In her inaugural column as The Varsity’s first Public Editor, Sophie Borwein wrote that “if there was ever a golden era of newspaper journalism, this isn’t it.” Her words still ring true. And so, readers of The Varsity, this is your invitation: to write, challenge, and engage with our campus newspaper this year. To enable me, as your new Public Editor, to advocate for better, more transparent, more ethical journalism.
The concept of a public editor isn’t a new one. In Canada, the role dates back to 1972, when The Toronto Star appointed an ombudsman to arbitrate between the newspaper and its readers. Although the position is more recent at The Varsity, my predecessor Borwein made great strides toward modelling what thoughtful public editing looks like on a university campus.
Despite this precedent, the role of a public editor continues to feel fresh, urgent, even slightly undefined. The function of a public editor has remained constant over the years: to advocate for readers, hold newspapers accountable, and promote the public interest. But the challenges facing newsrooms, and the concerns articulated by audiences, have undergone a fundamental change. How can campus journalists present news accurately and impartially in the age of social media? What is the most responsible way of addressing reader concerns in an increasingly polarized political landscape? And when readers’ interests come into conflict with traditional journalistic practices, who should be privileged? By answering these questions, publicly and critically, I hope to narrow the distance between readers and reporters, and increase The Varsity’s credibility through accountability.
As an ex-journalist and third-year law student, I am aware that law and journalism don’t share the same procedural and substantive mechanisms for arriving at the truth. In journalism, the body politic — you, the reader — plays a much more critical role in demanding fair, accurate reporting. The standard of balanced reporting that we require of The Varsity emerges from our shared expectations of journalistic integrity. But this relationship cuts both ways. Just as its readers shape The Varsity, our campus newspaper provides an identity for the University of Toronto community. Where words have real power, The Varsity must be conscientious about the narratives it puts into the world and be aware of the stories it leaves out. As Public Editor, I can’t make every private concern public, but I can help steer the larger conversation to the things that matter most to our community.
My voice, on these pages, reflects an aspirational journalism in which ethics, facts, and balanced critical analysis are always at the forefront. I am, of course, aware of my own fallibility. That is why I invite you to reach out to me at [email protected] with your questions, comments, and criticisms. My hope is that, together, we might hold each other accountable in a democratic exchange of news, opinions, and ideas.