The Argosy’s newest position liaises between the public and the paper
With the introduction of the public editor position, The Argosy joins a fairly illustrious group. Our small student paper, with its circulation of 1,700, is one of three newspapers in Canada to have a public editor. This means that not only have my pleas to turn the paper into a Buzzfeed knockoff gone unheard, but that we are instead joining the ranks of The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail in appointing an editor to ensure the paper can more easily access constructive criticism from the public. The role of a public editor is similar to that of an ombudsperson. If any readers of The Argosy have a complaint about a piece in the paper, the public editor will investigate the complaint. Ultimately, the purpose of the position is “reviewing and investigating complaints of journalistic error, misconduct, and unethical reporting as thoroughly and completely as possible, in a timely manner.”
As public editor, I will not report to the editor-in-chief or the managing editor but directly to our board. The column which will appear every week will be edited for clarity and Canadian-Press style, but the content will remain unedited. This ensures autonomy for the position, allowing anyone holding it to criticize any of The Argosy’s actions should it be necessary. The public editor is the public’s representative in the pages of the paper.
The position has the benefit of being more visible than a traditional ombudsperson. Having the person in charge of investigating complaints made to the paper maintain a regular column in the paper about journalism ethics seems like a worthwhile endeavour, as it helps the public gain a better understanding of exactly what we do as journalists.
Another reason we have created this position is to ensure that an experienced reporter or editor at the paper could stay involved with The Argosy without being subjected to the weekly grind of the news cycle. I have worked for the paper as a contributor, a news writer, and a news editor, and I am happy to take my experience in the newsroom into my new role.
Another large part of the job that is of less interest to the public is the training of new staff on matters of journalism ethics. Because of the large number of contributors and the high staff-turnover rate experienced by all student papers, this is among the most important aspects of the work.
The size of Mount Allison and of The Argosy’s staff will make the job more difficult than it might be somewhere with more anonymity. The public editor cannot be as distant from the staff as one might hope, but a commitment to editorial independence and an understanding that criticism and self-criticism will lead to better journalism should serve us well.
If you wish to file a complaint about something you read in the paper, send it to [email protected] and it will eventually find its way into my inbox. If the complaint warrants a full investigation, I will publish my findings in this column. During the weeks that I do not have to conduct investigations I will be commenting on journalistic matters which affect The Argosy, the Canadian University Press, or another agency or paper that catches my attention.