Thursday, September 28

Reflections on student newspapers making a bad thing worse

This is what happens when Chris' staff editorial gets shot down during the staff meeting. It gets posted here. Sure the audience is infinitesimally smaller, but, at least, his name is more apparent. Enjoy.

So it happened again. A newspaper dropped the ball. Shoddy editing led to the printing of factual errors. It was not the first time something of the sort has ever happened, and no one but a fool would believe it to be the last time. Mistakes happen to all manner of news organizations, at every conceivable level. It’s not hard to think of cases where national publications were forced to fire reporters and editors and publishing fabrications, and, just last week, our own Gonzaga Bulletin corrected errors in a front page story, and ran a letter to the editor identifying errors in another article. Still, this particular case is of interest because The Daily Illini simply gave up.

In a staff editorial berating the athletic department for not treating students fairly in regard to ticket distribution for a basketball game three egregious errors were made. The next day a correction and apology were run, both very appropriate, and that, short of being a poignant memory of what happens when fact checking is neglected, should have been the end of it. However, another editorial appeared the day after and, claiming those mistakes as merely the most recent in a long series, declared that the appearance of staff editorials on its Opinion page would be ended for “a couple of weeks.”

The editorial board of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s student newspaper, an award-winning production that began in 1874 and distributes over 20 thousand copies a day, failed to meet one of the most basic journalistic standards: getting its facts straight. Rather than resolve to confront the issue the next day with editors operating under the reminder of their recent failure, it preferred to remove itself from the public eye under the cover of re-evaluating the system under which the editorials are chosen, written and edited.

Cocaine addled celebrities run and hide. They have no obligations beyond providing entertainment, though stories of their recoveries or devastating descents back into drug use can still prove amusing for those who read People or Us Weekly. Newspapers, however, have a duty to the public and cannot back down from it.

In the editorial board’s last submission to its opinion pages for the foreseeable future, it called the newspaper editorial “a sacred institution” for offering “insight on issues, events and problems relevant to the community.” Now The Daily Illini has forsaken this status, not through its factual errors but through its refusal to meet the problem the next day.
Avoiding blunders like these are simple to those with the mildest understanding of journalism: make sure the editors do their job. I can sympathize with their failure in this instance. People get tired, focus on the wrong things or, more commonly, assume that the person who checked the story before them knew what they were doing and took care of the big problems.

Mistakes are excusable and remedied by apologies and notes under the heading “Correction.” Giving up is not.

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