The Public Editor

In its news pages, Trinity News publishes two main forms of coverage: the news article and the feature. It is important to remember that these forms require different levels of journalistic subjectivity from each other, and also from the content found in the opinion pages. The second issue of the paper demonstrated that this is a point which requires some attention.

The straight-forward news article is always presented in the standard style consisting of headline, the writer’s name and byline, along with the article beneath. The reader brings certain expectations of objectivity, fairness and fact-based reportage to this form. The writer should not refer to their own experience, and any conclusions drawn in a news article should be based entirely on the facts, rather than the opinion of the writer.

Apply this criterion then to “Get extra extra-curricular in College,” an article published in the Society section, where Freya Findlay recalled her various experiences of Freshers’ Week. Although the article was enjoyable, it was obviously a piece of opinion writing, and should have been marked in a way that differentiated it from the news coverage. I suggest that this should be done by labeling such an article – an opinion piece that appears outside the Opinion and Editorial pages, not part of a regular column – as a “Comment”. That way, confusion can be avoided on the part of the reader.

Also in the issue, an article about the return to sporting prominence of the American football star Michael Vick proved problematic in terms of the form in which it was presented and its content. Entitled “No rest for the Vick-ed as tales of notoriety spread,” the article appeared in the Sports Features section.

The writer, James Hussey, detailed Vick’s conviction for running a dogfighting ring on his property, for which he served a prison sentence. He then went on to describe the “media deluge” Vick has faced while seeking to rehabilitate his image, which Hussey sees as “nothing short of shameful” because “Vick saw nothing wrong with fighting pit bull dogs [and this] indicates the deep-rooted habits of his community.”

“The opinion held by many in African American society of canines is very different to that of the stereotypical view on man’s best friend. Dogs were used as a tool by white slave owners to seek out runaway black slaves,” he wrote.

It is important to note that a feature is not an opinion piece, though that is what Hussey wrote and Trinity News published. The journalist may insert him/herself in a feature article in order to better guide the reader to understand the news and explore opposing views, but the writer should not attempt to convince the reader to feel a particular way about an issue.

“On reflection I agree that [the article] should have been labeled opinion or comment,” Daniel O’Callaghan, the editor of the article, told me by email. “If we are putting a piece like that in again I will make sure to do that.”
However, even if the article was labeled as opinion, it still would have posed some difficulties. I would submit that many of the racial and class assertions it contains are totally unsubstantiated. They should have been challenged by the editor, and backed-up if true by reputable research.

According to O’Callaghan, time constraints dictated that the piece was put into the paper almost as soon as it was submitted. It is therefore paramount that editors leave enough time when commissioning an article in any journalistic form to ensure that every single factual claim made by the writer can be authenticated.