Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Public editor: Ethics need to be prioritized

Something a lot of people may not realize, or fully appreciate, is the precarious condition of being a staffer at a college newspaper. Working for a publication like The Daily can be a dangerous proposition, and not just because it is an hour-heavy job for people who are already full-time students. No, what makes it particularly daunting is reporting on people with whom you might also share a classroom.

So what is the appropriate course of action for a paper like The Daily, which features student writers and editors, to take when a controversial story involving fellow students arises?

Such an issue presented itself during the recent ASG elections. City editor Brian Rosenthal, a member of The Daily’s 16-person editorial board, served as an ASG senator for more than a year before stepping down in mid-February. During this time, Rosenthal maintained a professional relationship with both major ASG presidential candidates, Bill Pulte and Mike McGee. But when The Daily ran its endorsements for student government elections in the April 14 edition, Rosenthal’s past involvement in ASG went unmentioned.

I’m not saying Rosenthal’s presence on the editorial board presents an ethical dilemma, or that he should not have been involved in the endorsement discussions. But I do believe there should have been some notice printed regarding Rosenthal’s ASG past, if only in the interest of full disclosure.

After speaking with Rosenthal and some fellow edit board members, it became clear there was no malice in the non-disclosure. However they all agreed that, when looking back, such a disclosure should have at least been considered. As Daily campus editor Matt Spector told me earlier this week, “The fact that he was in ASG during any of (Pulte or McGee’s) tenure is an important thing to know.”

Student Publishing Co. chairman and Medill Prof. Charles Whitaker also felt Rosenthal’s ASG experience should have been acknowledged with the endorsements. Editor in Chief Emily Glazer, however, was not ready to see it as a mistake. “In retrospect, we could have done that,” she said, “…but then it brings up a question of if anyone on our edit board has worked with anyone in any capacity, do we put up a disclaimer?” While this is a fair point, I still feel this was a case where prudence should have prevailed.

Issues like these actually arise more often than one might think. The real question, however, is how to deal with them. At The Daily, a newspaper that carries itself with an air of utmost professionalism, it should be possible to keep these conflicts to an absolute minimum. So, are they?

In an anonymous survey of 60 Daily staffers conducted at the end of last week, nearly 25 percent answered “yes” when asked “Have you ever worked on a story that, because of your non-Daily life, created a conflict of interest?” while an incredible 40 percent replied “yes” when asked “Have you ever interviewed someone you consider a ‘friend’ for a story?” Both of these infractions are clear violations of The Daily’s code of ethics; to me, this indicates a failure on The Daily’s part to fully convey the importance of impartiality to its reporters.

Ultimately, the editorial staff needs to do a better job of emphasizing just how problematic such conflicts of interest are. Whether that is done at something like quarterly workshops, or simply addressed more powerfully by desk editors at their weekly meetings, action needs to be taken to lower these numbers. For, as Glazer succinctly put it, “It’s not OK.”

Medill senior Ben Larrison can be reached at [email protected].

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Public editor: Ethics need to be prioritized