Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series of editorials written by the Spartan editors explaining our reasoning and reactions following the racist email story and choosing not to name the sender.
One thing I’ve realized about journalism over my three years at Castleton University is the best way to learn it is to actually get out there and do it.
I can guarantee I’ve learned more about journalistic writing, interviewing and editing through my time working with The Spartan than any class I ever had. But I’ve also learned a lot of lessons about life on the way.
Sometimes in this field, tough decisions need to be made. It is our duty to provide information to the public. However, there are many instances where certain information could lead to questions on ethics – not only societal or moral ethics, but also journalism’s own ethics.
The recent email controversy surrounding the Castleton campus is a perfect example. The editors of The Spartan had a tough decision to make regarding whether or not we should run the name of the student who sent the email.
I was stumped.
I noticed other local news outlets were running their versions of story without the name, but The Spartan had something no one else had.
We got comments from the student.
In terms of journalistic ethics, we had no reason to not run the name. We had a confirmed name. We had comments from the sender, who did not ask to remain anonymous. It would not be slanderous because it was factual. The sender is the perpetrator, not the victim. We had every right to choose to run the name.
At this point, I was completely indifferent. I could have defended either option. I did not think the name was the most important part of our story, and I certainly did not think we had anything to lose or gain from it. In this case, the most important information we had to share with the public was the student’s comments, not necessarily the name.
With that being said, if I were forced to choose an option, I probably would have decided to run the name. Personally, my mindset as editor is to stick to the objective standards of journalism and keep my own opinions out of any decisions. It only seemed fair to me. You run someone’s name if they do something positive, but by the same token, you run their name if they do something negative as well.
But as I said, my experience in the field of journalism leads to many life lessons, and this decision taught me something important.
The power of discussion.
We had several meetings as an editing staff to discuss what each of us thought about the matter. It was probably one of the best instances of a collaborative team effort in my time with The Spartan. We all spoke our mind and respected each other’s opinion, even if we may have disagreed. And we did disagree. Initially, two of us wanted to run the name and two of us didn’t. It was a 50/50 split.
Yet we kept discussing. I made it a priority to listen and understand where each of my fellow editors were coming from, and to truly consider their opinions.
In doing so, I was able to understand a perspective on the issue I did not consider otherwise. A couple editors mentioned their concerns about the safety of our campus and our students if we ran the name. There were concerns about how people would respond to both the victim of the email and the sender of the email, and whether it could bring even more hate speech to our campus.
After hearing these concerns, I knew one thing for certain. The safety of our campus in this particular situation was more important than any journalistic standard. Especially since the name was not the prominent detail in the story.
Sometimes, I feel that we as a country have lost the importance of discussion among people we disagree with. These days, people seem are so quick to attack those who have differing opinions, and it makes me sick.
Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree human rights should not even be a topic of debate. I can respect most opinions, but I cannot respect an opinion that goes against any person’s basic human rights. But that doesn’t mean our first reaction should be to attack the person.
We need to try to understand where this negativity comes from. We need to educate. Attacking will not lead to any progress. It will just make the person want to go against your viewpoint even more.
We as human beings need to be able to collaborate in order to succeed. Together we stand, divided we fall. If we all tried to have civil discussions with our peers, perhaps we as a nation could progress.