I became editor of my college newspaper when student journalists notoriously clashed with university administrators.
The setting was a private, liberal arts college in Tennessee that leaned conservative, so I viewed my role as balancing things out by leaning more liberal.
Ironically, however, some of the best editorial advice I received came from the university’s president. Before I began as editor, the president asked me to meet with him in his corner office. I anticipated an awkward dance as we negotiated our working relationship. I was prepared to ask him not to control my editorial content, and furthermore, I needed him to refrain from tampering with my constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of the press.
To my surprise, he began by acknowledging the challenges faced by student journalists. He described how, many years prior, he had served as editor of his own college’s newspaper. I never knew that about the man who, I assumed, had at birth been given the first name “Doctor.”
As we talked, my attention piqued when he leaned forward and said, “I have only one request of you. Please, get your facts straight.”
He paused as that advice sank deep into my mind, and then he continued. “I will not censor what you publish. In fact, you are free to cover any topic, as long as you get your facts straight.”
Fair enough! I left his office with a profound respect for this leader. During my tenure as editor, he and I did not agree on everything, but we always had a great working relationship. Once, as I struggled with how to cover a particularly sensitive topic, I went back to his office without an appointment. I went seeking his advice—not as a university president, but as a mentor, a friend and a former student journalist.
The years have passed, but I often think of the wise advice I once received as a brash, bold editor.
Journalism has changed dramatically since I was a college student. We now receive much of our news from blogs, tweets and updates in social media. Yet, to anyone who attempts to share information with me—no matter the medium—I have only one request:
Please, get your facts straight.