BROOM: In defense of paper endorsements
Publishing endorsements in the Opinion section does not jeopardized the paper’s objectivity
A few weeks ago, Jared Fogel wrote an interesting piece calling on The Cavalier Daily to stop endorsing candidates in student elections at the University. His concerns largely had to do with whether the endorsements were fair and impartial given the ultimately small and close population of the University; he also argued the staff of The Cavalier Daily should be more focused on increasing voter turnout than endorsing candidates. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it, and I’m going to take a moment to disagree.
The purpose of The Cavalier Daily is not to convince people to vote. It is to provide information via news reporting and to provide analysis and opinion via the Opinion columns and the lead editorials. The entire purpose of the paper is based on a separation of those two elements of the paper. News is not opinion and vice versa. The paper, on the whole, is not biased or subjective because of the opinion pieces. If we are to believe that this objectivity breaks down in covering student elections because the people doing the writing may be likely to know the candidates they are writing about, then what are we to believe about the rest of the reporting? I have argued in the past that I do not find systematic bias in the news writing of The Cavalier Daily, and I still believe that to be true. Endorsements of candidates can and should continue without affecting the news reporting on the candidates and elections.
Fogel is correct that most of the information one could learn about student candidates and their positions in this most recent election cycle was contained in editorials; this observation should serve as a call for more news reporting about candidate positions. It does seem, though, that with low voter turnout and many uncontested races there simply wasn’t a lot of news to report. This isn’t the fault of The Cavalier Daily; one cannot report what isn’t happening.
Digitally, the paper is doing quite well, though there is always room for improvement. When I came on board as the Public Editor I was excited about the digital transition The Cavalier Daily was undergoing. Much of it has been a real benefit to readers, in my view. The mobile website is quite good, and I wrote last week about how well I think Twitter is being used by the staff members, especially in the Sports section. The main website, though, still has some issues. Specific pages aren’t updating (the Public Editor page, for example, hasn’t updated since January) and one can only find the last week’s worth of opinion columns before having to really start to hunt. If a reader remembers having seen an article or a column, he or she is going to have to plug in the right search term to find it rather than being able to browse through time. The increase in comments online tells me that more and more people are reading The Cavalier Daily via the website. More attention to the site would help make it more user friendly.
Another thing I was looking forward to about the transition to twice a week print publication for the Cavalier Daily was longer form journalism. While there have been a handful of very well done single topic issues of the paper (most recently on student loan debt), there have not been very many deep dive articles that could really make use of the news magazine format. One example of a possible topic playing out currently is the ongoing story of the University negotiating a new dining services contract. There have been several opinion pieces from various people and a couple of news articles. For something that so intimately affects virtually everyone at the University, a comprehensive, long form piece could be educational and informative. I’d love to see more in-depth reporting, generally, regardless of the specific topic. It’s an element missing from the paper that I think would add a lot.
Christopher Broom is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CDpubliceditor.