September 16, 2012

Introductions and First Thoughts

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In seeking out a Public Editor, the Editors and Staff at the Sun are demonstrating a strong commitment to transparency and accountability to readers. Having a Public Editor position means newspaper articles and editorial decisions will be critically examined by an independent observer. It means that, inevitably, some of the decisions by the editors will be second guessed and criticized. Few college newspapers hold themselves to such a standard. It is commendable that The Sun does.

I see my role as the new Public Editor to serve as a reader’s advocate, to raise and voice concerns on behalf of the readership and to help the Sun be more responsive to these concerns. I, like all of you reading this, want to see The Sun continue to build on its success both as a newspaper and as a multimedia web presence. I highly value intelligent, informative and meaningful journalism and I took the role of Public Editor to contribute in some small way to the good work being done at The Sun.

This coming year reader feedback will be particularly important. The Sun is expanding its web presence and multimedia offerings. Your thoughts on changes being made and content being added are crucial to improving and advancing this 132-year-old newspaper through such a transformative period in journalism. Your contributions, be it through online comments, emails or letters to the editor are an invaluable part of this process.  You can also email me at public-editor@cornellsun.com with your thoughts.

With introductions out of the way, I’d like to discuss a few issues that have come up this year:

Use of the word “allegedly”

“Allegedly” is probably the wrong word to refer to a report regarding a crime victim. The Sun’s coverage of the recent reported rape on campus ran with the headline “Female Allegedly Raped Near Suspension Bridge Sunday Morning.” The Cornell Police email used the term “rape reported.” Whatever the real meaning or equivalence between the two terms may be, the online commentators to the article raise a valid and important point — “allegedly” in a newspaper article about crime is more appropriately used to refer to the perpetrator and not the victim. “Allegedly” is also unnecessarily and inappropriately incredulous given the circumstances. Using words such as “reported” accomplish the same purpose when potentially unverified crime alerts arrive. The next time we receive a crime alert email and The Sun reports on the reported crime, the headline should reflect this sensitive distinction.

On byline accuracy

The contact information appended to the end of an article  is an important way for readers to provide columnists and reporters with invaluable feedback. Getting an email address and author name correct is important to the contributors.  A Cornell email address is easy to unnoticeably mistype when faced with a pressing deadline, but this detail is important for reader feedback to be heard. A missing or incorrect character in a name or email means the author may not receive reader responses and others may have trouble finding the writers’ article online. Double checking this information to allow this direct feedback is a small but important step in continuing to better the quality of The Sun.

Kudos on quote checking

The Sun recently enacted a policy generally requiring reporters to email quotes from interviews to the interviewee for confirmation prior to publication. Misquoting someone in a printed edition of a newspaper read by so many is potentially a major embarrassment for both the misquoted interviewee and The Sun. Further, a later correction only partially rectifies the mistake. This policy change to prevent such mishaps from going to print at all is a good step towards increasing the professionalism of the newspaper. Good work.

I encourage you to share comments and concerns about the Sun by emailing me at public-editor@cornellsun.com.  I also appreciate any feedback now or in the future on how I’m fulfilling my role and what else you would like to see from your Public Editor. I look forward to a good year.

Original Author: Nicholas Kaasik

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