BROOM: What to cut and what to keep
Editors of the Opinion columns must be careful to preserve the views of columnists throughout the editing process
Last week saw a lot of engagement from commenters on Cavalier Daily articles and columns. Although most pieces published online in The Cavalier Daily get few comments, several recent posts received dozens, and many more had comment counts in the double digits. I’m not sure whether this is because of the topics of those pieces or because the Managing Board has done a better job of pushing that content out on multiple platforms like Twitter. I tend to think the latter because, in general, though the specifics are unique, the topics are not wildly different from most of the topics that The Cavalier Daily covers on a regular basis. This encourages me, as I believe that more engagement from readers will allow the paper to better serve this community. The bottom line for me is this: The Cavalier Daily should continue tweeting more, as they have recently.
One of the columns that garnered many comments and some passionate discussion raised a point I want to highlight. Caroline Burke, a third year student in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the women’s crew team, wrote a piece that was published in the Opinion section of the paper under the title “A sport by any other name.” In it she addressed what she sees as a dearth of coverage of many sports on the part of the staff and editors of The Cavalier Daily sports section. I’m reading back through older papers to try to get a handle on the overall coverage of various sports and will report back with my thoughts in a future column.
For now, though, I’m more concerned with what I learned in the comments exchange that included Burke. Another commenter took issue with Burke’s column for not mentioning the men’s crew team (the men’s team is a club sport, the women’s team is a varsity sport) in her column. Burke responded that she did, indeed, mention the men’s team as well as other teams including the women’s soccer team and club squash team. The Cavalier Daily had, according to Burke, edited out the paragraphs containing those sections of her column before publication. There is no doubt that any piece published in The Cavalier Daily needs to be edited prior to publication. Whether because of deficiencies in punctuation, grammar or clarity most everything we write needs some polish before it’s ready for the world, much less ready for publication in a newspaper with professional level aspirations. When editing affects content, though, the editor needs to take greater care.
It seems in this situation that some significant portion of what Burke was trying to get across was lost. Rather than a call for more coverage of more sports teams with several examples, the piece read as a call for more coverage of the women’s crew team, with a nod toward other sports. There are many things in Burke’s piece that are up for debate and are, to my mind, worth debating, but first her views should be represented as she wrote them, and it’s unclear whether they were. When editing guest opinion pieces, editors should lean toward inclusion and be exceedingly cautious when cutting.
My last point is probably nitpicky, but it cuts across some notions of being aware of place and privilege. I noted in passing while reading John Connolly’s column, “Consider the big picture,” on the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and heroin use in the United States, this sentence: “I am confident that every American child has, at one point in his or her life, been given a spiel on heroin use or drug use in general.” This is the sort of presumption that I think we need to be really careful about making. The idea — and it features often in opinion pieces — that everyone is starting from the same place of knowledge is one that can impede engagement and conversation. I encourage those writing for The Cavalier Daily, especially, to try and step back from that and work to establish common knowledge before moving forward in an argument.
Chris Broom is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @cd_publiceditor.