December 4, 2016

Managing bias during budget cut discussions

As you read the story, “Student media may see budget cut in fall” you may recognize the names of a few of the quoted individuals from our staff box. As a reader, you deserve to know what if any biases may be present in The Journal’s reporting, and what we’ve done to minimize bias.
The story is about next fiscal year’s budget, specifically for student media in the School of Communications (SOC).

Ultimately, this conversation is about people. Students want the best education for their money. Administrators feel the same but must weigh limited funds with nearly infinite needs and wants. Former students want current students to receive the same caliber of education they did, and faculty must balance a little of everything.

The Journal has acquired the role of both observer and participant in this issue. Like all budgets, ours is up for review. There is a proposal to cut our budget as well as the budgets of the Ampersand and the Galaxy. But it is imperative to note that at the moment those proposals are just talk.
The Journal decided to cover these potential cuts as news because this conversation has the potential to impact current and future students and faculty, as well as the broader community. We believe readers should be aware of these conversations.

I struggled with this decision because I knew this would require The Journal to interview people within our newsroom. With that in mind, we have made adjustments to minimize bias in our coverage.

I assigned five reporters and editors to this story, including myself. When choosing these students, I considered their skill level, as well as the effect the cuts would have on them, if any. From the design of pages with budget content to the choice of headlines and verbage, these individuals were the only ones involved in this coverage. During all interviews they have acted as reporters, not friends or colleagues.

Gabe Burns, The Journal’s managing editor, has not been involved in any decisions regarding coverage. Newspaper Adviser Larry Baden will not provide guidance or critique of our coverage. When advice from faculty is sought, it will come from journalism adjunct professor and former Post-Dispatch reporter Elizabethe Holland-Durando.

In approaching this coverage, I recalled one of professor Ed Bishop’s lectures from a class I had with him my freshman year. Ed Bishop does not believe any journalist can be completely objective. To be alive is to feel, to think and to be affected. He argued that self-awareness is the only way a reporter can minimize any bias and provide the public with the fairest news possible. That is, above all else, what we hope to do.

I appreciate the difficult position certain administrators are in as they balance fiscal sustainability with academic enrichment.
None of this is easy. And that’s ok. The fact that it’s hard proves it matters. That our programs matter so much to so many says a lot about our programs and this university.

We will continue to cover this conversation as well as others related to next year’s budget.

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