Opinion page must be platform for productive dialogue

Spencer Buckner

Editor’s note: Spencer Buckner is currently running in an unopposed election to become the next editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. For this column, he was asked to address how the newspaper should treat controversial opinions within the opinion department.

There is only so much you can fit on a single opinion page in The Daily Texan. When only two or three columns get printed daily, it is the job of the editor-in-chief and editorial board to determine what makes the cut.

The Daily Texan has consistently struggled to represent the voices of the over 50,000 Longhorns attending UT. Every day, the opinion department has a choice in how it reflects the voices and beliefs of campus, and every day it is our job to do so accurately and productively. 

How do we, as an opinion department, do that? 

Our columnists consistently bring to the table problems they experience on our campus and solutions for how to better them moving forward. Every Monday, our forum contributors bring a discussion on any given topic. Our readers bring feedback and op-eds that reflect their experiences.

As a publisher of campus-sourced op-eds and columns, the opinion department’s job is not to indiscriminately run everything we’re sent. It’s also not our job to impose our beliefs on the rest of campus. Instead, our daily opinion page is a conversation between columnists, students and professors on life at UT, and how it can be made better. My job as editor-in-chief will be
to create a productive platform for these conversations.

Including differing and sometimes controversial opinions is crucial in maintaining a healthy campus dialogue. With a campus so large, it is important to provide an outlet for the beliefs of what can be a divided student body. Ideas and arguments that are based on facts always have a place on our opinion page. What does not have a place, however, is hate speech.

Hate speech, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is speech that targets a specific group, often a marginalized community, that is “intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or discrimination.” If it is our job at the opinion department to create productive dialogue, hate speech does the opposite — it intimidates and silences. There is only so much room on an opinion page. None of it should ever be reserved for hate speech.

Luckily, there is a simple system we as a department can use to keep hate speech far away from print — fact-checking. A good opinion column is a news story with an argument. As such, we as a department hold our columnists to the same expectations as news does its reporters. They interview experts, get the facts and act professional. Simply ensuring that all of the content we run on the opinion page is factual all but guarantees that hate speech stays off of our page. Racism, sexism and homophobia have no basis in fact, and therefore no way to make our page. This isn’t controversial — it’s how good newsrooms function.

Constructive dialogue is more than what we won’t publish, though. It also must include voices that we have consistently failed to publish. The Texan must better communicate with underserved and underrepresented voices on campus. We cannot do our job reporting on campus if we exclude or misrepresent members of our student body. A good opinion page, then, is one where both our writers and our content are inclusive.

The most sure-fire way to have more representative content is to have a more representative staff. Join The Daily Texan. Staff applications for 300 positions in 13 departments open at the beginning of every semester. If you don’t want to join but still want your voice to be heard, send us an op-ed. If you want to talk about what we as a paper can do better, email me at [email protected] or find me in the office — my door will always be open.

Buckner is a Plan II and journalism sophomore  from Austin.