The Michigan Daily’s editorial page is a significant forum — perhaps the most important platform for speech and expression at the University. The Daily takes pride in being the voice of the students, routinely printing letters and viewpoints from students.
However, there is a great responsibility undertaken by the senior editors of this paper that goes beyond simply being the students’ voice. This paper has an institutional philosophy, and the editorial page must guide discourse toward that philosophy. Thus, we come upon somewhat competing forces — printing what students want to read (or write) about, versus selectively driving the discussion toward what the Daily believes students need to know more about.
I’ll start with an innocuous example before moving to a more difficult one.
During the lead-up to elections — be they student government elections or the presidential election — the Daily receives a mountain of letters and viewpoints from candidates, parties and various student groups supporting a candidate or party. While I respect all students who choose to speak out by writing to a newspaper, in the lead up to elections, there is often just too much political content being dumped on this page.
At some point, editors have to draw a line, because if they printed every “Students for Hillary” or “Students for Life” viewpoint the Daily receives, they’d get to print almost nothing else. And because this page is not a billboard, but rather an opinionated institution steered by writers and editors whose words usually fill it, editors often have to limit political viewpoints to ensure adequate space for content addressing other important issues that students perhaps wouldn’t learn about in other ways.
In making that decision, the editorial page editors unquestionably steer the conversation, but this is part of their job as editorial stewards of the Daily’s storied opinion page. And as long as the steering is done with the best interests of this paper’s core ideals, and of free campus discourse in mind, it is not just permissible, but actually necessary.
Limiting each candidate-affiliated group to just one viewpoint in the weeks leading up to the election is an easily defensible exercise in editorial stewardship. In recent weeks, though, I was reminded of one of the more controversial examples of editorial stewardship when I read a handful of viewpoints printed on this page about Israel, Palestine and the many people and groups who play roles in the Middle East debate. I counted at least four viewpoints on this topic since December — a fairly high number, given that the Daily is often accused of censoring this debate.
I commend the Daily’s current editors for boldly choosing to showcase debate on a topic where, if my experience over the past eight years is any guide, they simply cannot win. While the advocates on all sides may feel vindicated in having that issue aired on this page, the Daily will at worst, suffer epithets of being an anti-Semitic or Zionist forum, or at best, will lose valuable page space to several rounds of responses from the many antagonists — all of whom will likely be offended if told that there is not enough space to permit their second, third or fourth responses.
This isn’t to say that this Middle East debate does not belong on this page. As much as I abhor the vitriol that always seems to surround this debate (see the online comments under those four viewpoints from the past few weeks), I recognize that there are students and groups on campus to whom the central and peripheral issues of that debate are very near and dear. It is part of the Daily’s job to host a discussion that is so important to at least some students.
But the fact remains that at some point, the news hook that revived the debate will lose its pull, and the Daily shouldn’t allow the rabidly divisive rhetoric to continue when it’s not based in news and takes away from covering that which is actually news. Editorial stewardship will soon demand that the Daily’s editors give the platform to advocates of other issues. At that point, they will squarely face once again the accusations of “censoring” the Middle East discussion.
But I hope this column contributes slightly to helping readers understand that there is no mass conspiracy at the Daily, just practical editorial decisions.
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.