Mark Tatge tried to make his Investigative Reporting Techniques class more interesting to DePauw students last week by handing out a 17-page public-records packet on the arrest of one of their peers.
The material on sophomore Alison Stephens included her police incident report, her Facebook and Twitter profiles, court proceedings and other material. (She was arrested in January for public intoxication, minor in consumption, resisting law enforcement and criminal mischief.)
“I guess I could pick something about patent law and have them go look up patent and trademarks,” Tatge tells the DePauw student paper, “but I think they would be less interested in that than they would be about an arrest for drinking [and the other charges].”
A few of Stephens’ friends are in the journalism class and, of course, told her about the packet.
“I feel embarrassed,” she tells The DePauw. “I felt really uncomfortable walking around … I don’t think it reflects the person I am, so I was hurt.” She called her parents, who contacted DePauw’s vice president for student life, who says the school seeks to protect Tatge’s academic freedom while ensuring the welfare of students.
I’ve invited Tatge — a former Forbes, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Denver Post and Wall Street Journal reporter — to comment.
UPDATE: I just talked to Tatge about the matter.
“I used a public record in a classroom to teach students about public records,” he says, “and some students were upset that I did this because they know the student — they’re sorority sisters. ….The students acted emotionally, which I expected — they’re 19- and 20-year-old kids — but I’m a little concerned about the tone and tenor of university’s response. The school has reacted rather emotionally, too, and is trying to recall all of the records I gave to the students.”
Tatge says the material was used in class to show students what’s available to the public. They were not assigned to do a story on Stephens. (Their next assignment was to do a public records search on someone else.)
The visiting professor adds: “I don’t know what’s going to happen at this point. I feel the school is taking the position of the students” who are upset about the material being distributed. “I’ve been offered no support from the administration.”
Tatge says there are two editors of The DePauw in the class, and that he asked them why it took so long for the paper to report on the student’s arrest. The response: “They thought it would be too embarrassing to the student.”
DePauw editor-in-chief Chase Hall tells me: “Our editor did say that [to Tatge] and I think it was the wrong answer.” The story “fell through the cracks” during a change in editors, he says.