Syracuse University Daily Orange staffers Kathleen Ronayne and Beckie Strum worked six months on their two-part series on Chancellor Nancy Cantor, which claims the administrator has created an atmosphere of “futility, fear, and distrust” during her eight-year tenure.
The two-parter “has sparked a conversation on campus,” reporter Strum tells the Post-Standard’s Sarah Moses.
Boy, has it! One letter to the Daily Orange — signed by 70 faculty and staff members — says the articles “were attacks poorly veiled as investigative reporting and paint a significantly skewed and inaccurate portrait of the community as a whole.” The letter continues:
It should come as no surprise in a university this size given Chancellor Cantor’s bold vision that the student reporters found a dozen faculty who are disgruntled, or were able to identify three dozen anonymous people who are critical of the chancellor. We would expect this in any large organization.
Series co-author Ronayne writes on her blog that her skin has thickened as she’s grown as a journalist.
Two years ago, I would have read all of these letters and been incredibly upset for a few reasons:
1. I didn’t realize then that criticism and personal attacks are a BIG part of journalism. I’ve since learned to deal with that. and
2. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have done enough reporting to be convinced that was I did was true and fair. Now, there is no doubt in my mind of what I’ve written.
Point is: Two years ago I was an amateur. Now, I consider myself a professional.
I’ve asked editor-in-chief Dara McBride for comment.
UPDATE: Here are my questions and McBride’s responses:
What’s your response to the letter-signers who called the articles “examples of irresponsible journalism that does not represent the best of what a student newspaper should exhibit.”
It’s upsetting to hear that we have readers who believe we would publish “irresponsible journalism,” but these articles would not have run if the reporters behind the pieces did not do all reporting they did.
I am confident that what they wrote is true and responsible journalism and it would not have run if otherwise. As their editor, Kathleen and Beckie were as open with me as they could be throughout the process and we trusted each other. Being a journalist means sometimes publishing works that may be truthful but doesn’t make everyone happy, and that’s something you have to learn to take in stride. Sometimes it can be hard as a student paper because we may not be taken as seriously as a national newspaper or because we go to class with our readers and sources. But we take ourselves seriously and being a student journalist allows us to look at the campus differently than a student or a journalist would. We always want to show both sides of the story and work for all the reporting, and I hope our readers know that and feel they can trust us.
Is the reaction to your series what you expected, or a greater firestorm than anticipated?
We were preparing for various reactions to the pieces. I think the end result was somewhere in the middle of what we expected. Within minutes of the articles being posted online, two anonymous comments were already on the website. Throughout the day many people were picking up the paper and talking on Twitter and on campus. At first it was a quiet response and we did not receive any letters to the editor about the piece until late in the day Thursday, but then they started picking up over the weekend. The articles did create the most traffic we have see on the website all semester and quickly became the most-read articles on daiyorange.com.
Since we are a college newspaper everything we do becomes a learning experience. The entire staff has learned a lot from this one, whether it is for the reporting/editing process or how the articles were designed. It has also made us think about the relevance of The Daily Orange on campus. Ultimately, the goal of these pieces was to print the truth from both sides and create a conversation about it. Throughout the day on Thursday Beckie was retweeting every Twitter comment on the articles, both good and bad. If readers feel we printed irresponsible journalism, they are welcome to write a letter to the editor about it.
We just finished our last print edition on Tuesday and many of us will be leaving at the paper for the summer or graduation. I hope the staff will continue to learn and think about these articles and what else we can do in terms of reporting and creating a campus conversation.
* Daily Orange stories about chancellor draw response (Syracuse.com)
* Cantor squashes dissent in pursuit of goals, creates chilly atmosphere (Daily Orange)
* Heavy-handed leadership has cultivated fear, resignation faculty (Daily Orange)
* “We do not recognize the person the article profiles” (Daily Orange letter)
* Dozens of faculty and staff criticize the chancellor profile (Daily Orange letter)
* Lessons learned: My final story (KathleenRonayne.com)