5.1: Clem Wood '04
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Many of my fellow high school journalists (including me) took a long time to grasp one of the basic premises of writing for a newspaper: every article, even (and especially) an editorial or opinion piece, requires as much reporting as a news story.
It may be tempting for you, as young journalists, to see writing an op-ed as a "soft" way out of putting in the hours to write a hard news story, but you should consciously avoid adopting that attitude.
Before Andover's newspaper, The Phillipian, made a stronger commitment to a culture of accuracy and fairness, it too often ran "commentary" articles in which the author lambasted the disciplinary system or student handbook rules without having interviewed any relevant administrators or faculty to offer their perspective—the other side of the issue.
Although the potential for libel makes solid reporting particularly crucial to any piece that criticizes a person or policy, the news standard should apply to an article of any type. An editorial praising a school's decision to use environmentally friendly techniques to build a new science center, for instance, would be boring and incomplete without the architect's description of the expected benefits, a school trustee's explanation of the change, and a list of facts about the construction.
All this may seem obvious, but I have read many pieces by young journalists that contain few actual facts, so it definitely does not hurt to be reminded of the fact that, no matter what, you must report before you write. If you want to be a journalist, you have to leave your armchair, and do the legwork!
On that note, everything in the paper must have a topical, factual, verifiable basis. The Phillipian once ran a cartoon depicting a "Mr. Moneybags" figure leading his pets, "Andover" and "Exeter" (Andover's rival school), around on a leash.
The cartoon, which appeared in the editorial section and did not clearly relate to any specific news story, seemed to suggest that the schools were beholden to wealthy alumni to an unseemly degree.
But there had been no evidence of (or even reference to) detrimental change in either of the schools' decision-making due to a large donation. The problem with the cartoon was not that it was offensive, but that it was definitely not topical, factual, or verifiable. In another week, a different cartoonist submitted a similarly themed and equally vague drawing that portrayed a dog called "The Administration" urinating on a fire hydrant labeled "The Student Body." The Phillipian decided not to publish that sketch, also unprovoked by any actual (or newsworthy) event, for all the same reasons it should not have published the "Mr. Moneybags" cartoon.