Our covenant to you is simple: We can tell you only what we know and where that information came from.
That is how we operate at the RoundTable. We listen to what people tell us. We listen to what people have “heard.” But at the end of the day, if we cannot verify it, we cannot send it on to you.
I’m Susy Schultz, the new RoundTable editor, and I feel lucky to be a part of the Evanston community. It is a beautiful city with phenomenal people. It is also a complex community, with its own unique challenges and complicated history.
But even more, Evanston is a community where people care deeply – which, some say, can be both a blessing and a curse. I believe it is a blessing. Yet blessings come in many forms, and often caring leads to struggles and disagreements.
What we know is that life is messy, life in community is even more so because we will make mistakes, missteps and there will be mishaps.
In this community, people are trying to deal with difficult issues, rather than pushing them aside – racism, racial and economic disparities, climate change, educational equity and public safety.
At the RoundTable, we also care. We must cover the issues and the struggle. Yet, we also know the people and their lives are not defined only by problems. So, we also cover the grace, joy, fun, beauty and our common humanity.
We also want to be a place where you hear different voices and get different perspectives. Plus, we want to ensure Evanstonians have context. So while we are a local news organization, we do not want to be parochial.
‘Get it right, write it well’
Our job is to give you the news. “Just get it right, and write it well,” an old editor of mine used to bark at us. It seems simplistic but it is critical.
The definition of news is giving people information that will allow them to take action. What action you take is up to you, even if you choose to take note and do nothing. But you can’t act on misinformation and you should not act on half-truths or rumors.
So, we will not offer those, no matter how frustrating it might be for you and for us.
It has been very difficult to feel like we can do nothing but sit back and wait on certain stories, from the allegations of sexual misconduct at the lakefront, to the nooses found at Haven, to the ins and outs of the search for city manager.
We know you feel it too. You have expressed frustration that we are slow to follow up on stories that are impacting our schools, our city government, our children, our community. People have told us what they have heard and are asking us why we are backing away from the truth.
Let me offer all of you the truth of our work as I see it when it comes to the difficult stories. In all we do, we follow the SPJ Code of Ethics , guidelines put together by the Society of Professional Journalists for all journalists, regardless of what medium they use to deliver stories.
It’s an eloquent, ambitious and practical document that allows us to see clearly what we can do and what we could but should not do. It means our job is not easy. We must verify what we publish. We must have someone willing to put their name on the information, someone in a position to know the facts.
We promise not to cut corners
It is rare, if at all, that we will use unnamed sources. But if we do, I promise, it won’t be done lightly. I will know the name behind the quote and I will have agreed there is no other way but this to bring you information or the context you need.
We will listen to people who call with tips and we will pursue those leads. But we must verify because we must keep our covenant with you: We can only tell you what we know, and where our information came from. Otherwise, you have no way to judge the source and the weight you think it should be given.
We will not turn away from hard stories. Even when we know the information will be upsetting to hear and difficult to deliver.
We approach every one of those difficult stories with a similar objective in mind, but the path forward is not always the same. When a juvenile is involved, for example, we tread with particular care, following the guidelines set forth in the Code of Ethics:
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
Because here is also another rule of the many in the SPJ’s code: “Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.”
We promise not to cut corners there, either.
Well said, Susy Schultz. Get it right, write it well. You have it right and you write well. You are most welcome and needed here in our complex community, Ms Schultz. Best.
So good to have you at the helm! More of the public should be aware of the standards you and so many other conscientious journalists strive to uphold. My wife, Diane Monk McClelland, never tires of telling about the standards set by Bob Schultz at the late great Daily News during her semi-pioneering role there in the 70s. I remember being impressed by a younger Schultz during my times in the west suburbs, and am glad to see Evanston news in yet another set of good hands.
Dear John, It is a pleasure to hear such kind words from someone I admire. Please give my best to Diane, who I will say that while it may seem I do not know her well, I feel I do from the great things my father said about her. (Sorry if this is a love fest. But I have to be honest.) I’m excited to be here. It is an amazing community that is not shying away from the difficult conversations. I’m glad that I can help the RoundTable continue what it has done — let facts and information shine through to help people think through what happens next. Thank you, sir.
It is great news to hear that you’re at the helm of the Roundtable. I can’t think of anyone better to bring the local news – accurate, balanced and transparent – to our Evanston community. We’re fortunate to have you as the new editor of the Roundtable.
Thank you, Lois for your kind words.
Thanks, Susy; excellent essay. Congratulations on your new position as editor of Evanston’s best local news source!
Integrity of information must never be compromised by bias, current “buzz,” or “popular” opinion. l want to continue to trust the RoundTable, and will be watching, along with all of Evanston, that your pledge remains globally uncompromised and soundly implemented across all departments of the paper. Continue the good work!
Thank you, Fran. So kind of you to say.The RoundTable is a great community resource.