Disclose: 1. To expose to view, as by removing a cover; uncover. 2. To make known; divulge.
Matt Jones' recent letter, which sought to "uncover" the biases of several editorialists who used their respective media to criticize the Honor Court, says disclosure is "a central tenet of journalism ethics."
So before discussing the merits of his caustic cry for accountability among our opinion mongers, I feel the need to "expose to view" some misrepresentations in Jones' letter.
For starters, Jones asserts that cartoonist David Watson decided to attack Taylor Lea while watching the tube with his roommate, computer science student Mike Trinh, who was found guilty of academic dishonesty a week ago.
In fact, Watson had no such idea, and if he did, it wasn't expressed to us. The only idea Watson did have was that he should not draw a cartoon on the matter because it would be unprofessional and he thought it "would be against (his) better judgement to impart (his) biased opinion directly in the paper." So he didn't. The cartoon, both the drawing and the concept, is the work of Teng Moua, who by all accounts has no close connections to the open Honor Court hearings.
The other writer Jones mentions by name is Brandon Briscoe, who is not an employee of The Daily Tar Heel. So, whatever personal baggage he brings to the subject at hand, rightly or wrongly, is subject to less scrutiny.
In fact, we assume each writer does have a bias; otherwise, why would he or she write? The reality is that anyone compelled to submit a full-length column feels strongly about the topic, suggesting they all have vested interests in it.
Which brings us back to Jones' main argument.
In the tagline of most columns, submitted or otherwise, we always say if the writer is a member of a certain group, whether that affiliation is relevant or not. Should we also disclose personal relationships between a writer and his or her subject? I'm not sure.
On one hand, I support just about any measure to increase accountability.
For example, this year I changed our policy on how we compose corrections. When we've had to correct or clarify something in our paper in years past, we would just print the headline of the article in question and say the article should have said such and such. This year, you'll notice, we say explicitly what we got wrong and then correct it. A small and subtle change, but something I thought was necessary to uphold the paper's credibility.
But I wonder if exposing friendships goes too far. Is that unnecessarily delving into a writer's personal life? How would we go about conveying that to a reader?
I can only envision something like this: "Joe Schmoe, a senior history major from Burgaw, is best buds with Mikey McGillicutty. If you want to join them at He's Not, e-mail Joe at email@example.com."
The truth is, we haven't run into this situation in my three-plus years at the paper, so I'd love some input from y'all.
The bottom line: I favor any means to be up-front with our readers, but I oppose anything that unduly intrudes on someone's private life. Now that I've made known my thoughts on this topic, please divulge yours.
Matt Dees is a senior journalism and political science major who will drink beer and watch TV with just about anybody. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.