The Knox Student, in the Feb. 21, 2008 issue, printed a harmful and inappropriate column in the sports section on page 15 titled, “Racism? Nah, just some truth”.
That night, after an emergency meeting of the editorial board, we issued an apology first through e-mail lists, then through all-student e-mail the next afternoon, where the Editor-In-Chief, on behalf of the rest of the editorial board, expressed our shame for publishing this indefensibly irresponsible column.
In the week since publication, campus debate has taken many forms, and the staff of this newspaper has spent long hours looking at ourselves and how our system of responsible, careful editing could have broken down to such a degree that we allowed such an egregious column to slip through. Upon reading messages from students, faculty and alumni (many published in this paper, and several personal messages not intended for publication), community opinion on the column and the inner workings of TKS have led to staff reflection of the most difficult kind.
We urge our readers to read the Letters to the Editor on page 11 of this issue. Two Knox faculty members, Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology Jon Wagner and Chair of the Department of Biology Stuart Allison, have written very clear, smart rebuttals of the ill-informed sports column, citing studies that refute the misconceptions and misinformation the column put forth. They also place the opinion advocated in the column into social context of “old myths and stereotypes of race.” We, the editorial board, are very concerned that the publication of this column has caused campus debate over race relations to backpedal to old debates that continue to persist in college societies despite having long been considered unaccepted by legitimate scientific study and fuel stereotyping.
There is no excuse or easy answer to how such a failure of editorial judgment could have happened the way it did. We have looked closely at our handling of opinion columns, as opposed to news articles. We must consider the line between keeping hurtful, false statements out of our paper and stifling opinions with which we personally disagree. And, most importantly, how we are going to make changes to prevent this from happening again.
We plan to spend time building and maturing our online style guide, which was created in the fall, but has not been utilized for any useful purpose yet. Careful documentation of our policies and standards will help the staff stay unified on how the paper handles the multitude of different situations we must address, instead of relying on the mostly oral tradition that TKS has depended on until now.
Another issue we have neglected has been communication with our volunteer writing staff, which has led to a reduction in interested writers and a problematic lack of useful feedback. To help solve this problem, we are going to reinstate our practice of holding regular writers’ workshops, giving writers a chance to talk about how they work so that we are always learning as much as we can as a full newspaper staff.
We are also going to be looking for people interested in newspaper design who can take over the layout process of the paper, freeing the editors to concentrate more fully on the content.
Many people who sent us messages in the past week were curious how our editorial process works (and how it went wrong). The visual guide attached to this article follows a standard story through the various steps it goes through before getting sent to the printer. It’s difficult to say exactly where the mistake happened, because it was made at every step of this process.
This is the first time in the editorial staff’s memory The Knox Student has printed anything resembling an editorial on the front page. We chose to do this because, though we certainly regret it, we made ourselves the story of the week when we published “Racism? Nah, just some truth,” one week ago. We felt that it would have been foolish to think that any one of us could have written an objective article about what happened, so we chose to explain what happened that night and in the days that followed in the first person.