Western Gazette examines ethics

Student newspaper surveys students, campus, national publications for feedback

In response to outrage following the publication of an April Fool’s spoof issue of the University of Western Ontario Gazette, the paper is conducting a three-pronged student survey to gauge reader satisfaction on campus and to evaluate ethical practices at both campus and national newspapers.

“There were a lot of calls for the Gazette to examine the way we do things and maybe look at changing the way we do them,” said Gazette editor Allison Buchan Terrell.

The spoof issue, published March 30, 2007, made sexual jokes about well-known campus feminists and printed libelous comments about the London chief of police.

One article involved a police chief taking a “wild vagina” “into a dark alley to teach it a lesson.”

Last summer, the paper implemented a code of ethics and an advisory board to address issues of ethical journalism. The staff also had sensitivity training.

“The survey is intended to get an idea of how other papers deal with issues we were forced to deal with in a very short space of time.”

A study group, made up of three students at large, was tasked with distributing questions about ethics policies to student and national newspapers. The students polled the Journal, the McMaster Silhouette, the University of Toronto Varsity, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post.

Terrell said the paper is trying to determine best practices for dealing with ethical issues.

The research project consists of an online survey directed at students asking how they felt about the paper’s content, including which sections they read and which ones they dislike. Terrell said about 500 students responded.

For the second part of the survey, student volunteers stood at various pick-up points on campus to ask students about the kind of content they like to read, whether they prefer local or international news and what kind of tone they look for in a newspaper. The second stage also included a rough count of the number of papers picked up at each drop location. At the end of a day when the paper was published, the delivery person counted the newspapers left over at each pick-up site.

The third part of the survey is a series of focus groups of five to eight students each to determine how students feel about the paper’s management and accountability policies.

Terrell said the committee plans to wrap up the focus groups by the end of February and have recommendations for the newspaper set out by the end of March.

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