The Comment student newspaper at Bridgewater State University published a story earlier this month that named a rape victim who spoke to about 200 people at a “Take Back the Night” rally. The woman gave her name to the crowd, but still there are people on campus say the paper shouldn’t have identified her and should remove its story from the Comment’s site.
Editor Mary Polleys says university president Dana Mohler-Faria told her that it was “unconscionable” that she wouldn’t scrub the article, and claims he threatened to close the paper. “There’s no question he was trying to intimidate us.” (A university spokesman denies that and tells the Boston Globe: “The paper has the right to print what it wants. But when there are questions of the validity of facts and when there are questions of the rights to privacy, that deserves a conversation.”
The paper stated its position in an editorial this week:
The Comment doesn’t publish the names of sex crime victims without their consent. But there is implied consent when someone speaks in a public forum, and, as many of the letter writers point out, the whole meaning of the rally was to encourage victims of sexual assault to speak up and not live in shame. Any information included in the article that Sullivan did not share at the rally was easily found by searching her name and looking at her publicly-accessible social media profiles. This isn’t an invasion of privacy. It’s simple fact checking and good journalism.
* Paper’s naming of rape victim leads to dispute at university (Boston Globe)
* Rape victim says Comment story went too far (The Enterprise)
* Rape victim takes back the night (The Comment)
* Editorial: Break the silence (The Comment)
* Free speech advocate backs The Comment (The Comment)
* Letter #1 Scroll down to read letters about the controversy (The Comment)
I was one of several people interviewed by Michelle Chan for her piece on college newspapers’ April Fools’ Day issues. My advice: “Leave the funny stuff to The Onion.” My former Poynter colleague, Roy Peter Clark, tells her:
April Fools’ Day is one of the stupidest fake holidays ever created, and I’ve never seen an April Fools’ Day issue of anything that was any good. Even in the best of hands, the satire turns out to be pretty lame. And in the worst hands, we get these totally unnecessary scandals like the ones we’ve seen.
Letters to Romenesko
From JONATHAN SANDERS: What do you think? Are these 911 calls [about tornadoes in Alabama] “an important part of the historical record”?
I’d say they’re as important as the 911 calls you hear almost daily on TV newscasts’ crime/fire reports.
From ED BATTLE: My candidate for most diplomatic “Headline of the Day”:
From EMILY KULKUS, Syracuse Post-Standard: Any idea why it seems everyone is using Wednesday May 2 as the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death? (His Wikipedia page lists it, too.) I noticed the discrepancy because I worked our night desk the night Obama announced he was killed. It was a Sunday, May 1. The president announced he was dead that night, and all the papers the next morning screamed that headline, not that he’d been captured and killed the next day. What’s up?
It was the 2nd in Pakistan, as Kulkus notes in a follow-up to this email.
Look out! Hamilton Nolan’s all worked up again!
The Gawker media writer is up in arms over this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner — “a shameful display of whoredom that makes the ‘average American’ vomit in disgust, or, more likely, simply continue to disregard the findings of any ostensibly neutral journalistic outlet in favor of their own ideology of choice, because they have a fully solidified belief that the ‘mainstream media’ is little more than a bunch of ball-lapping lapdogs to whoever’s in power.”
Every year I ponder whether it’s possible to go to the Whore Dinner to cover it without being Part of the Problem, and I every year I decide that it is not. (Credit the New York Times and other news organizations who have come to the same conclusion.) And every year I and other humorless moralists write these somber diatribes about this event, and nothing ever changes, nor will it, because the media members themselves don’t give a fuck, because they like to meet celebrities, and the public doesn’t give a fuck because they already know the stars of the “mainstream media” are a bunch of patsy starfuckers who have to carefully consider how awkward next year’s Dinner might be every time they’re formulating uncomfortable questions for a politician, so who cares?
* “Fuck the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner”
* WaPo has more names of celebs who will be at tomorrow’s dinner
* Van Susteren’s bringing Lohan to the dinner, but objects to Louie C.K.?
* C-SPAN coverage of the dinner
I have to say that In which tweets are growing on me the way that “Friends” titles (“The One Where/With…”) did.
Dean finalists at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism are Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and U.S. Department of Justice deputy counselor Deborah Leff. Both candidates spoke on campus this week.
From The Diamondback’s story on Dalglish’s visit:
While she has not spent as much time immersing herself in academia, Dalglish said her background as an authority on media law and a First Amendment public speaker would help her advance the journalism school.
“I think this could be a gathering place where some of the world’s finest journalists come,” she said. “I think there are ways to take advantage of this fabulous facility and bring more of those journalists in and interact with students, supplement the curriculum and even network with each other.”
From the story about Leff’s visit:
Although her last job in journalism was in 1992, Leff said she is still confident in her ability to address today’s changing world. …
Leff told attendees she hoped to expand internship and partnership opportunities that would benefit students interested in science and law journalism.
“My long-term goal is amazingly vague and general,” Leff said. “I want to make this school the best it can be and see us integrated and contributing to the assessment and collection of knowledge.”
I invited the Appalachian staff to comment on the brouhaha over their incorrect report about a popular Mexican restaurant closing, and the follow-up editorial scolding readers for being a little bit too concerned about their quesadillas and margaritas. Meghan Frick, association editor for editorial content at the Appalachian State University newspaper, sends this email, and points that “we tend to feel, like many college newspapers, that we have a little more room for sass on our opinion page.”
The response we saw to the Los tweets — even before we discovered our error — was the strongest and most immediate we’ve seen all year. Readers responded when athletes were accused of sexual assault and when discussion about hate crimes exploded in our town. But they’d never responded as quickly or as passionately as they did when we mistakenly tweeted that Los was closing.
We’ve never really subscribed to the “write to a fifth grade audience” model. Our student audience has proven to be savvy and capable, and we believe strongly in their intelligence. Our goal was not to condescend to them — we wanted to challenge them to engage this fiercely on all issues that affect them.
But we do understand, at a further remove from the situation, that our tone offended many of our readers. We are deeply sorry for that, just as we’re sorry for our original reporting error. We tend to feel, like many college newspapers, that we have a little more room for sass on our opinion page. That’s all that was meant by the tone of the editorial — snark, not condescension or deflection of our original responsibility.
We have gotten feedback — usually in the form of a quiet email or Facebook message — from people who loved the editorial. But we understand that, for most readers, the tone was unacceptable.
We’re all students and we’re all learning. As journalists, we learn in the form of split-second decisions. I’m fully comfortable admitting that, if I had this decision to do over again, I’d do it differently. We stand by the spirit of our editorial, but the tone in which it was delivered was far from ideal.
From ANONYMOUS (“As a relatively young journalist still trying to make it, I’d ask that you please not use my name”): The Houston Chronicle’s website today has the headline “Member of The Killers commits suicide.” I clicked it, and was linked to a video from E!
Interestingly, the AP article specifically says the deceased was not a full member of the band but did appear on tours and performed on albums in 2006 and 2008. In short, it appears a musician who played with The Killers died. That’s different from what the headline said.
This seems to be a trend that I’m seeing a lot lately: stretching the truth of a headline just a little bit in order to get clicks. Earlier this year, USA TODAY played a little fast and loose with a headline on it’s mobile app indicating that one of the Nationals hit a home run ball that struck his truck, but if you read the story, it appeared this was probably just a rumor (my letter to them that went unanswered is below).
Anyway, please keep me anonymous since I don’t want to get blackballed from journalism community. But if you start looking for this trend, you’re definitely going to see it. Again, this isn’t outright inaccurate headlines, but there are headlines that just stretch the truth a little bit. In some ways, I think that’s more damaging.
My own thoughts are that the young web producers who are under pressure to accumulate hits put their desire for traffic over their desire for an accurate headline, and the bigwigs either don’t know this is happening or are enjoying the results too much to really care.
The letter to USA Today that went unanswered:
I’m a big fan of USA TODAY (a former intern no less) and always love its coverage, particularly of Major League Baseball. But I am a little bit concerned about today’s headline regarding Washington National Jayson Werth hitting a homerun ball that may have struck his own truck. As of 6:11 p.m. today, on the paper’s mobile app, the headline reads “Jayson Werth’s home-run ball hits his truck.” On the website,
it’s couched a bit more, as “Jayson Werth: Home-run ball struck his own truck.”
The problem is, if you read the story, neither is exactly true.
USA TODAY reports that Werth hit a home-run “clear out of the stadium, and right into Werth’s very own truck – or so a groundskeeper told him.” Werth himself goes on to say that he hadn’t confirmed the story and, for now, it’s just “folklore.”
This is a fun story, and I love a little bit of baseball legend as much as anyone else. But both headlines are probably inaccurate. The mobile app headline reports it as fact (even though USA TODAY hadn’t apparently confirmed the story). And the online headline makes it seem that Werth is making the claim, even though seems to be skeptical.
The Washington Post handled the situation appropriately, reporting in its online headline, “Jayson Werth may have his his own truck with a long home-run.”
This is a silly, fun baseball story, so I know I risk sounding like a killjoy. But it may be worth examining whether USA TODAY is willing to have a lower-standard for accuracy in headlines on its mobile and web platforms in an effort to gin up clicks. I hope this isn’t the case.