Like many Lawrentians, I was excited by the appearance this week of another newspaper on campus. In a country where print news outlets seem to have been in a state of contraction for sometime (How many major cities have more than one newspaper now? Not many), it is good to see another newspaper getting started from scratch to provide an alternative to the established one. Although the One Minute Left does not pretend to be a newspaper of the same sort as the Post-Crescent or The Lawrentian, papers which hold objective journalism as their ideal, it is nonetheless undeniably good to have a second print forum on campus. After reading the paper, however, I am concerned about a feature of a number of articles and hope it will not become a trend. That feature is the lack of any sort of attribution of sources. For instance, in Gustavo Setrini’s otherwise excellent piece on Yucca Mountain, Setrini liberally cites facts, figures, and projections and makes a number of expert statements without even hinting at the source of this information. I think we should assume he has a source, but even in an editorial we should see that source cited so we can evaluate it, and if it is absent, we should be very suspicious.
If Setrini’s piece were a news article in a newspaper, that paper would be guilty of violating its own integrity and credibility and would open itself up to allegations of libel.
A reader should also be alarmed when he sees the photo credit on Clara Muggli’s “Evil Tomato” piece, which seems to suggest that Muggli herself was one of the SLA protesters Marching in Madison-a fact which necessarily colors her comments and a fact which she should make plain from the outset.
The One Minute Left does not pretend to be journalism of the strictly objective sort, but that does not free it from its obligation to cite its sources carefully and to be completely transparent in its reporting. As leftist publication, it is doubly important for it to do so. One of the left’s most cogent critiques of the mainstream corporate news media is that it is too often hopelessly enmeshed in the corporate culture it must report on and is thus influenced by a corporate rather than journalistic bottom line. But an alternative news outlet that does not cite its sources and is not transparent is just as bad, if not worse. At least in a corporate newspaper, the critical reader may consider the sources and influences and take the information with the proverbial grain of salt. Without sources, reporting is little more than propaganda.
I do no want to suggest for a moment that Setrini does not have quality sources for his information or that Muggli is trying to pass as an objective commentator, but the failure of these and other articles on these points damages the credibility of the paper regardless. I also do not want to suggest that The Lawrentian (of which I have a good deal of firsthand knowledge) or any other mainstream paper has a spotless record on this score (far from it), but as a fledgling publication, credibility is everything and the One Minute Left must guard what credibility it has very carefully. I hope its staff does and wish very much to see them succeed.