As recent former editors of the Tripod, we write to express our concern with recent editorial decisions of the paper. The Tripod’s mission for Trinity has always been to foster a place of public trust. Recent editorial decisions, however, demonstrate a breach of that public trust.
The Tripod ought to seriously reconsider its editorial policy and return the paper to the esteemed position it ought to hold—as a voice for the entire Trinity community and not as an outlet for a limited and partisan perspective of the student body.
Two editorial choices in recent weeks concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are at odds with the conventions of respected national newspapers (the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others) and belie fundamental principles of journalistic integrity.
The first concerns the editorial viewpoint on the front page of the November 7th edition of the Tripod. The piece—titled “Trinity College Responds Tepidly to the Genocide of Palestinian People”—cannot, by any objective measure, be called a news article. It is rife with opinion and editorial positions. For instance, there is no evidence of contrary perspectives from Trinity’s Jewish community. Nor is there any indication that the authors of the article sought comment from the administration itself, who was the subject of strong rebuke. It is plainly an opinion article. Opinion articles rarely—if ever —belong on the front page. And, if they do, the editors of the paper would have made clear that whatever appeared was labeled what it is: opinion. For that matter, a well-written opinion would have acknowledged and responded to contrary viewpoints.
A paper of such import to the community, such as the Tripod, should not print an editorial viewpoint on the front page without any label or indication of opinion. This decision is one the Tripod should commit, in writing, to never do again. The Tripod is not a “partisan” paper. It may take an editorial stance, but it should always ensure a balance of opinions, no matter how divisive.
Most disconcerting is the fact that the article is signed “News Team.” This is not common today among reputable papers and it is not a practice that the Tripod has applied in recent memory. In effect, it is a form of partial anonymity that protects Tripod staffers (who, it bears mention, need no protection). The job of the news team is not to express opinion. That is the job of the editorial board (whose members should be publicly identified). If members of the news team fear retribution, they should not hold such an important office of the paper. Recreant editors ought to have no place on the Tripod.
The news team of the Tripod has breached its important role of objective, fact-based reporting and undermined the trust of the community. It has shown its viewpoint and abandoned its purpose of reporting the news by instead reporting opinions. That breach of the public trust will take time to repair—as will the integrity of the paper.
The second issue concerns the publication of anonymous opinion pieces, specifically those titled “Humanizing Palestine: The Land With People Occupied By Those Without a Land” and “Europe’s Epochal Legacy: The Art of Dehumanization in the Context of Israel’s War on Gaza.” Both of these articles may well be published, but should not have been published under the pale of anonymity.
One of the editors below authored the Tripod’s policy on anonymous articles that has been “invoked” in both of the anonymous articles the Tripod published.In the view of these former editors, the Tripod’s use of anonymity in recent weeks is misplaced and inconsistent with the policy. Anonymity should be used only when credible issues of safety are at risk and the paramount importance of an opinion’s absence may become known. Anonymity should also be accompanied by an editorial statement explaining the decision (which is, it bears mention, the general policy of the New York Times). Here, there was no editorial statement explaining the decision.
Anonymity is among the most dangerous tools in the public sphere—it shields authors from accountability, invites opinions that misstate or disregard contrary facts, and stifles discourse. At base, an opinion is only as strong as its author who stands behind his or her own words. It is clear, by the absence of any contrary perspective in the paper, that frequent use of anonymity has corrupted free discourse and that the author of these articles lacks the resolve to argue their viewpoints respectfully in the public sphere. An author who does not stand by his or her viewpoint does not deserve space to comment in a respected paper; such anonymous viewpoints are better suited to the transient realm of social media.
It is our hope that the leadership of the Tripod, particularly both of its Editors-in-Chief, will work together to instill in their staff a renewed focus on the central tenets of journalism central to good reporting and restore the paper to a respected place at Trinity.
-Brendan W. Clark ’21
Managing Editor, 2019-2020
News Editor, 2018-2019
-Kip Lynch ’22
Executive Editor, 2021-2022