College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Following up on college journalism blog

I would be remiss if I didn’t address some opinions I received on the earlier blog on college journalists and printing student and organization names.  Julia Shumway, the news editor at the ASU State Press, wrote me on Twitter and said “Student journalist view: don’t name a troublemaking student unless the student is prevalent on campus or gave permission…Groups, though, should be named for the sake of credibility and transparency.”  She told me that the journalism standard is to “minimize harm wherever possible” and that printing names would be in violation of that standard. *

So it looks like at least some college papers make it a practice to protect the identity of students in most cases to minimize harm, but that groups are fair game.  We had an example of that recently in the newspapers at both UNC Chapel Hill and Cornell where  general storys about fraternities being under investigation for numerous charges including “hazing” were published and some fraternities were names. The argument for printing the names of the organizations is, as I understand it, even if an employer or grad school has a negative impression of the group, that entity should know that the student they’re considering is not to be lumped in with the group.  As Julia stated much better “any smart employers would recognize that orgs do not define all members.”

I am very glad to hear that there is some thought as to the impact of using identity as part of a story.  I hope that most schools share ASU’s standard, but I still disagree with publishing the names of any organizations (or well-known students) until a finding has been made about that student/organization’s identity.  I don’t think transparency needs a “who” when it comes to students or student organizations, and even if it does I believe that the potential consequence of listing the name to the individuals involved outweighs the value of that transparency.   Despite Julia’s belief in the sensibility of employers and outside entities, I do think that if you’re trying to trim down applicants and a quick Google search tarnishes something on their resume, it will hurt that person.

I also understand that we, as Americans, have developed almost a sense of entitlement when it comes to knowing things.  We trip over ourselves to learn everything we can about politicians and celebrities as if somehow our knowing those things is a price they pay for doing a particular job or having a certain status in society.  I think we need to change that.  If a person is not a continued threat to the community around him or her, let’s give them their anonymity because that anonymity helps protect the right for them to be innocent until proven guilty (or responsible.) The taint of an accusation is as bad as the revelation of wrongdoing, and for us to pretend otherwise is naive.

I think that college papers have an opportunity to change the expectations of their readers to one where they expect privacy to be paramount until someone or some group is found responsible.  If there is an article about Delta Tau Delta (my old fraternity) being accused of hazing, wait until we are found responsible to reveal who we are.  Saying “a fraternity of campus has been accused of hazing” and then providing the details does not obfuscate the story or make it less than honest.  It allows a potentially innocent group to not have to publicly defend itself against, allows a freshman rushing that group the next year to not have to convince his mom that they aren’t a bad group, and it saves the fraternity president from having to talk to an employer about a potentially baseless accusation down the road. As readers we will get used to it, and as students you have the power to protect other students in ways that literally nobody else can on campus.

I love college newspapers.  I think the students who work on them work hard, without any real acknowledgement, and are passionate about getting to the truth for the good of their fellow students.  I just think they are missing the boat on this issue and can do better, and do it easily. Of course that’s until the student or organization is found responsible.  Then all bets are off.

*Please keep in mind that Julia made her points within the 140 character limitations of Twitter. I’m sure she could have destroyed some of these points in a face to face.

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