Staff Editorial: Conflicts of Interest

By Mac Weekly Staff

As a staff of around two dozen covering a college with a couple thousand students, we inevitably run into situations where editors or writers are deeply involved in the issues we cover. Two big ones have come up already this semester, with one story in this week’s issue on the GOP caucus and an upcoming story on the movement among students to keep Sociology professor Deb Smith teaching at Mac. Our goal, above all, in situations where there might be a conflict-of-interest is to find a fair way to cover these issues. One way to ensure this is to not give the stories to people who are deeply involved in the issue. We didn’t assign a story about the Republican caucus to an Associate News Editor who is organizing for Ron Paul. Similarly, we didn’t give the story on Deb Smith to the Managing Editor who co-started the movement to keep her at Mac. And if we interview someone on the newspaper’s staff about a story, we make an editor’s note or disclaimer at the end of the articles so readers can judge for themselves what bias there is. Additionally, having a group of people with a wide variety of backgrounds and strong opinions about events on and off campus leads to a healthy debate among the staff on what amounts to fair coverage. However, like any group of people, we have our own unconscious biases – whether for seeing conflict or trying to find a remarkable narrative. The best way these can be pointed out is from our audience. But we did not receive a single letter to the editor critical of our coverage last semester – and we obviously did not do a perfect job. We know from conversations around campus that there were many students, staff, and faculty, who thought our stories overlooked crucial angles, or were unfair in their presentation of an issue. As editors, this strikes us as a sign that we need to work harder to engage with our readers. The Opinion section exists partly to give our audience a place to sound off, to criticize, and to point out the shortcomings in our coverage that we do not see. Rather than telling Macalester and Mac-Groveland what they should know, creating an ongoing conversation is our goal. refresh –>