From the Editor | Taylor Kirby
Immediately after sending this issue of the Sentry to the printer, three other editors and I are heading home to pack our bags for the National College Media Convention in Dallas, Texas (or, more likely, they’ll be going home to sleep and I’ll be throwing the contents of my suitcase together at 1 a.m.). This is our second year attending the convention and our first being honored as an Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker nominee—meaning we are eligible to win one of the top honors in collegiate journalism.
But we knew we would attend the conference before our finalist position was announced. Our editors last year found this experience to be invaluable in the pursuit of improving their skills as editors, leaders, and advocates for the student body. Our team will attend panels about writing with empathy and engage in one-on-one critiques of the Sentry with industry professionals.
Though the opportunities for professional development remain the same, we’re stepping into a very different environment than last year’s Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor did. In 2016, the convention took place in Washington D.C. weeks ahead of one of the most significant presidential elections in modern history, and many of the panels hosted discussions about how to cover national news at the collegiate level. We will be greeted in Dallas with a different theme: This year’s panelists appear to be very interested in the cultural thrust behind cries of “fake news,” and our keynote speaker will be one of the Dallas journalists who witnessed President John F. Kennedy’s assassination—an event that spurred one of the largest conspiracy theories in American history.
As a student journalist, I spend a lot of time thinking about fake news and the public’s perception of media outlets who deliver it. There seems to be an assumption that all bias takes the shape of unethically motivated companies forcing an agenda by any means necessary—but that extremism primarily lives in sites like Breitbart and Addicting Info, that’s rarely the case. Any journalist worth their salt only reveals their biases in ways they didn’t intend to. Their individual worldview finds a way to seep through the seams of their sentences without them noticing (and any editor worth their salt will clean up those leaks with a bright red pen).
Working with other student journalists always has me thinking about how to combat bias. I remember being 18 and thinking the validity of my opinions was verified by the extremism with which I held them—and I had little reason to think those opinions weren’t objective truths about the world. I only vilified bias if it was contrary to my own preconceptions. When I started at the Sentry, I needed editors to point out when I was showing the cards of my liberal agenda. I still need them today for the same reason (but hopefully less frequently). Bias may not always be ill-intended, but if we exercise our first amendment rights in a way that assumes our audience is too unintelligent to interpret the facts the way we might want them to, then we’re no better than countries without access to a free press at all.
The Sentry is a student newspaper that houses many young and vibrant thinkers. I’m proud of how quickly our writers learn to recognize their own biases, and how willing they are to let editors help them find their way towards objectivity. I’m looking forward to this trip for many reasons, but I especially hope it equips us with new tools for sharpening our sense of objectivity. It’s a pursuit that everyone in the industry should be working toward with every keystroke.