The Cavalier Daily
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Advice column meets with complaints, confusion

HAPPILY, reader correspondence picked back up last week, so in this column I'll focus on your questions, criticisms and suggestions.

Who's that Girl?

One reader noted that we still seem to have trouble properly identifying or labeling people in photographs. On the front page of Thursday's paper, the photo above the article, "Democratic hopefuls share Council ideas," attempts to identify Democratic City Council candidates. Unfortunately, however, the woman in the picture is not Councilor Meredith Richards as the caption suggests.

The Dockter Is In

I received a good many questions regarding the new Dockter Duval column (probably more correspondence than the good dockter himself). First, one reader noted that the original column printed sample letters to demonstrate the type of question the column wants to address. Although the paper noted that these were fictional inquiries in that column, the ads that ran later in the week did not make this clear.

Apparently the issue at hand is whether the ads for the column constituted some sort of unethical advertising. What the ads actually said, that Duval addressed certain topics (smelly roommates for example) was absolutely true. Since the original queries were identified as fiction, I do not see any real problem with later ads that don't reiterate this point (especially since they do not mention the source of the questions at all).

Another reader concern was the source of the Dockter's wisdom. One reader claimed that it seemed suspicious that "a fictional character should answer these letters" since "no other advice columnist in any newspaper keeps his or her identity hidden." Apparently, the reader wants to know who is accountable for the advice published in The Cavalier Daily.

First off, it simply is not true that no other paper has anonymous advice columnists or columnists who write under a pseudonym. I confess to not having done great research on this issue, but am convinced that somewhere, someone is giving advice under a false name. It would be a problem is if the paper claimed to be offering professional advice -- as in legal or medical -- without actually having a professional opinion to publish. This is the main reason I have no problem with Dockter Duval's fictional character. Given that he's (a) a cartoon and (b) clearly not claiming to be a real physician, it is made extremely clear to readers that they are receiving advice, plain and simple, not medical treatment or legal guidance.

Even so, what if someone follows bad advice and sues The Cavalier Daily? As you know, people can sue for practically anything, but this does not mean -- thank goodness -- that their suit will be successful. Given the nature of the advice column, someone who writes in for advice, chooses to follow it, and then sues for damages resulting from acting on that advice will be sorely pressed to identify fault on behalf of "Dockter Duval" or The Cavalier Daily. There would be a liability issue if the paper was claiming to offer professional advice and wasn't, but given the obvious misspelling of "dockter" and the whole cartoon identity thing, I believe it has been made adequately clear that professional guidance is not what is being offered.

As for the rest of your questions concerning the advice column, come on and give the "guy" a break. He's only published two columns so far. Why not let the market decide Dockter Duval's success? If readers like the feature and write in, then great. If letters stop coming, then let's worry about it then rather than looking for trouble at the features' debut. (Of course, you may have noticed that I keep churning out columns whether I receive letters or not, so maybe this isn't the best way to determine longevity).

Reader Suggestions

Two readers sent in promising suggestions for new Life features. The first noted that James Madison University's The Breeze has a section called "Darts and Pats" where students can write in to give pats on the back or show disapproval of some incident or activity: "For example, if you wanted to thank that random girl for helping you pick up your binder when you dropped it and everything fell out, here's the place to give her a pat and that red haired guy in the dining hall who always cuts in line? Give him a dart." The reader notes that "Darts and Pats" is "supposedly one of their most widely-read sections and I think it gives more reader input instead of just the letters on the Opinion page."

Another reader suggested that The Cavalier Daily consider adopting a survey like that currently underway at the law school for the Virginia Law Weekly. Students fill out anonymous forms -- easily printed on the paper or made available online -- identifying various best and worst people, places and things available on-Grounds. For example, the survey might ask, who is the best professor, where is the best place to study, who makes the best pizza, what is the best U.Va. tradition, etc. Once again, the idea is to increase student/reader input to the paper.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions, please send them in to