Columns / Discourse / November 11, 2015

Censorship and ethics in the Discourse section

The week after I joined TKS, I became caught up in a whirlwind of spur-of-the-moment lessons on how to be the next Discourse Editor. Most of them seemed simple, easy to understand and clear-cut, such as how to format the actual page (it’s a 5-column spread) or which font sizes to use (depends, based on the space available and what is most aesthetically pleasing).

Others, however, I carry with me everyday and will continue to question throughout my year long tenure with The Knox Student.

Journalism ethics, you see, is not something that can be clear-cut and well understood; ethics by definition is a general set of agreed upon principles that one adheres to simply because it is the right thing to do. For me, the hardest principle to understand is that of self-censorship.

I spent a semester studying abroad in Beijing, China, where censorship by the government is rampant and dominates all form of media. There, armed with my Western ideas of how media should be, it was easy for me to criticize the government and its apparent inability to provide accurate news and information to its people. I thought I understood the premise behind the Chinese government’s heavy hand on free speech: obviously, the people in higher positions of authority were afraid of the instability that freedom of speech and press could create. For the semester I was there, I developed a skeptical and an almost comical point of view of the Chinese national media: how could I take a news source that so heavily distorts reality seriously?

Fast forwarding five months, I find myself in a similar predicament, though on the other side of the not-so-clear window. As the new Discourse Editor for TKS, I find myself in a position with significant influence over what is printed in the weekly paper. Rather than my previous and simpler attitude toward censorship, I am constantly questioning what should be put into print for the rest of campus to see. What if someone submits an article that other students or faculty might find offensive? Where do we draw the line between editing for style and editing for content? The media is a multi-faceted being that dominates so many areas of our life that it can be hard to distinguish what we would like to see reported from what actually is.

Unlike other sections of TKS, the Discourse Editor is responsible for the opinions and letters that are submitted to be published. Here, I see a dark but somewhat shaky line that draws the square of neutrality around the editing team. As writers for a newspaper, we are expected to be the unbiased source of information for the student body (except for where it states otherwise). How could we, then, condone a student’s submission that valiantly challenges our own? Wouldn’t that violate our position of neutrality in favor of someone’s opinion over another’s? I say, with more confidence than before, that it does not. The Knox Student’s Discourse section is a platform for the dialogue that this school needs. We are as one-sided as the number of submissions that we receive and the opinions of our columnists. Discourse is not the news; rather, it represents the points of view of students towards the state of this institution and the ideas we have to better it.

This week, I’m not writing about my opinion of the school’s Title IX reform or the state of politics. I’m writing to elucidate the conflicting mentality that plagues anyone who must facilitate the exchange of differing values and opinions. We, as students, must continually challenge ourselves to the ideas we take for granted, try to understand the opinions of others, and build a stronger sense of self.

Oh, and submit to TKS.


Editor’s note: Tawni Sasaki is currently studying abroad in France and will return as Discourse Editor Winter Term.



Tawni Sasaki, Discourse Editor

Tags:  discourse editors ethics law libel media policy op-ed opinions The Knox Student tks

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