A higher standard

The Cavalier Daily is bound by its responsibility to readers, not the institutional interests of student government bodies

Honor Chair Ann Marie McKenzie filed charges last week against the members of The Cavalier Daily managing board for allegedly violating Standard 11 of the University's Standards of Conduct. Given that the parties involved in this case are the leaders of a prominent University judicial body and Charlottesville's largest student-run publication, respectively, there is no doubt that it qualifies as a news story. Therefore, The Cavalier Daily has published a story in today's paper featuring an up-to-date account of the case, which at the time of press was before the University Judiciary Committee, so that readers can remain abreast of important student government proceedings.

Yet The Cavalier Daily's coverage of this story may raise questions about its commitment to journalistic objectivity, its responsibilities as a newspaper and its respect for established procedure in the University's judicial system. In anticipation of these concerns, the managing board wishes to offer readers a transparent explanation of the paper's handling of the news coverage and its decision to publish the story when it did.

For all literary sections other than opinion, the editor-in-chief and the managing editor are the two members of the managing board who review content before it goes to print. Because these individuals are subjects of the story, however, the paper altered its standard editing process in this particular instance. Neither the editor-in-chief nor the managing editor wrote headlines for, decided the placement or made any changes to the content of the article that appeared in today's paper. To ensure that future developments also are covered fairly, follow-up stories pertaining to the case will receive the same treatment.

In addition, today's story is running under the byline "Cavalier Daily Staff" because of the sensitive nature of the case. Although Article II, Section D, Clause 5 of the UJC constitution exempts "the exercise of journalistic and editorial functions by student groups" from the body's jurisdiction, it remains unclear that its leadership understands the meaning of this provision. Thus, if the names of the reporters covering this story were published, it is possible that they would face Standard 11 charges for "conduct that violates [the UJC's] rules of confidentiality." Until the UJC leadership acknowledges the limits to its jurisdiction by dismissing the charges filed last week against the managing board for exercising its "editorial functions," it would be wrong to publish the names of reporters who then would be at risk of suffering through erroneous UJC proceedings.

Readers also may want to know the managing board's rationale for the timing of this story. As a matter of prudence, the story could not run until today because of the need to obtain proper legal counsel. First, the members of the managing board had to ascertain that they were, in fact, exempt from UJC's jurisdiction and also were protected from punitive action which could be taken by the University administration. Upon speaking with several lawyers, however, the managing board was assured that its interpretation of Art. II, Sec. D, Cl. 5 of the UJC constitution was correct and that running a story about the ongoing judicial proceedings would be a legitimate exercise of The Cavalier Daily's First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Some readers also may wonder why The Cavalier Daily did not wait to publish the story until after the UJC considers the managing board's appeal of the charges, especially since a decision is expected today after the body meets with the University's Office of the General Counsel. The reason is that the managing board could no longer justify delaying the publication of a significant news item involving the leaders of the Honor Committee and The Cavalier Daily, whose operations directly affect University life. Although some may argue that publishing the story today short-circuited the process of student self-governance which is supposed to take place within bodies such as the UJC, the managing board believes that body's leadership had ample opportunity to issue a ruling about its jurisdiction last weekend or earlier this week while the paper considered its legal situation.

Since the UJC failed to do so and the managing board has now clarified its rights and responsibilities with regard to University policy and U.S. law, there is no reason to withhold this story from publication. The paper will update its coverage both online and in print as soon as additional developments occur so that readers will be supplied with the most accurate and recent information pertaining to this case.

Ultimately, today's story may run counter to the wishes of the UJC leadership and the Honor chair since it forces their actions - and inactions - into the spotlight. The Cavalier Daily's purpose is not to appease these organizations, however, as the provision in Art. II, Sec. D, Cl. 5 of the UJC constitution makes clear. Rather, the paper has a duty to its readers to provide honest, accountable and timely reporting related to matters which impact the University community. This is undoubtedly more difficult when the information conveyed involves the paper itself or embroils the University in controversy, but the managing board hopes that readers will appreciate the measures which were taken to ensure the paper fulfilled its responsibility in covering this critical piece of University news.

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