Please, just the facts ma'am
It's been a tough couple of weeks for the media. Not just the national press, though two weeks of Monica Madness has turned the press against itself and made a potentially important journalistic endeavor into another opportunity to damn the media to hell. I'm referring to the campus media, specifically this newspaper, which, last week alone, has been accused of publishing articles that are "irresponsibly wrong," wielding a "power to destroy," having reporting that is "abominable" and "irresponsible," lacking "judgment and integrity," having "misconstrued and puerile analysis" and attempting to kill Bicker. And that's just in letters to the editor. I haven't been to lunch at T.I. for a while, but I can only imagine what that club's members must be saying about the 'Prince.'
First off, I am not an impartial observer. I was editor-in-chief of the 'Prince' as recently as last month, and some of the comments in letters to the editor that have appeared this week refer to editorial decisions made under my watch. But I no longer call the shots and have been able to take a step back to view the 'Prince'-bashing. Just as I am not disinterested, neither am I uninterested. The issues involved here are too significant for any members of this campus to ignore. The questions raised go to the heart of the role of this newspaper and its future on this campus and of this campus.
People often demand objectivity from their newspapers. But this demand is misguided and impossible to fulfill. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either stupid or lying. News by its very nature is a value judgment. There is no such thing as objectively occurring news; even a fire, which most people would agree is news, only becomes news because some editor says it is. That being said, all is not lost. Newspapers can still strive to be fair in their reporting and balanced in their coverage. Indeed, I strove to maintain those two values as editor, and I've been pleased to see an unwavering commitment to fairness and balance continue with the next group of editors.
Look closely at the last five issues of the 'Prince.' For all the hyperventilating on the editorial page, it's pretty tame stuff. Are there a lot of stories about the 'Street?' Yes. But that's only because, believe it or not – and you had to be in a coma to miss this, whether you are student or administrator, club president or independent – the 'Street' was where the attention of this campus was for the past week. Were mistakes in reporting and coverage made? Yes. But did these mistakes reflect a conspiracy to bring down the clubs or to nail individual people or institutions? If you answer yes to that without flinching, ask yourself if perhaps one or more story hit a little too close to home for you to be a good judge.
Understandably, criticism comes from those who are hurt, regardless of the truthfulness of a story. Turning to coverage of the Lewinsky affair, notice how fast the White House encouraged the media to take a look at its own coverage. You should be ashamed, Clintonites said, and the media dutifully turned to a self-flagellation mode. The media is devastatingly unpopular in American society, but much of this is a result of its inability to defend itself. Fairness and balance – and sometimes misguided attempts at objectivity – dictate that anyone is entitled to his own view, except the media. This is worsened by the unwillingness of anyone to defend the media. The press therefore tells us often how bad it is, while the good it brings – and there is plenty of it, even in the Lewinsky matter – is often obscured.
Like it or not, the 'Prince' has tackled some issues with strong meaning to the campus and to the outside world. A four-part series last week looked at race relations in social settings on campus, and a different story delved into issues of harassment and the safety of female students at the 'Street' during Bicker. Straight news stories reported on events so momentous that they led to the resignation of a club's top two officers, and another story raised questions about the role of the University administration in the eating clubs. These are age-old issues, and the 'Prince' is not opening new wounds or picking scabs. It is reporting the news, and I think that if you take a step back from your own interests for a moment, you will agree the paper has been both fair and balanced, even in the face of blatant stonewalling from multiple sides.
The 'Prince' is not in the business of destroying the 'Street.' But neither is it in the business of preserving it. Before coming to judgment on this paper's coverage, ask yourself what you truly want from a campus newspaper. If you want a booster for the status quo, a publication that makes it a priority to maintain traditions because of their traditional status, you've come to the wrong place. That's not the foundation upon which this or any other self-respecting newspaper was built. If you want something that will report on events and that is not afraid to touch on important issues, then read on. It would, quite honestly, be easier to run a paper on the booster model. But what a crime it would be for such an entity to call itself a newspaper. RICK KLEIN '98