A note on The Flat Hat’s opinions, endorsement policies

The Office of the Ombudsman is a separate entity from The Flat Hat. We investigate complaints and welcome criticism from the public so that the paper can be held accountable and improve over time. That being said, the office also has the authority to defend the paper’s policies if deemed necessary. Therefore, we would like to issue some clarifications about certain Flat Hat practices, specifically opinions and the editorial board.

The Flat Hat strives to produce high-quality, objective coverage of issues that face the College of William and Mary community. However, like all publications, not every piece we publish is completely unbiased. While our news section is a platform to provide impartial reporting of facts and community perspectives, our opinions section often offers analysis on some of these stories. In our journalistic obligation to the truth, we keep these departments separate. 

The opinions department is not the voice of the paper, but the voice of certain people. They publish the perspectives of members of our College community, regardless of whether or not all Flat Hat staff share the same views. Essentially, when an opinion piece is published, it is not The Flat Hat speaking, but the author themself.

As our opinions philosophy states, we do not “seek to censor the opinions of our campus community, even when those opinions may not align with those of The Flat Hat’s staff.”

Any community member is welcome to submit an opinion piece. We encourage dialogue and disagreement and invite anyone who wants to voice their perspective to email the opinions section at fhopinions@gmail.com.

As a general practice, we do not remove articles except in extreme circumstances. Removing articles sets a dangerous precedent of erasing our content and accountability. In doing so, it also erases individual perspectives that may not be available on other platforms. It is a blatant disregard for the journalistic ethics that we strive to uphold. 

However, sometimes we turn off comments on particularly controversial posts. We prioritize the mental health of our authors and when comments become notably vitriolic personal attacks, we are not obligated to keep them up. In these cases, readers who want to share their thoughts and criticisms are invited to write their own opinion pieces and submit them to the paper. In this way, we are protecting our authors while still providing a platform for our readers.

Candidate endorsements are also opinions, although they represent a larger portion of the staff and include a more in-depth interview process.  Like almost all publications, The Flat Hat has an editorial board. Ours consists of the editor-in-chief plus four other staff members voted upon by all members of the staff. The board is elected yearly and has a number of roles including making statements and endorsing candidates for Student Assembly.

This process is done carefully and with immense consideration. Each candidate is interviewed separately by the editorial board.

The members of this board are not part of Student Assembly, nor are they allowed to report on Student Assembly.  These practices help ensure that our endorsements do not influence our reporting about the election or the candidates.

Endorsements are issued before the debate for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to give readers plenty of time to read the article and come to their own conclusions leading up to elections. Secondly, the endorsement is based almost entirely on candidate interviews. It does not take debate performance into consideration and thus, the endorsement decision need not occur after the debate.

Why endorse candidates? The New York Times puts it best, explaining that they “are supposed to assess candidates’ platforms and pledges and offer readers in-depth guidance so they can make up their minds on whom to vote for in an educated way. In the endorsement interviews, the editorial board asks the contenders tough questions that most readers don’t have an opportunity to ask them.”

In short, we have a unique opportunity as a newspaper to engage in conversations with candidates and gain insight that benefits all readers. Our endorsements highlight the ticket we support. They do not seek to tear down the opposing candidates, because the endorsement is not a “hit piece.” Regardless of who the editorial board eventually decides to endorse, the process itself helps report on the complexities and personalities of the election to our readers.

Like opinion pieces, these endorsements do not represent the perspective of every member of Flat Hat staff.

We hope that these explanations help clarify Flat Hat practices. We constantly strive to make our newspaper more transparent and spread awareness about journalistic practices.


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