This piece marks the return of the public editor column to The Michigan Daily’s editorial page after a more than three-year hiatus.
For readers with thoughts on the Daily’s special Sept. 11 issue , its use of anonymous sources and writers in last week’s Statement cover story or anything else this paper has done, there’s now an additional outlet for constructive criticism.
A public editor — the readers’ representative within the editorial core of the newspaper — serves a crucial role, especially for a campus newspaper, which undergoes massive staff turnover on a regular basis. I am honored to serve as the Daily’s second-ever public editor.
While I will have no say in primary editorial decisions or articles before they are printed, it will be my job to read each day’s paper and the feedback we receive from readers. I will evaluate concerns that are raised (either publicly or privately), discuss them as needed with the Daily’s staff and write bi-weekly columns addressing the more important issues.
A public editor obviously cannot fulfill his role without input from readers. It is my hope with this first column to open up a dialogue between myself and the average student reader of this paper. There is no opinion too trivial or critical to forward to the public editor, though I encourage readers to point out positive things as well. Believe me, we can learn from commendation as much as we can from our mistakes.
When the Daily first created the public editor position in 2007, most readers didn’t know what a public editor was, and those who did, probably dismissed the Daily’s action as yet another attempt to imitate The New York Times. To some extent, the latter group was right. Much like the Times appointed Daniel Okrent (himself a Daily alum) as its first public editor in 2003 following the embarrassing Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, the Daily also created the public editor position out of necessity.
I was the Daily’s editorial page editor when we undertook the public editor experiment in 2007. We created the position in response to a need at the Daily that we were told by critics — among them University President Mary Sue Coleman — had to be filled. While the Daily thankfully never encountered a disaster like the Blair scandal, there were little mistakes being made every day, and a public editor would help us notice and account for them.
As I take up this post, I especially commend the Daily’s current set of editors for taking the initiative to once again open the paper up to official criticism by renewing the public editor experiment. I know from experience that Daily staffers are often subjected to completely unfair criticism. But I don’t deny that there are legitimate mistakes being made as well. It will be my aim to highlight such problems and possible solutions.
In addition to serving as the Daily’s public editor, I will be employed as a staff attorney and teaching fellow in the University Law School’s Innocence Clinic. While that technically makes me a University employee, readers should rest assured that my actions as public editor will in no way be influenced by the University. Indeed, the University administration has been one of the strongest voices calling for an independent public editor at the Daily — and I’m sure you agree that President Coleman has far more important things to do than to commandeer the Daily’s public editor.
I believe a successful public editor should be close enough to the publication to understand the challenges writers and editors face each day, yet far enough away to feel comfortable throwing punches. I think I meet this criteria: I wrote for the Daily in many capacities, but it has been nearly four years since I was an editor or played any role in the paper’s decision making.
Today when I walk into the newsroom, I recognize almost no one. Yet, because I spent many years in that very room, I can understand what every staffer does as well as account for the pressures student journalists face as they balance classes and the Daily — which can itself be a full-time job.
I’m acutely aware of what an immense task it is to put out a student newspaper five nights a week. I also understand that there is room for improvement in how the Daily does it. With your help and feedback, I hope to play a small part in making this paper better than it has ever been.
Please don’t hesitate to write letters to the editor, or to contact me directly.
The public editor is an independent critic of the Daily, and neither the editorial board nor the editor in chief exercise control over the contents of his columns. The opinions expressed do not necessarily constitute the opinion of the Daily. Imran Syed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.