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Readers’ rep offers parting words of advice

wo readers wrote to me in response to Jim Martyka’s Wednesday article, “Appeals court upholds U-W fees decision,” about a case similar to the one now pending against the University. The readers expressed dismay that while the reporter quoted a plaintiff, he did not quote any representatives of the three student groups named in the University suit.
For the story on the University of Wisconsin decision, the reporter spoke to those directly involved in the University of Minnesota case, either as plaintiffs or defendants. The student groups named in the suit are not being sued — the University is being sued. The student groups have been denied representation in the lawsuit, but they will continue their court battle to be named as a third party to the suit.
Although Martyka took a purely legal perspective in this story, he agreed that the readers had a good point.
“With every story I should try to get absolutely every perspective I can. It would only help the story,” Martyka said.
This story, like so many news stories, has many perspectives, and future coverage will reflect those views. Since this lawsuit has the potential to affect every student group on campus, it will garner extensive coverage in the Daily.
For my last column as the Daily’s Readers’ Representative I want to pass on to readers a few things I’ve learned about the Daily during my time here, and give the Daily staff some parting advice.
With the recent chorus of criticism about the unethical behavior by journalists, having someone on the newspaper staff whose job it is to address readers’ complaints and criticisms makes perfect sense. With the creation of the Readers’ Representative position last year, Daily editors made a commitment to provide a voice in the newsroom for their readers. Editor in Chief Nick Doty has promised to retain the position and I commend him for that.
This newspaper and its staff are a source of amazement to me. If you think about the time and commitment that goes into putting out a daily newspaper and then realize that the Daily newsroom is staffed entirely by students, you can’t help but be impressed. From the business offices to the newsroom, the Daily’s student employees often sacrifice social lives, sleep and grades in order to get the paper out. For that, they deserve praise.
Readers should also know that Daily reporters want to hear what you think about the paper. The student journalists at the Daily take pride in their work and want to become better reporters. The criticism they receive from both readers and their colleagues is part of the learning process.
Although I’ve fielded a lot of complaints about incorrect crossword puzzle answers and grammatical errors, many of the comments from readers in the last year were about cultural insensitivity. While a readers’ representative should not be act primarily as some kind of diversity monitor, I do want to offer some suggestions to the Daily newsroom staff about cultural awareness.
I recommend that Daily editors make a genuine effort this year to recruit people of color into the newsroom and work toward making all staff knowledgeable about cultures other than their own. It will make for better reporters and make the Daily a better paper.
To the newsroom staff, I suggest that you not wait for Daily management to mandate training sessions. Educate yourselves. If you’re not already reading the newspapers that serve the African-American, Latino, Asian, Native and gay communities, you should start now. See what issues are important and how they’re framed in communities unfamiliar to you. Don’t call the campus cultural centers only when you have a story about a gay issue or an Asian issue. Incorporate the voices of those not normally heard into all of your stories.
Pay special attention to the coverage of religion. At a meeting of newspaper ombudsmen I attended in May, one of the strongest criticisms ombudsmen had for their own papers was their poor coverage of religious issues. Reporters need to familiarize themselves with campus religious groups and make an effort to understand people’s beliefs and present them accurately.
If I were giving advice to reporters a few months ago there are some things that would have seemed too obvious to even mention. But in light of some of the much-publicized bad behavior on the part of journalists and issues that have come up in the Daily newsroom, it couldn’t hurt to remind reporters of some of the basics:
ù Remember that there are usually more than two sides to every story. Try to put things in context for your readers.
ù Don’t lie to your sources.
ù Don’t steal information.
ù Undercover reporting is usually a bad idea, unless you’re going after a story of vital importance to the health or safety of your readers and there is no other way to get the information.
ù Don’t inject your opinion into a news story. If you have something in a story that can’t be attributed to anyone but you, take it out.
ù Don’t use anonymous sources.
ù Don’t make up anything. Ever.
And finally, listen to and respect your readers. They want to read a good story as much as you want to tell one.

Melodie Bahan welcomes comments via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 627-4070 x3282.

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