This week, we were confronted with an unusual circumstance: One of our columnists, Alex Steed, planned on writinga review of the film, “Jackass II.” Instead, he decided at the last minute to use his “Media Whore”
column to criticize The Free Press for what he thought was our biased coverage(Sept. 12,
18) of the controversy over the university’s
exhibition of paintings by Thomas Manning.
My immediate reaction was to pull his column and inform him of my decision with a scathing
phone call. We publish his column because we’re interested in his voice and perspective on happenings in the media, and we think that some of our readers might share our view.
But Alex’ column seemed an inappropriate forum for him to express his dissent. A letter to the editor, maybe, but hardly something that a columnist should write about in the very paper that publishes him twice every week. The gall of this man!
I was faced with a decision. There were mixed views on the staff. On the one hand, it seemed counter-intuitive to run the story.
What if our readers read it and thought that Steed was right?
And in posing that question to ourselves, we found our answer: it is okay.
Steed is a USM student. The Free Press is the newspaper for USM students. We consider ourselves a voice for the Portland and Gorham campuses and, for our students, a weekly expression of the ideas and controversies within our school.
That means that even when students are saying things we don’t agree with, and write a letter to the editor, we still have a responsibility to publish that voice as long as the arguments it presents are informed and provocative. We don’t have to publish it; we want to.
As the newspaper at USM, we want to promote the exchange, discussion and debate of ideas, and serve as an open forum for such discussion. Our job is to report and write the news, in an unbiased manner, so that you, as readers, can decide where you stand. These basic objectives should be the role of every news source. Sometimes, ego prevents this from happening.
But this ideal that media has a responsibility to be completely transparent to its readers, and on maybe this only, Alex Steed and I agree.
Our university’s president, Richard Pattenaude, seems to agree. He is quoted in the first Manning story we ran (Sept. 12), as saying in the midst of all this controversy that USM will continue “to serve as a neutral forum for the expression and discussion of ideas.”
In our commitment to bring this ideal to fruition, we publish Alex’s column without reservation.
During discussion about this, my Arts & Entertainment editor, Anne Hobby, advised
me: “You don’t need somebody that always agrees with you. An opposing opinion challenges us to look at our paper and make it better if we can.”
She’s so rational, I sometimes hate it. But she’s right.
It’s not about agreeing with the idea, it’s about letting you entertain the idea.
Go ahead, be entertained. ?