why Odyssey is important as a platform, we first have to recognize its purpose. You can check out the "About" section on the website, which articulates it nicely. However, to be succinct: The purpose of Odyssey is to aggregate and empower voices from across college campuses, disseminating the unique perspective of thousands of creators. You may notice how vague these terms are, but that’s what makes this platform so exciting and so relevant. As I scroll down the homepage, I see a myriad of different ideas being projected, from Colin Kaepernick, to global warming, to personal essays about relationships. Not all of these articles are going to appeal to everyone, and that’s OK. That Odyssey allows a diversity of people to articulate and share their opinions positions it as a cultivator of ideas.
We as a society tend to over-extol the academic, or strongly opinionated, converging toward publications like the New York Times or Reuters to get our news, or diverging to opinion platforms to get our confirmation bias. Odyssey exists somewhere in the middle of these two extremes: not quite academic enough (in general) to appropriate the domain of journalism, yet not consistently biased enough to supplant someone’s need for the Huffington Post or Fox News. What we forget, however, as we flip through our evening news, is that writing is not necessarily an exclusive domain in and of itself, but rather something that can inform all fields. Writing does not have to be journalism, and while some Odyssey creators veer toward the journalistic at times (this freedom in and of itself is great), it’s ultimately everyone’s prerogative to create content that adheres to their own interests.
That’s why Odyssey is important. It encourages writing outside of a strict rubric, and allows people to create content and generate ideas that resonate with people. It encourages opinion sharing without the pressure of permeating spaces that aren’t accessible to everyone. Sure, not everything on Odyssey is going to be quality, but that we don’t filter content strictly is what makes it such a dynamic platform. This discourse is tantamount to democracy at the very lowest level, empowering youth and Millennial voices. Like it or hate it, this is our culture, and at the very least, Odyssey sparks conversation.
Think: Have you ever shared an Odyssey article because it was so egregiously incorrect or problematic, and added your own two cents? I have, and even if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve seen someone who has.
For the platform that Odyssey exists as, it’s OK that there are varying quality of content. Odyssey is not trying to usurp the New York Times or some other established newspaper.
At the end of the day, when we weigh some less-than-stellar content against the overall purpose of Odyssey — to amplify voices, and engage in discourse — we can’t over-regulate conversation. Yes, we need to maintain journalistic integrity, and we need publications like the New York Times, Reuters, and traditional college newspapers. The existence of these, however, does not invalidate the existence of Odyssey, and when we measure it against an archetype it never intended to fit into, we damage the ethos of the platform.
The very act of publishing something via Odyssey does not taint the writing, or undermine the ideas generated. The way Odyssey interacts with both the reader and the writers jettisons the most resonant ideas to social media relevance, unfurling the conversation. And, at the end of the day, Odyssey allows our generation to write, and think independently. The benefits of this cannot be understated.