The scale upon which to measure us

You will not read an objective opinion in these pages.

Tim Burnett

Media bias is one of the more en gage discussion topics in contemporary media, including here at the University.

Readers’ letters and other submissions frequently complain of a bias at The Minnesota Daily. It is not my place to address that issue in its most broad sense. However, these complaints in part stem from a misunderstanding of the purpose and parameters of these pages.

You will not read an objective opinion in the Daily’s Editorials & Opinions pages. Objectivity is not a possible or optimal trait for an opinion writer. Unlike reporters, who must be objective in method, authors whose work appears on these pages should instead strive to clearly and stridently articulate and support their opinions.

While opined conclusions should ground themselves in facts, they will also stem from the writer or writers’ values, priorities, beliefs and judgments. As my younger sister likes to tell me, “Your opinion is not fact.”

None of this excuses the Editorials & Opinions pages from critiques of its content. What readers can and should demand is a balanced discussion which gives publishable viewpoints opportunities to make their cases.

A balanced discussion does not mean I or the Readers’ Representative/Ombudsman (who chooses which letters to publish) will tally submissions and look to publish equal numbers of various political or other positions.

Instead, we seek to facilitate the best discussion possible, judging submissions based on writing quality and position espoused (both in terms of uniqueness and prescience).

In this respect, considerable responsibility falls on you, our readers. The editorials, cartoons and regular columnists’ opinions take up only 35 percent to 40 percent of our content; the rest comes from reader submissions.

Likewise, we will exercise a certain amount of discretion in relation to content. A submission which does little to improve the discussion and is insensitive to the point of being tasteless, will not appear on these pages. This limitation is relevant only in the extreme, and I do not foresee having to implement it often.

For example, the Daily should and will publish calls for military action (i.e., “The United States is right to go to war with Iraq.”) However, demands for indiscriminate violence (i.e., “The United States should eliminate every square inch of Faluja.”) have no place on these pages.

Looking at the group of regular columnists and the composition of the Editorial Board, I think these pages will be a interesting forum on everything from this quadrennial ideological brawl we call an election to a stadium proposal or three.

In terms of the pages’ balance, the function and ideology of the Editorial Board deserves mention. The board is the voice of the Daily as an institution, in deference to being the voice of the reporters and other employees at the Daily, which it is not.

Editorial boards nationwide all have their own character. A look at the boards of the two most prominent U.S. print news sources, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, reveals a substantial gap in the priorities and judgments that evolve with the passage of time to make up an ideology. The Daily’s Editorial Board is no different in this respect.

The board has recently constructed a mission statement which is as follows:

“The Minnesota Daily Editorial Board exists to educate readers and foster discussion. The board strives to be an informed voice for students’ interests while articulating a philosophy of progress unencumbered by outside affiliations.

Although the board’s composition evolves as time passes, its voice remains consistent. When board opinion touches upon the business or ethical interests of the Daily, the board will candidly acknowledge those interests.”

At the end of the day, the debate about overall media bias is worthwhile, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out during the upcoming years.

In critiquing a specific editorial or opinion, however, it is counterproductive, as it frequently functions as a discussion killer. Critics who decry a writer’s bias tend to excuse themselves from analyzing the argument. The bias charge also assumes the readership is lazy, uninformed or somehow incompetent to make its own judgments. In short, dealing with an opinion’s merits far outpaces complaining about the writer’s politics.

I hope the writers and readers of the Editorials & Opinions pages can create a lively and informed debate throughout the next nine months and beyond.

Tim Burnett is the Editorials & Opinions Editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected]