This article was originally published in the Tufts Daily on 10/18/2010.
With the official vote in from the Media Advocacy Board, I can now confidently and legitimately accept the position of public editor. Conceived back in 2008, the public editor position was created to encourage healthy, meaningful campus conversation by having someone outside the Tufts media universe provide critical opinions on what is written, how stories are reported and what crosses the line of community acceptability.
The idea of an ombudsman — an independent, critical entity expressing the views of media audiences — has been implemented by the country’s most popular media. Consider the New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, even ESPN, all of which have an office that basically calls out their bosses when they mess up. The position of the public editor is a testament to the organization of Tufts media, as well as their strength to truly open themselves up to criticism. Few other undergraduate bodies are willing to do so; in this regard, Tufts is on the cutting edge, and we should be proud.
How to best approach the position has been a tough calculus for me, as well as a point of contention among previous public editors. Publishing too frequently might cause more problems and community unrest than benefits while digging for stories — think the muckraking of 1890s yellow journalism. Conversely, waiting to publish only when something “bad” happens gives the event an even higher profile and raises the stakes when suddenly the public editor is involved. Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times public editor, recalled how a New York Times reporter described their meeting as being “sent to the principal’s office.” Somewhere between these extremes lies a public editor who truly is the voice of the readership.
Throughout the next year, I look forward to working with the readership — you. The public editor doesn’t just hand down decisions on what is right and what is wrong. Rather, my mandate is to evaluate and investigate readers’ issues. In passing conversations, we find reasons why X’s article is biased and Y’s feature is one?sided, Z’s cartoon is crude and W’s article is ignorant. I don’t think I have gone a week at Tufts without hearing something to this effect — healthy journalism will not please everyone, and our strength as a university comes in our diversity of opinion.
Yet improving university media means taking time to evaluate why we take issue with these things and coming together to determine what really is outside the bounds of acceptability. My job as public editor is to be the facilitator of this conversation. This means making the public editor visible and accessible, moving beyond columns to panels, discussions and community engagement. Keep an eye out for them.
The first commentary on campus media will be published in the coming week’s [in-print] Roundtable based on my own views of campus media. As we move forward, I hope to wean this column off of my own opinions and respond to complaints of the readers, bringing concerns to the fore of campus consciousness so we can tackle them together.
Some have misunderstood the role of the public editor to be a judge or censor about what is appropriate and what is not — they are far off the mark. I echo University President Lawrence Bacow’s 2007 remarks that “the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less.” The public editor ought to provide a platform for this speech. Rather than make decisions unilaterally, it is my job to read the campus climate and report back on my findings. To readers, this means making your voice heard by coming to my office hours on Mondays from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Tower Café in Tisch Library, and by e?mailing me your thoughts. You deserve the media you want. Don’t write off your frustration with something published — write to the public editor.
Jacob Kreimer is a senior majoring in International Relations. He is the Public Editor appointed by the Media Advocacy Board. He can be reached at Jacob.Kreimer@tufts.edu
The orginal article can be accesed on The Daily’s website: http://www.tuftsdaily.com/op-ed/from-the-public-editor-a-new-year-for-the-public-editor-1.2372355