Life would be so much easier if we never had to talk to anyone. Sad but true.
As a writer for The Spectrum, and eventually an editor, time and again I've seen or heard people bashing the publication and the writing within. People don't like what we cover, how we cover it, when we cover it - and yet, we never receive any feedback unless we've committed a somehow unpardonable sin.
For example: early in the semester, one of our editors called a contact for a story to request an interview, but was immediately told that he (the source, not the writer) had been misquoted by a writer once and thus would never, repeat, NEVER speak to The Spectrum on record again. Click.
While the anger and frustration behind that person's refusal to speak is understandable, what people don't realize is that ninety-nine percent of the time, this year's Spectrum staff is completely different than the staff two years ago. We weren't part of the group that misquoted that speaker, but we were going to pay for that crime.
And that's where that bit about never talking to anyone comes in. Rather than call us, e-mail us or stop in to let us know when our writers make a mistake, half the time the people involved will simply sit back and let the problem smolder in their mind until it's too late to fix the mistake.
It's not that we like making mistakes, or that we tell our writers to deliberately doctor quotes to make them say what we - or our readers - want to hear. It's quite the opposite. A great many of our writers are freshmen or students who have never had any experience writing for any sort of publication before and don't know the rules. They're new, they're nervous and maybe they don't know how to take good notes - it's easy to make mistakes.
How are we supposed to know our writers make mistakes when no one brings it to our attention? I wasn't listening on an extension when Joe Smith called you and interviewed you. All I know about the situation is what I give the writer to investigate and what the writer turns back in. I can't correct mistakes, and I can't teach writers how not to make mistakes, if I'm oblivious to the situation.
The same thing goes for information. Sometimes, without our realizing it, we get in information that is slightly incorrect or even completely wrong. A variety of factors contributes to that - poor reporting, bad note-taking, unreliable sources, etc.
Then again, a lot of the problems arise when people we talk to realize they've just made themselves look like fools in print. Sometimes people don't realize we're not here to make them look good (I can't tell you how many times I've received a letter that says "please do a story on this" or "please print this [completely one-sided] article in your publication) or to make our audience happy. Our job is simply to report the news as it comes and to maintain neutrality when doing so.
That means, if you're talking to a report and you say something that makes you look bad but is completely relevant to the story, we're not going to sugarcoat it for you to make you look better, we're going to print it because that's part of the story.
Still, we want feedback from our readers. We're here to serve the UB community and if someone in the UB community has a complaint or a question, we welcome the contact. That's why, at the bottom of all our articles, op-eds, columns, etc. we're now including contact e-mail address. If a writer from my desk writes an article and you don't like the way you were portrayed, e-mail email@example.com and let me know. If you don't like the editorial opinion expressed by our staff, e-mail us and tell us.
For that matter, if you think one of us did a good job on reporting something, let us know. We don't exist in a vacuum, and most of the feedback we do get isn't a pat on the back - every once in a while, it's nice to here that someone appreciates what we're trying to do.