Op/ed page guidelines: What they are and why we have them

op:edpic

A snapshot of The Gatepost’s op/ed page from last week.

In a student newspaper, the opinions section is often the most powerful weapon college journalists wield. More so than in the “real world,” opportunities abound to speak truth to power on college campuses, to speak your mind in a public forum and to really bring about some serious change in your community. At The Gatepost, we actively recruit the opinions of our peers, reinforcing the idea that the written word can and does help shape the future of the institution. Club presidents, especially, should really be capitalizing on this opportunity – green-oriented groups can lobby for enhanced recycling programs or divestment in fossil fuels (an emerging trend on college campuses that has yet to catch on at our school), LGBT rights groups can educate students about hate speech, clubs putting on events aimed at curbing sexual assault can promote their ideals, while also publicizing speakers or demonstrations.

In short, there is a lot of potential for good to be done in the body of the op/ed page. At the same time, though, it’s important to have a clear set of guidelines for exactly how the opinions section will be operated. This year, we came up with a short paragraph laying out exactly how we handle submissions to the op/ed page, which I will break down, piece-by-piece, here:

While it is one’s First Amendment right to speak one’s mind, members of the FSU community do not have the  First Amendment right to have an op/ed appear on The Gatepost’s op/ed page. The Gatepost E-board has the authority to curate the op/ed section, accepting or rejecting all submissions to the op/ed page, as is deemed necessary by the EIC, who will either allow the author to re-submit another draft or reject the piece outright.

An important preamble, I think, and one that many students take for granted. Just because someone submits an opinion to the newspaper, that does not mean that it is guaranteed to appear in print. The op/ed page is a curated environment, which is what makes it different from, say a Facebook page or Tumblr, where any and all opinions can be posted and shared by anyone. It’s why the opinions section has an editor. That being said, care should be taken to make sure that there is a reason behind the rejection of any op/ed submissions. The last thing we want is for someone to get the idea that we are refusing to run something simply because we disagree with it. Of course, anyone can take to Facebook or Twitter or wherever else to criticize the paper for apparent attempts at silencing them (which, as you can imagine, has happened), so we need to be prepared to say exactly why submissions are rejected, and need to stand by that decision. In some cases, student newspaper editors have the opportunity to collaborate with people who send in submissions by offering advice, explaining potential issues and encouraging authors to double-check sources, reinforce arguments with facts or tone down some of the vitriol in favor of clear-headedness. With the help of some knowledgeable editors, or even a faculty advisor, we can help students say exactly what it is they want to say, say it well, and, potentially, affect change.

Submissions will be edited for grammar and spelling and checked for full factual accuracy as is deemed necessary by The Gatepost’s Editor-in-Chief.

This is important as well. Great care should be taken to read through all articles, even those that come from outside the newspaper staff. Fixing a misplaced comma, an improper “their” or removing unnecessary words is a service we are happy to provide, and which can generate some good will between the community and the paper. The trick here is not going too far – mangling someone’s text beyond recognition. If it’s that bad, we send it back for a rewrite.

The EIC will send an e-mail to a submission’s author within 24 hours of the publication of that week’s paper edition alerting the author about his or her decision to either accept or reject submissions. The EIC is under no obligation to alert authors about rejections before deadline.

So this one has a backstory, I guess you could say. I won’t go into the details, but the takeaway here is that people who write submissions should never be given the impression that they will be told before deadline that their piece isn’t running. In the madness of the final hours before deadline, it doesn’t make much sense to have to explain why something is or isn’t running, especially when someone is upset about the situation, so we’ve adopted a post-publication notification policy. It’s better that people know this way ahead of time, so there are no surprises.

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About spencerbuell

Editor-in-Chief, The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University.
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