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The Ombudsman

John A. Hawkinson

New Volume

Starting last issue, The Tech rolled over from Volume 123 to Volume 124. A new cadre of editors took over the masthead, and we can expect to see differences in how the paper appears. Traditionally this is announced in a spoof article called the “Gaggle”; I guess it may publish soon...

Too much fact-checking?

I last talked about fact-checking of opinion and letter pieces back in May, and I focussed on insufficient fact-checking. It didn’t really occur to me to consider some of the downsides of too much fact-checking, or of editorial policies that are potentially too risk-averse. While fact-checking is important, declining to publish anything that might be sharp or critical isn’t the best road either. It’s a fuzzy line.

On Jan. 26, Jonathan Katz, a professor of physics at Washington University sent an e-mail to letters@the-tech. Katz wrote:

Mark Wrighton, presently chancellor at Washington University, is believed to be on the “short list” for the president’s job at MIT. He is responsible for expelling from campus reporters covering a student demonstration, and for the Washington University “Guidelines for Media.” These stated that no reporter could come onto campus and no student or faculty member could talk to a reporter without an official minder from the Public Affairs office present. It reminds one of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. See http://www.physics.wustl.edu/~katz/press.html for details. Do you want this for MIT?

The opinion editor (Vivek Rao) and editor-in-chief (Brian Loux) ultimately declined to run the letter. Loux expressed in an e-mail, “we have no way to verify his story,” but I think that’s unfair. I think that any actions taken by anyone who is at all a plausible candidate for the president are fair game for criticism.

Certainly the presidential search committees can’t be expected to verify who they are considering, but everyone else may take educated guesses. If The Tech prints accurate information about potential candidates (even if they’re not being considered by the search committee) and their actions, no harm is done to those parties.

In fact, Mark S. Wrighton is a likely candidate. He was MIT’s provost from 1990 through 1995 after chairing Chemistry from 1987-1990, and then left for WU’s top job. Back on Dec. 6, I personally heard a rumor that he was a likely candidate.

If the letters page for The Tech were to be plastered with pros and cons of likely presidential candidates, I don’t think it would be a bad thing.

Tuesday’s Issue

On the whole, I was pleased with Tuesday’s issue. On the front page, the comics moved from the center front inside box over to right-hand index listing, making room for prominent placement of three stories, rather than the usual two.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that the right-hand inside box went to the back-page sports story, which is already easily findable by sports readers. That left the page 29 story “Harvard/MIT Matchup Services Will Keep Contacts Anonymous” buried with no front-page (or back-page) references.

“MIT Lays Off 100 Staff Members” could have used a sense of scale for the 100; how many people total does MIT employ? (I think it’s around 10,000). After the article jumps to page 23, it has four paragraphs under “Layoffs will affect service” -- but they don’t actually explain how services will be affected. What positions are going to be vacant?

“UA Completes Under Half of Fall Projects” summarized where the UA stands on its projects, but I found myself wondering where to look for further information on the listed projects. Where can readers look for more information? (http://web.mit.edu/ua/www/projects/goals.html seems to be an answer.)

Apparently a production error resulted in the omission of an entire page’s worth of content (page 11). See the errata (page 4) for details. It’s disappointing, but I guess these things happen.

The center spread of the issue was a photo spread for 6.270; unfortunately, there were eight captions for nine photos, and the “clockwise from top left” ordering of the captions didn’t make sense. Photography editor Peter R. Russo suggested that in the future photo spreads, The Tech might print a thumbnail layout/index of photos so they are more identifiable. I agree; anything would be better.

Last week Wednesday

Looking back to Wednesday Jan. 28, a front-page story announced the demise of Prometheus. It’s really too bad for The Tech to lose that competition. While the campus journalism field is hardly empty, Counterpoint, The Thistle, and Voo Doo don’t really provide the kind of news journalism that competes with The Tech. I had hoped Prometheus would be a good influence, fostering competition with The Tech. Alas, it’s evidently not to be. (I was pleased with the Tech article, though. It seemed to cover all the bases.)

In case you’re wondering, that issue was supposed to have a color front and back (as dictated by the presence of a color ad on page 13), but the relevant departments were not informed.

The Tech’s Ombudsman welcomes your feedback, to ombudsman@the-tech.mit.edu. His opinions are his own.