Journalism, like democracy, needs your voice

Posted on November 08, 2010 in Letter From The Editor
By Dan MacLeod

I’ve been trying to write a paper for an economics class for the past three weeks. The assignment: Define democracy in three pages and critique two other definitions.

It’s a three-page paper. It should not be a big deal.

I’ve agonized over it. I’ve put it off, marinated in the work of great thinkers, watched Revolutionary War-era Mel Gibson movies and sought a creative way to define democracy. I haven’t had any luck.

But after closely following the epic power struggle leading up to the Nov. 2 election, it’s becoming clear democracy is the only form of government that flirts with chaos without giving in to it. It’s government controlled by millions of people who elect leaders based on whatever metric they choose: political party, reason, research, ethnic stereotypes, fear, panic or instinct.

Democracy is messy, complicated, expensive and inefficient. The only thing that keeps it from teetering into total chaos is the fact that the loser knows that they get to “throw the bums out” next time around.

Just two years after Barack Obama came to office, the country was ready to throw him out. The change he peddled didn’t materialize fast enough — who cares if the recession is over if unemployment is still stuck at 9.2 percent? This time around, on election night, a sea of blue states turned red. Voters were swayed by candidates whose main selling points were that, at the very least, they weren’t Democrats.

With all the debate, arguments and vitriol, I questioned whether this election needed one more more voice: Should The Free Press endorse a candidate?

Ultimately, we decided that since part of a journalist’s job is to be informed, it was only right that the editorial board research the candidates and endorse one. Our endorsement of Eliot Cutler appeared in the Perspectives section — where we print opinion pieces — and was part of a larger election-themed issue that included cutout masks of the candidates.

Some readers were confused by the endorsement. A couple misunderstood it and thought it was a news story. It wasn’t. The endorsement was the editorial board’s opinion and we labeled it as such. Some said we were biased toward the left and backing a candidate sullied our integrity. Some said we never had any.

Last week we published a letter from a student named Christopher Hughes who said The Free Press is “shackling the minds of the youth into one point of view.” He said we consistently print liberal views in the paper and ignore the other side in our coverage. He called The Free Press “despicable.”

We take seriously any letter to the editor. And while I disagree with nearly everything he wrote, I appreciated the perspective.

It’s no secret that colleges are predominantly liberal, as are most of our columnists. But the opinions of our editors and columnists have no bearing on our news coverage. The fact is that what gets into the paper depends on who contributes. We never turned down a column because we disagree with the author’s politics.

This paper is called The Free Press for one reason: It’s your paper. If you have an opinion you want to see in print, write and submit it. So long as it’s legible, coherent, not libelous and we can verify who you are, we’ll run it.

The Free Press is no different than our country’s democracy. You don’t have to agree with the decisions we make, but you can’t claim you’re not represented when you don’t make your viewpoint known. Voters spoke up last Tuesday and, for better or worse, made a change. You have the same opportunity with this newspaper. If you want to see a different Free Press, speak up.