By Jacob Beltran
The Mesquite received first place in two categories of the Mark of Excellence Awards Saturday at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Conference in League City.
The categories include Best Digital-Only Student Publication and Online Opinion and Commentary.
Mark of Excellence Awards are presented by SPJ, an organization that promotes high standards and ethical practices in journalism, and Region 8 includes all collegiate newspapers in Texas and Oklahoma. The winning entries now move onto a national-level competition.
As public editor, I handle comments and concerns from The Mesquite’s readers, a volunteer position within the newsroom. As the former editor (Fall 2013), I recognize the awards are important in the Mesquite’s third year as a digital-only publication, validating the student staffs’ efforts.
But, does being “best” in the region mean they get everything right each week?
No. Sometimes, names get misspelled and sources are misidentified. In a growing university, sometimes facts, locations and times change just before online editor Andrew Kirkpatrick clicks ‘Publish.’
I’ve spoken with sources about the publication’s mistakes, and the dialogue is an understanding one, keeping bridges open.
Here, consistency matters. The Mesquite’s policy of accountability improves each semester, focusing on fact checking and striving for accuracy above speed.
Editor-in-chief Alma Linda Manzanares said the publication follows SPJ’s Code of Ethics in several ways, from seeking truth to accountability.
The staff and faculty advisers honor a commitment to upholding ethical journalistic standards, reinforced by their SPJ memberships.
“We make it known that this needs to be checked or you will not be published,” Manzanares said. “If we’re uncomfortable with something and just not sure, we’ll hold the story.”
The digital news site allows for quality over quantity.
In the newsroom, reporters are judged not only by what they do right, but how they handle their mistakes.
“When it comes to ‘Be Accountable,’ that’s one I think we follow very well,” Manzanares said, adding that The Mesquite’s policy is to show corrections or clarifications at the top of the story in bold font.
The Mesquite staff thanks everyone who made these first place recognitions possible, from the sources who answered calls to the avid followers and commenters on social media; and the individuals who visit the newsroom every week, even if it’s just to chat.
In return, The Mesquite will continue to support intellectual freedom and first amendment rights by seeking and reporting the truth as accurately and as fairly as possible.
The SPJ Code of Ethics: Seek truth and report it, journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information; Minimize harm, ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect; Act Independently, journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know; and finally Be Accountable, journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners viewers and each other.