A day in the life of a college newspaper editor

Can a school activity prepare you to be a reporter? ShareAmerica asked Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic, a former editor at Princeton University’s daily paper, what she learned.

When I first joined the Daily Princetonian in the fall of my freshman year at Princeton University, I thought of it as a hobby secondary to my academic work. But as I rose through the reporting ranks to become news editor over the next three years, I received an education — both practical and ethical — more intensive than I ever could have imagined.

A person looking at a computer (© Lilia Xie)
Lloyd-Damnjanovic does a preliminary edit of an article. (© Lilia Xie)

My first stories as a staff writer for “the Prince” were assigned to me by editors. But as I gained experience, I pitched my own ideas. Every Sunday I emailed my editors a summary of the story I wanted to tell.

Occasionally, I or another reporter got too close to our sources; it tended to happen when we were writing stories that involved our professors or friends. At those times, editors found another reporter to interview the sources and thus ensured an unbiased write-up.

To maintain credibility as a news organization, we also justified our policies in editorials and disclosed our reporters’ “conflicts of interest.”

Independent of the university and not beholden to special interests, the Prince publishes controversial stories that provoke debate in the campus dining halls and in the comment threads on our website. In the past, such stories ranged from a student arrested for marijuana possession to administrators overseeing a policy to protect students from sexual assault that some argued did not do enough.

By illuminating negligence or abuses of power, our stories have led the campus community to take action. After one article showed that the university had suppressed the results of a survey on sexual assault, student protests prompted administrators to re-survey all students and to announce new anti-harassment initiatives.

Most of the time, Prince reporters conduct interviews “on the record.” We strive to convince our sources to speak with reporters on the record to avoid the perception by readers that the Prince is being used by sources to spread rumors. We also confirm information with a second source. But sometimes sources will only agree to talk to us “on background” or “off the record.”

People looking at a newspaper (© Lilia Xie)
(© Lilia Xie)

Prince editors work to remain transparent about the paper’s operations as well as our mistakes. We published a Code of Ethics to disclose our reporting practices to readers. When we discover a factual error made in the reporting or editing process, we publish a correction both online and in print the day after the story runs. Admitting mistakes is crucial to gaining readers’ trust. In a way, the Prince’s corrections are actually something to be proud of.

Things journalists do:

Make a pitch

Propose the story and offer a short list of appropriate sources and an explanation of the story’s timeliness or relevance to previous coverage.

Disclose conflicts of interest

A potential conflict of interest is a reporter’s affiliation with the subject matter, source or media outlet. Here is a real-life example of a disclosure: “In the summer of 2012, I was an intern for the State Department, which publishes ShareAmerica.”

Get both sides

Reporters at the Prince are required to seek a response from the people or institutions involved in any negative coverage.

Follow interview ground rules

“On the record” means anything a source tells a reporter can be fully reported and attributed. “On background” means a reporter can use the information a source tells him or her but cannot include the source’s name. “Off the record” means a reporter cannot publish the information at all, but can use it for contextual knowledge.

Correct mistakes

This is the format we use at the Prince. “Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the nature of ______; it is ______. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.”