The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

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The case for transparency in the newsroom

Increased diversity and trustworthy reporting both require openness with readers
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The recent editorial “Putting colour in print” polarized readers who felt that The Varsity Editorial Board’s discussion of diversity and objectivity missed the mark. Freedom of the press is a privilege and a responsibility, as it is the job of journalists to bring untold and undertold stories to light. In doing so, reporters and editors implicitly must answer the question: whose stories are worthy of attention?

 

The Varsity Editorial Board argued that a diverse newsroom helps newspapers answer the question with sensitivity and nuance. The editorial contended that “personal identity, which includes race, class, gender, and more, cannot be divorced from one’s professional journalism. Identity informs what is valued, reported, discussed, and published.” A newsroom where journalists of colour are empowered to write about the stories that they think are important helps to identify gaps in a paper’s coverage, and enables reporters to share news in a more accurate and nuanced way. The net result is positive: newspapers do a better job of representing diverse communities, and readers acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the world around them.

 

One reader embraced The Varsity Editorial Board’s call for diversity, but wished the paper had gone further in examining its own shortcomings. “Student publications aren’t perfect, but The Varsity editorial board is correct to argue that student journalists have a responsibility to do better. Let’s see some real critical self-reflection from all publications, including campus papers,” they wrote. Campus newspapers hold a particularly important position within the broader field of journalism because they often serve as a jumping off point for careers in journalism.  The Varsity Editorial Board presents an opportunity to model a diverse and inclusive newsroom that may eventually be carried over into larger establishment newspapers like the National Post and The Globe and Mail.

 

Another reader, speaking from the other end of the spectrum, expressed concern that the editorial privileged identity politics over objective reporting. Arjun Singh commented that “unbiased reporting can, and must, exist. Furthermore, actions and accomplishments, not race, must measure the standards of commitment to journalistic codes and ethics.” Singh argues that journalists “ought to keep their worldviews outside” their reporting because they may “distort” the facts. Singh is correct that unbiased reporting occupies an important role in journalism. Just as we expect professionals in other fields to put aside their personal opinions while at work, journalists have a professional responsibility to report the facts with precision and thoroughness.

However, the ideal of perfect journalistic objectivity may be a fiction. As the editorial suggested, journalists’ lived experiences inform the facts they find compelling and the voices they find newsworthy. The news that The Varsity covers should reflect the racially, economically, and sexually dynamic community it is meant to serve. Having a diverse masthead furthers this objective.

Although the two readers’ responses to “Putting colour in print” come from very different perspectives, an answer to both of their critiques may be increased transparency in the newsroom. Transparency helps readers hold the newspaper accountable for its editorial practices, ensuring that the news published in The Varsity reflects the diversity of voices at the University of Toronto. Transparency is also helpful for building trust regarding the paper’s substantive reporting. A newspaper’s credibility stems from the accuracy and impartiality of its reporting.

Understanding how the reporting came to be — especially the professional practice of journalism — helps readers understand the type of information they are accessing, with all of its strengths and vulnerabilities.

This is where the role of a public editor comes in. I seek to break down barriers between The Varsity and its readers by responding to reader feedback, commenting on issues in journalism, and advocating for greater transparency, diversity, and accountability in the newsroom.

With this goal in mind, please reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions or criticisms about The Varsity’s editorial and reporting practices.