In the minds of many newspaper readers, the ethical editor suspends personal belief when on the job, having been trained in techniques that strip subjectivity from news reporting. Like a judge in the courtroom, editors in the newsroom are expected to flip a switch and become robotic reviewers of fact.
With that expectation, one might be surprised by this statement from Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the late publisher of The New York Times: “You’re not buying news when you buy The New York Times, you’re buying judgment.”
Every editorial decision involves personal judgment. We deem what stories are worth reporting, whose perspective is worth citing and what information to include or omit. The “veil of perception,” as John Locke described it, makes some subjectivity inescapable. Good editors embrace that reality, weighing the facts before taking a distinct angle for reporting them.
The greatest damage is done when editors put on a charade of pure objectivity, and the same can be said of leaders at Georgetown, both students and administrators. When we pretend to be impartial arbiters and repress our better judgment, we allow black and Latino applicants to be severely underrepresented in graduate admissions, we allow the 2009 Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness for faculty to founder and we allow student groups to become exclusive and like minded. We deny or downplay the inequality of opportunity at Georgetown and how dramatic our collective leg up is compared to so many away from the Hilltop.
Editors are wary of jargon and the tendency of columnists or interview subjects to hide behind it. The Jesuit tradition is rich in values – “education of the whole person,” “men and women for others” – but too often are these concepts abused, becoming empty promises that many take pleasure in evoking but take pains not to practice. Instead of citing these values in defense of the status quo, we must read deeper into what they entail and how they can be better realized.
Certain values are sacred to journalistic judgment, and “transparency” – the buzzword of this past summer on the Hilltop – is among them. The Hoya does its best to expose issues and raise awareness, but we also depend on a basic level of openness. In that regard, schools officials have repeatedly failed to meet their end of the bargain, paying lip service to “the Jesuit commitment to dialogue” while being remarkably tight lipped when pressed.
Administrators and their spokespeople are often uncooperative when news demands comment. As one example, The Hoya has failed for seven weeks to get anyone in the athletic department, including Athletic Director Lee Reed, to comment on stories of verbal abuse that forced women’s basketball Head Coach Keith Brown to resign. Lack of accountability starts at the top, and we are deeply disappointed that University President John J. DeGioia has been unavailable to sit down for an open-ended interview since we first requested that access in July. The president has many responsibilities that demand his attention, but one of which is that he periodically answer to the Georgetown community. President DeGioia, let’s make good on the commitment to dialogue that you so frequently trumpet.
Free press and free speech go hand in hand. The fact that “free speech zones” exist on campus while watchdog groups condemn Georgetown’s speech policy year after year should be a source of shame for any institution with intellectual integrity. I refer readers to Hoya columnists like Mark Joseph Stern (COL ’13), Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), Patrick Gavin (COL ’13) and Alex Honjiyo (SFS ’13), who have eloquently explained why restrictive speech policies strike at the heart of our academic purpose and Catholic mission.
And yet for all these values familiar to journalism that are lacking around campus, there is one area where I worry people have become too much like news reporters: unrelenting skepticism.
Journalists rely on skepticism, resisting the urge to take information on its face and people at their word. But consider the campus pastime of bashing The Corp, the Georgetown University Student Association, The Hoya, the Department of Public Safety, local politicians and the university administration, to name a few. There is much room for improvement in all these groups, and those in charge should be held accountable. Yet while skepticism is productive in healthy doses, the frequency with which we assume the worst at Georgetown is cause for concern. Lack of transparency breeds lack of trust, and greater accountability would allow us, however cautiously, to give our community some benefit of the doubt.
Working at The Hoya has been a tremendous privilege, and I’m grateful to those at the paper who have made it so memorable. We are proud of what has been accomplished and attuned to what could be improved, at The Hoya and at Georgetown. If journalism has taught me anything, it’s that an honest reflection on what we value can guide us toward the brightest future.
DANNY FUNT is a senior in the College and the 139th editor-in-chief of The Hoya. His term ends Saturday.
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