Last fall, Johns Hopkins University’s student newspaper, The Johns Hopkins News-letter, was the center of a debate concerning two articles that were blatantly offensive, even misogynistic.
One article, concerning the weight of girls who attend “lingerave” parties, was published in their Opinions section, while the other, which advocated men giving alcohol to women as a means of increasing the likelihood of sex, was considered News and Features.
An apology was ultimately issued for the opinions article (but not for the other) and both articles were taken off the News-letter’s website.
While we at The Point News are appalled at the decision to publish the latter in the News and Features section, we also want to condemn the “opinions” article; publishing a piece in the Opinions section of a newspaper is not a defense against hateful, offensive, and cruel articles.
We have always envisioned the Opinions section to be a public forum where anyone can express themselves, regardless of where they stand on the issue and without personal discrimination.
Additionally, the Opinions section should act as a vital counter-balance to the rest of our newspaper since it gives editors, staff writers, students in general, and other concerned members of the community the opportunity to speak out on the issues that the rest of our paper covers with, we hope, as little bias as possible.
As a result, up until now we have not had many particular guidelines for writing opinions pieces, with the exception of word count and some semblance of campus relevance.
The good news is that such policies have allowed our Opinions section to expand tremendously since the beginning of the year.
We are very excited to see two, even three pages of opinions from a wide range of people within the campus community.
However, we’ve begun to face the challenge of deciding what is most appropriate and relevant to the campus community.
Some of the comments the editors have received on certain pieces, as well as the more general (and more extreme) scandal that has developed around The Johns Hopkins News-letter, have brought this issue to the front of our attention.
Namely, the question is: where do we draw the line between freedom of expression and our duty as journalists towards mature and egalitarian debate?
We have discussed these issues, especially in light of the current lack of guidelines for Opinions pieces, and have come up with the following as a result:
As we always have, we will accept submissions regardless of the topic of discussion, the individual’s stance on that topic, or the individual writing.
How we feel as staff on the topic also will not preclude publishing a piece, regardless of how incorrect we (personally and/or collectively) feel its stance to be.
If you would like your submission published, though, there are a few guidelines you should follow: first, if you wish to say anything against any group or individual, whether protected by law or not, you should be prepared to back it up with something concrete and logical.
Prejudicial language (i.e. language that argues your point because another group or individual “just is/are” that way) will not be tolerated, plain and simple.
Similarly, any form of ad hominem attack, or accusation not based on solid evidence, will not be published.
It is also important to note that any foul language will be censored, though unless it is extensive it will not keep an article from being published.
Second, in the spirit of advice rather than strict requirement, we recommend that if you are to send in your opinion about something you at use sound logic to defend it.
There’s a major difference between opining and ranting; the former uses an argument that incorporates logic (among other rhetoric), the latter does not.
When we come in on the weekend to lay out our newspaper, you can guess which one is more likely to get a mention on the front page and which is more likely to get pushed to the web site, or thrown out entirely.
Third, we give preference to articles that are relevant to the campus community.
We have the exact same approach to our news: we want to publish whatever is most interesting and has the greatest impact on students.
This means ideally you should be writing about something you feel passionate about happening (or not happening) directly on campus.
This is not to say that we’re not interested in opinions on political and social issues, but when writing about these we implore you to do so with students and fellow community members in mind.
We know that for the vast majority of this campus the preceding sounds elementary, since we are adults and know how to argue in a respectful and intelligent way.
We simply write these guidelines as advice to those of you who, impassioned by your views, may temporarily slip into logical fallacy; it happens to us all, regardless of our intelligence and our opinions.
We also write these guidelines for ourselves as editors, so that we many continue to bring you all the best information and commentary we can provide.
The fundamental goal of The Point News is to serve the campus community, both by informing students of news and events around campus and by allowing an outlet for expression and thoughtful discussion.
Though our Opinions section does not necessarily represent the views of members of The Point News or those affiliated, we understand that what we decide to publish does reflect on our priorities.
We hope that the above will facilitate, not stymie, debate; If you disagree with these policies, or anything we have published in the past, we also welcome your counter-point.
Thank you for our support, your opinions, and your readership,
-The Point News Editorial Board