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Ex-Managing Editor of Nanyang Chronicle speaks out against censorship.

The importance of editorial independence in the news process

Yan Wen was the Managing Editor of The Nanyang Chronicle in 2007.

This is a transcript of her speech delivered at a demonstration at the Speaker’s Corner protesting the NTU President’s recent censorship of The Nanyang Chronicle. Yan Wen is a Year 4 student at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Lim Yan Wen

As an ex-Managing Editor of the Nanyang Chronicle, I was hurt and saddened to learn of the censorship on the paper. If the article had been written in any way that was less than objective, fair and responsible, perhaps I would not have been so affected.

The thing is, as a student-run paper existing for the students, I can say that the student writers, student editors, and teacher advisors go through great pains to ensure that every article is written in a manner that's fair-handed, unbiased, informative and interesting as far as possible. And through my involvement with the team last year, that was exactly what we always strove to do, for every article, every issue that we were in charge of. And I'm sure the same goes for the current team.

A lot of effort and work go into the production of every issue, and every article needs to fight for its publication because obviously, not everything that happens on campus gets to be reported. At every news conference where the team meets to pitch news ideas for the various sections, news ideas that don't meet the criteria of being news-worthy will not be given the go-ahead to be pursued further.

Newsworthiness

So you ask, what do we mean by news worthiness and news value? There are many conditions that need to be satisfied before a news idea can be deemed as newsworthy; here are some of the ones that we frequently employ to make our judgment.

1. Timeliness: This simply means that the event happened recent enough to be worthy of coverage.

2. Proximity: Usually, the nearer the action is, the more news value because it would be of direct concern to the target community of the paper.

3. Conflict: Where there are two parties or more in disagreement.

4. Eminence and prominence: People in the public eye usually have higher news value than ordinary citizens

5. Currency: This refers to whether or not the story relates to what students are concerned about at the time of occurring.

On most counts then, the article in contention would appear to have qualified as a worthy piece of news that is deserving of a spot in the paper.

That said, as I've mentioned before, the student editors (and teacher advisor) understand perfectly that we don't have free rein to report on everything that we wish to cover. Even when we actually are trying to get stories that are potentially controversial to be published, that story usually would go through a few more layers of gate keeping with the teacher advisor and the Chair before the Chair decides if it's suitable to be published. For stories that are not potentially contentious, the student editors usually are trusted to make their own judgment call to ensure that the story remains fair-handed and in good taste.

In that regard then, the Chronicle resembles a real learning ground where self-censorship and careful avoidance of infringing of OB markers on the part of the journalists help to shape the content of the news article and to ensure that the story is one that's written responsibly and with journalistic integrity. In this way, as student journalists, we get a chance to apply what we learn in school, things such as coping with the limitations journalists have in the Singapore press system and how to work with those in mind and not compromise news values and respectability at the same time.

Essentially, that is what The Chronicle is; it is a learning paper where students explore their potential and apply what they learn in theory. Even though very often, we see that what works in theory might not work in the real world, we respect that as part of the learning process; sometimes we make mistakes and we learn from those mistakes and move on knowing that we have gained some invaluable experiences that will remain with us.

Trust is key

For the Chronicle to continue existing as a respectable, fair and honourable student-run paper, editorial independence is important. More specifically, we're talking about responsible editorial independence. This means that the student journalists continue to take responsibility in carrying out their reporting and news-gathering, the editors to make their decisions in as professional a manner as possible, and for independence to be maintained, as far as possible, from the owners of the publication.

Only when that is achieved can the Chronicle's existence be rendered meaningful: when students can be trusted to make their judgment and exercise journalistic integrity, with the help and professional insights from our esteemed professors and teacher advisors, and go on to deliver news stories that are for the students, by the students.

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