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Know your school newspaper

Well, this is it: This issue of The Tech is my last as editor in chief. I realize that no one is going to lose any sleep over this (there probably won't be any celebrations, either), and the truth is that I'm looking forward to spending another semester as a news editor.

But before I hand the editor's terminal over to Brian Rosenberg '93, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions people seem to have about newspapers in general, and The Tech in particular. Perhaps it's wishful thinking on my part, but I think people's comments, complaints and letters would be more effective if they kept a few things in mind:

1/3 Opinion is not news. Most of our readers seem to know that there is a world of difference between news and opinion, but there appear to be a number of people out there who insist on blurring this division.

In news stories, reporters are expected to be as fair as possible to all the parties involved. If there are two sides to a debate, both should be presented; the reporter should minimize the number of opinions he or she inserts into the article. (I try not to use the word "objective" because no human activity is completely objective. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to treat issues fairly.)

Opinion pieces, on the other hand, are meant almost exclusively for the purpose of expressing viewpoints. We get a number of letters every month accusing our columnists of being biased against a certain group, or saying we should send them to journalism school to learn how to approach issues more fairly. And while I believe arguments are more effective when they show a sense of balance between two extremes, that is by no means a requirement for our columnists, let alone people who write letters to the editor.

Of course, I can't completely blame readers for making this mistake. Indeed, I find The Analyst and The Thistle -- two other student publications -- partially at fault for confusing people on this issue. By calling themselves newspapers and then mixing their news and editorial sections, they make it harder for us in the mainstream newspaper community to convince our readers that such a distinction exists. The Analyst and The Thistle would do themselves, as well as The Tech, a favor if they were to call themselves "journals of opinion," or some similar description, rather than newspapers.

1/3 Columns are not editorials. Someone comes into the Tech office at least once a week complaining about an "editorial" we've run. More often than not, we haven't actually run an editorial on the subject; the person is complaining about a letter or column we have printed.

While other newspapers may use the word "editorial" to mean anything on the opinion page, at The Tech it refers to only one thing: an opinion piece approved by a majority of the editorial board, representing the newspaper's official viewpoint. Columns represent an individual's views, and are independent of the newspaper's opinion.

Take this column, for instance: While The Tech is providing me with a forum in which to express my opinions, it is not responsible for anything I say. The people who edited this column tried to help me make my point more effectively, rather than trying to change my points to fit their perspectives. What I say shouldn't be construed as what The Tech believes, and vice versa.

1/3 Reporters are not perfect. This is especially true at a student newspaper like The Tech, where the reporters and editors are students just like you, with problem sets, labs and papers to worry about. It would be wonderful if we could devote all of our time to working here (and some of us come close to doing so), but the fact is that The Tech is squeezed in among all of our other activities.

Despite these pressures, people seem to expect us to report the news perfectly. On the one hand, I couldn't agree more. I wish we could report more news than we do now, and that we could do it more accurately than we do. We consider it our primary responsibility to get the facts right. Whether it's misquoting someone, or getting a dollar value wrong, or just plain getting the facts wrong in a story, we make a point of running errata to ensure our readers get the most accurate news coverage possible. But when we get something wrong -- and I can promise you that we will continue to do so -- don't assume it was out of malice, or even out of incompetence. We probably just made a mistake in our reporting or editing, and would appreciate the correction.

1/3 We need your feedback. Whether we make a mistake or just report on something that gets you upset, we need your feedback if we are to be an effective newspaper. The Tech doesn't just report on campus news; it provides a forum for discussion and debate of issues affecting students. But this forum only works if people contribute.

You might remember the Tech Response Line, which was really no more than an answering machine in our office. We assumed that people would prefer leaving messages to writing letters to the editor. Well, people certainly enjoyed the Response Line -- but only when it had to do with Jim's Journal or the Senior House Coke refrigerator.

Similarly, people seem to think that The Tech is omniscient, that we find out about everything on campus through some magical means. Well, folks, that's just not true. Many of our best scoops came not through our sources in the administration, but from anonymous tipsters calling our offices. Even if you think we've heard about some news, better to hear about something twice than not at all. Those announcements we run for "The Tech News Hotline" aren't there just to fill space; they're supposed to remind you that we're constantly on the lookout for news, and that you are an integral part of our newsgathering process.

So the next time you see something in The Tech that annoys you, or makes you think, or that's just plain wrong, don't just stand there cursing the newsprint in your hand -- let us know how we're doing, and how we can do a better job in the future.


Reuven M. Lerner, a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is the outgoing editor in chief of The Tech.