Who’s watching DAILY editorial board honchos?

Mark Witte Column

Economist Amartya Sen … Wait, wait! Don’t stop reading! This column isn’t just about economics – it’s about Northwestern, The Daily and the Associated Student Government.

Anyway, Sen found that poor countries with a free press and democracy avoid the famines that often plague impoverished nations. Preventing starvation is largely a matter of food distribution. But as the United States is learning in Afghanistan, and even domestically, it’s very hard for a government to keep track of what is going on. Information flows and accountability are vital to making a complex organization run well.

NU is neither a democracy nor an impoverished nation, and even the Flex plan won’t starve anyone. But like every other complex organization that is trying to improve itself, NU performs a careful balancing act. NU is NU because of three central, and interdependent elements: great faculty, great students, and a huge pile of resources to support them.

If we somehow lost our best faculty, we would cease to attract the other faculty, grants, contributions and high-tuition-paying students that keep this place going. Similarly, without such good students, NU would lose prestige on the national stage and lose tuition payments and alumni contributions. And if we had put the endowment into dot coms, well, some in Evanston might have had their fondest dreams realized.

As an administrator of sorts with Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the economics department, feedback I get from students, either directly, through The Daily, or from groups like ASG, is vital to keeping the pulse of the undergraduate education here.

When something goes wrong, who brings the word? For a healthy NU, the feedback and accountability brought by The Daily and ASG are essential. When the administration or ASG screw up, it is The Daily’s responsibility to let everyone know and hold the guilty to account.

Currently, The Daily and ASG are at odds about Monday’s editorial. It looked like a story that was just too good to pass up: “ASG fails to get beer at tailgates, but then goes off on own beer blast.” The perfect story, however, is so often perfectly wrong. The ASG Senate retreat was a dry event, as supported by a subsequent careful investigation. Further, both ASG and the Interfraternity Council were negotiating with the athletic department for tailgate space since last year, so any last minute problems with space and location for both events must unfortunately be laid at the feet of the administrators involved.

Were people from ASG called and asked about the specific points in the editorial? No. Daily reporters are paid to at least try to check all sides of a story and to support serious allegations of illegal behavior with at least some credible sources. Almost without exception, that is what Medill journalism students and Daily reporters do, and are compelled to do by their editors.

Monday’s editorial, however, was not the work of reporters, but was instead from the editorial board itself. To whom are they accountable? If they choose not to support their accusations, apologize or print particular letters from aggrieved senators, who calls them to task?

Who watches the watchers?