BROOM: More than just a newspaper

The Cavalier Daily should focus on more objective reporting, but its editors and staff should be commended for their hard work and sacrifice

This past week in The Cavalier Daily I was reminded that this is, primarily, a newspaper, and that the first and most important thing it does is inform students. I was also reminded that The Cavalier Daily is something other than — and perhaps more than — a student newspaper, and I’ll come back to that in a bit.

This past Wednesday afternoon, April 9, a group gathered in the Amphitheater on Grounds at the University to, according to reports, preach about homosexuality or about the group’s religion. The problem is that I’m still not exactly sure about any of this. In a news story published on April 11, readers aren’t given much in the way of verified fact. This is a real problem. There are a handful of comments on the article online that, to my mind, correctly ask for much more information. There is also a problem with factual conclusions presented in the article. The headline tells the reader that students were responding to “hate speech” and the first sentence of the article tells us that there was a “hate speech group” on Grounds. We’re not given anything to establish these facts. For instance, is the group listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups? We’re not even given the name of the group, if they had one.

Further, we are not told at any point what the group was saying. We’re told it is hate speech and that “[m]uch of the speech was homophobic” but are not given any examples of such speech. While it’s possible that some of what was said would be inappropriate to publish, I’d expect that most of it would be all right, even if it was something many might recoil from. That the group’s presence coincided with Pride Week at the University was also noted, but I’m uncertain whether readers are to draw the inference that Pride Week was the reason for the group’s presence.

The latter part of the article shifts to quotations from students and others who went to observe the event. Here, the news reporting works because it uses quotes from those who were there, rather than conclusions drawn by the writer without support.

While I am sympathetic to finding some speech abhorrent, news reporting needs to remain more objective and substantiate factual claims. Labeling a group and speech as hateful without support does readers a disservice. As one commenter online noted, those who were not there deserve a more substantive report. Many people care a great deal about these kinds of things, and there was a substantial response on the part of students. Knowing who the group is, what they said and what students were responding to, specifically, matters to readers.

Beyond being just a newspaper, though, The Cavalier Daily is also a collection of students who have chosen to work together through long hours, between and after classes. They spend a time together and sacrifice many other parts of what could be a part of college life to try and inform, educate and entertain readers. The parting shots that the previous managing board and some editors have had published in the last several days are very much worth reading. They provide insight into who is doing the work to put out what is, ultimately, a high quality publication day after day. While The Cavalier Daily needs to get the news reporting right, it’s also worth remembering that there is a lot more going on than just a newspaper’s being published, and the students doing it have learned on the job and quickly. It’s really quite impressive.

Chris Broom is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Mondays.

Published April 14, 2014 in Opinion

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