All of us have heard the critiques: “The News are snakes! The News are trash people! #TeamSwensen!”
The News has an image problem. And if we’re going to be the official source of campus information, we better start asking why.
“It’s not that I hate the YDN, it’s that I don’t trust it,” one student explained to me. A large part of her critique focused on diversity concerns surrounding the staffing of the newsroom. The piece “White noise” by Isis Davis-Marks, a former opinion editor at the News, has delved into this topic in a manner more effective than I could convey, and I strongly encourage readers to read it. But the issue of mistrusting the YDN extends further than solely those concerns. Many students I talked to centered their critique on one pervasive issue in the News’ reporting: misquoting.
One recent graduate described how friends who used to be on the board of the Buckley Program refused to talk to the News for fear of their words being distorted. Another student recounted how he was left with a sour perception of the News his first year when the sentiment behind a quote he gave was altered by an experienced reporter, a reporter who went on to join the paper’s Managing Board one month later. A different student said “she heard and noticed that the YDN is a bit sensationalist and sometimes even takes quotes out of context in order to build a better story.”
Ask some, and they’ll tell you that the News delivers some of the best campus reporting in the country, handling controversial and weighty stories deftly. Ask others, and they’ll tell you that it’s known for its horrible breaches of journalistic ethics. It’s both an established, respected press institution and a mistake-prone, student-run club. Aside from the really big news stories, it’s not easy to tell which version of the News writes which piece. As such, it’s critical that the News trains its reporters well, and it’s in this facet that the News could use some improvement.
If you’re like half of campus and never figured out how to unsubscribe from the seemingly hundreds of emails the YDN sends out each week, you know how to get involved with the paper. “Fastest fingers first!” — Those who “reply all” fastest to the email listing stories that need coverage, often within the minute, get to claim the pitch they want to write about. It’s now up to the first-time reporter to do the rest of the work alone — find the sources, interview relevant people and research the facts.
Their first meeting with their editors will likely be the night before publishing, when they come in for a “desk edit,” where they sit with their immediate superior, a “desk editor,” and review the piece line-by-line.
Once that’s completed, it’s time to “CQ,” or fact-check, where the reporter — once again — sits alone with their notes and recordings to ensure each of their facts are correct.
The piece then goes back to the desk editor, who sends it to the copy desk to make sure the story complies with style, spelling and grammar guidelines, before it’s finally sent to the managing editors. The managing editors then review every news story written by reporters and, if deemed appropriate, send the piece off to publishing.
One part of this process has a glaring omission of quality control: fact-checking. The rookie reporter is completely responsible for ensuring they did not take quotes out of context or misrepresent a person’s point of view in the “CQ-ing” process. Never does an editor or anyone else for that matter look at where the facts were pulled from! This is with the exception of glaring inaccuracies or unlikely statements. On top of that, the only time the News teaches its reporters how to pull quotes is during a one-hour-long session each week called “reporter training.” However, this isn’t a substitute for the fact that editors never review the primary sources used by their reporters. If the News is going to train its reporters to handle matters of the utmost sensitivity, it has to ensure proper use of source material in the initial learning stages of the reporter’s career — not every reporter will recognize when they are misrepresenting a source right out of the gate.
There’s an easy fix to this: have editors involved in the fact-checking process, reviewing the reporter’s notes and recordings at the beginning of a new reporter’s career — at the very least. The obvious counterargument is that editors are busy students who are preoccupied with other work. If that is the case, then have more trusted, experienced reporters check newer reporters’ work or pair brand new reporters together before having them write pieces on their own. This way, what one newbie misses, the other might catch.
To our readers: We live in a time where the media is more distrusted than ever. It is imperative that student reporters are met with understanding from members of their community and that the demonization of the press is not paralleled on our own campus. While the News remains a training ground and mistakes are bound to be made, that doesn’t disqualify the work the News does from adding value to campus discourse. And if you want to see it improve, join! You won’t be turned away.
But, at the end of the day, the News can and should do more to improve its veracity. Training, after all, needs to happen at the training grounds.
Jacob Hutt is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .