Within the past few weeks the Crimson has found it convenient, if not necessary, to announce as an accepted fact that college papers were not responsible for anything that appears outside of their own editorial columns. The Crimson, in a heated editorial, states that it is "in no wise responsible for the opinions or language of its contributors." In a few lines beyond this it says: "The Advocate and the Crimson have stated a number of times that they hold themselves responsible only for their editorial departments and not for contributed articles, and the statement is as true now as it ever was." The Advocate is much more guarded in its statements. The position taken by that paper is that the sentiments of a contributed article are not necessarily the expression of the editorial opinion. According to the Crimson, however, the Advocate does not hold itself responsible for anything outside of its editorials as well.
To a person who carefully compares the statements of the two papers, it will be very plain that the Crimson draws a little on its imagination in speaking for the Advocate. There is nothing in the Advocate editorial referred to which warrants the Crimson in making its statement, and the Advocate in a late number denies it. The Advocate's position is easily tenable. But there is no doubt that the Crimson's indignation runs away with its discretion. The position it takes is not at all defensible. It is ridiculous to say that a paper is "in no wise responsible for the opinions or languages of its contributors." A paper is undoubtedly responsible for everything that appears in its columns that is not signed by some name or attributed to some definite source. If the article is signed then the writer is alone responsible. But in the case of an unsigned contributed article, the paper is legally and morally responsible for every word that is printed in its columns. It is impossible for a paper to take any other position. A college paper occupies the same position in this matter that an ordinary journal does. Suppose the Boston Advertiser were to adopt this convenient rule. In that case it would be possible for the paper to print the most scurrilous articles in any columns but those devoted to editorials, and when called upon for satisfaction the editor could calmly disclaim all responsibility on the ground that the article was contributed. Imagine such a plea being advanced in a court-room in a libel case. The editor would be laughed out of court.
In an ordinary journal, the editors are responsible for an article that goes in the paper, although they themselves may never have seen it. In the hurry of getting out a large daily paper, many items go in that never are seen by the chief editor; yet he is responsible for these items. Much more is the editorial board of a college paper responsible for its contributed articles, where every editor has a chance to read the articles before they are printed.
College editors are not only selected to write editorials. One of the main qualifications of a good editor is good judgment. He must be able to tell which article is worthy of being printed in his paper and which one is not. When a college paper prints an article, it is taken for granted that the editors thought the article a perfectly proper and legitimate article for their columns; otherwise they should not have accepted it. No paper should give matter room if the editors think it improper. The Advocate's position is that a contributed article is not necessarily the expression of the editorial opinion. This position may be tenable and is certainly more reasonable than the one taken by the Crimson. However, to prevent any misunderstanding, some method of distinguishing contributed articles should be adopted. The old custom of signing an initial or a nom de plume would be a great convenience, if again brought to life.
But whatever method is adopted every paper must recollect that it must be responsible for the character of every article that appears in its columns, if not necessarily for the opinions advanced, unless the article is signed by the writer's name.