Submitted By Elizabeth Casolo, Editor in Chief of The Beak at Greenwich High School
Student journalists live in a perpetual conflict of interest. With school
newspapers, active members hope to stimulate civil discourse given limited resources.
Between juggling other extra curriculars and engagements with their communities, at one point or another, high school reporters and editors are forced to confront their credibility.
I know because I have been and still am in that position. As the editor in chief of Greenwich High School’s newspaper, The Beak, I’ve grappled with these issues over the past three years. At a high school newspaper, the expectations are lowered: students (arguably some of the most invested in their respective communities) write and edit the articles.
For instance, I—along with one other person on our team—am involved in a local political campaign. I try my best to model how most reputable publications operate, so I do not write or review articles pertaining to that particular race, nor does the other volunteer on our publication team.
In the process of navigating these potential concerns, I’ve learned how I cannot back every publication’s procedures, or lack thereof.
In the Greenwich Sentinel’s “Political Endorsements: A New Way,” the publication announced the following method for their endorsements of political candidates: “As an industry standard, endorsements are decided by publishers and editorial page editors. That is not the case here… The Endorsement Board is a collection of volunteer citizens who will collectively decide who they believe will best represent our town,” wrote Peter Barhydt, an editor for the paper.
I do not understand how a group of volunteer citizens can write on behalf of the paper. Their opinions are valid, but why is a collective endorsement by a group of volunteer citizens more effective than comprehensive letters to the editor from each?
How did Greenwich Sentinel choose this group of volunteers? What qualifies them to write on behalf of the entire paper? A citizen’s support of a political candidate equates to their vote, not the stance of a publication.
“No members on the Endorsement Board have any ownership in the
newspaper,” Peter Barhydt continued. “There are 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats and 3 Unaffiliated/Independents [on the Endorsement Board],” but only six names are listed under each endorsement.
Each endorsement was prefaced with how only two, not three,
unaffiliated/independent voters were included, but readers were not provided with a reason as to why this change was made.
Although I cannot verify whether any individual on this Endorsement Board has ownership of the paper, I do know that Elizabeth (Beth) Barhydt, the Greenwich Sentinel’s publisher, is someone who has a direct stake in the paper, and someone named Emma Whitney Barhydt served on the Endorsement Board.
The Greenwich Sentinel’s lack of transparency regarding a possible familial connection puts the validity of the paper’s endorsements in question. I cannot help but wonder why a Barhydt served on this Endorsement Board, a board that claims to be “independent” of the paper.
Although the argumentation behind each endorsement can also be scrutinized, that is not my primary concern. Transparency is the key to credible journalism, especially in the context of endorsements.
The background and affiliation of each Board member should be disclosed, along with any potential conflicts of interest.
The Greenwich Sentinel claims to pioneer “a new way,” but the publication’s integrity cannot be confirmed by their practices.
Editor’s note: This letter was submitted in advance of the Oct 26, 2020 12:00 noon deadline for letters about the election and candidates on the Nov 3, 2020 ballot.