Executive Privilege

It is generally understood that the meat of a newspaper should be about reporting the facts in an interesting, but ultimately accurate, way. That is what sets apart a newspaper from a tabloid. You can believe that the news you’re getting from a newspaper is true. And if you prefer a tabloid to a newspaper as a source of accurate information, then you have a problem.

But what is perhaps a more enlivening function of a newspaper is its role as a forum for educated opinions and thoughts. The Tartan is no stranger to this concept. Our opinion page is actually called “Forum.” It is here where you can find a collection of student opinions, editorial cartoons, and even the opinion of the newspaper.

Yes, newspapers have opinions; we just give readers the benefit of being able to discern between what is fact and what is opinion by publishing our opinions as editorials. But it’s not all fun and games in the world of opinion writing. With serious freedoms come serious responsibilities. And sometimes it becomes unclear where a college newspaper can go awry.

In yet another week of journalistic experimentation across the country, a university newspaper tried to be edgy and humorous, but ended up failing miserably. Princeton University’s newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, generated and printed content in their humor issue that was seen by many as insensitive and offensive.

The paper poked fun at a previously rejected applicant who then filed a lawsuit against the university because he believed the school had rejected him on grounds of racial discrimination. But instead of making light of the more appropriate points of contention (such as the idea of suing a university because of rejection), the paper made the careless mistake of commenting primarily on the student’s Asian ethnicity. The paper had produced a mock letter, full of stereotypical broken English. And while the paper never came out and said, “We think this person fits the stereotype,” its writers most certainly were acting on a preconceived opinion.

And while the article probably was not meant to be taken seriously (it was, after all, printed as part of a humor issue), it demonstrates how readers look to a paper as a source of truth, or at least of educated viewpoints. So it must have come as quite a shock to readers when The Daily Princetonian’s readers found that the article contained more ignorance than actual humor.

Opinions have the power to elicit emotion from people. Imagine all of the people who would be affected by an opinion if it was part of The New York Times; imagine all the people who were affected by the opinion of The Daily Princetonian.

Because a newspaper’s opinion is so powerful, I believe newspapers have the responsibility of sharing their opinions, but only when they are based soundly upon facts. Newspapers should have a distinct voice, but this should be done so in a strictly regulated fashion, specifically because of its potential to affect so many readers.

The Tartan’s editorial board comprises seven members who have a large stake in the paper, such as editors and managers. The board meets behind closed doors in order to generate free thought in its purest form; the board’s members are not afraid to say what they think, even if it varies from the norm.

Perhaps more importantly, the collaborative effort of the board members results in a purely Tartan point of view; there are no outside influences, only the newspaper’s opinion. And you can bet that opinion is based on facts, even if you don’t agree with it.