The concept of the public editor is a radical one. I am to serve as a readers’ representative by investigating readers’ and my own concerns about the impartiality and integrity of Trinity News.
My appointment stems from the ambition of this year’s editor-in-chief, Aoife Crowley, to ensure that the paper pursues the news according to the high ethical standards she has set for it. It cannot be easy to assign someone to criticise your own paper from within, so for this reason I applaud her courage.
As a close reader of last year’s paper, I could not fail to notice the abundance of talent on offer in these pages. In general, the news coverage displayed acutely observed detail and intelligent analysis. The opinion pieces were passionate and habitually illuminating.
However, in a few exceptional cases, I had the sense that ethics had been sidestepped in pursuit of sensational headlines. Stories made the front page, only to have their journalistic merit ruinously challenged in the following edition’s letters page.
As nobody reconciled the claims of the articles with the claims of the letter writers, I was left unsure as to whether I could believe what I had read. And that is where the public editor comes in. Starting with this issue, (I will not examine previous years’ articles), I will do my bit to safeguard the journalistic principles of the paper by publicly evaluating its integrity.
My only colleagues are readers, who I invite to write to me if they detect a breach of ethical conduct. I may quote and refer by name to those who write to me. If a reader does not wish to be identified, this should be clearly indicated in all correspondence with me.
Importantly, if a reader merely disagrees with the conclusions of an article Trinity News publishes, and wishes to express their own views, they should instead write a letter to the editor.
This past summer, the editor and I curated a selection of guidelines into the Trinity News Journalism Handbook, which we are making available to newspaper staff and readers alike on the website at the following address: http://bit.ly/TNethics. It would be tremendously helpful if readers could cite a particular paragraph from that document of which they believe an article to be in violation.
My investigation will take the form of a series of questions sent to the writer of a given piece, the relevant editors and sources. Nobody is obliged to answer my questions, but if they don’t, I will likely note that here.
Occasionally, I will seek the advice of experts where the issue is a technical one, or where the correct conduct proves difficult to discern. As this is an exercise in transparency, I will go to great lengths to ensure that I do not speak to people off the record.
Though the Journalism Handbook was a collaboration, my columns will not be. The views I will express here are my own, not necessarily those of Trinity News. I will not be edited, except for spelling and grammar. The editor-in-chief and department editors are under no obligation to implement my suggestions. However, in the event of a difference of opinion, it is my hope that they will explain their reasoning.
I will publish my conclusions and recommendations in this column and, when I need more space, on www.trinitynews.ie. I intend to use these venues only when I need them. If there is no lapse in standard in a given issue, you will not hear from me.
As this is the first year that Trinity News has appointed a public editor, I am proceeding on an experimental basis. Any feedback, however harsh, would be greatly appreciated.
I understand that everyone who works for the paper is doing it on their own time, for free. My only advice would be this: Read the Journalism Handbook. Do good work. See you in a fortnight.