October 19, 2006

Racism, Vandalism and Journalistic Integrity

The paper's been out for less than a day, and already I'm getting e-mails.

We seem to have stirred the pot with this story, about vandals scrawling racially/socially discriminatory messages in marker on the doors of one residence hall (dorm room doors and entrances/exits) and in certain areas of our library.

The messages were immediately scrubbed off by campus police, but we had an anonymous contributor send us photos of the actual content of the vandalism. It's quite clearly a threat, both to African Americans and Jews, and the images, when viewed, are like a slap in the face.

It took a lot of talking and debating to decide whether or not to publish the photos, not just in my mind, not just among my staff, but with people of other organizations and cultures. Among the students, the decision was unanimous, however.

I always have concerns about our readers. I don't want to upset people, but I do want people to see the truth in the fullest extent that we're physically capable of publishing. I even published a letter from the editor explaining my rationale.

I expected a response, and have received a few, most verbal ("Wow, this is controversial. Why did you guys do this?") and one written, in which the writer declares that she is "appalled" by our decision to publish the pictures (and for some reason, the article), especially since the president of the college addressed the incident in his memo to students. She claims that it spreads the message of hatred from a few doors to a few thousand front pages.

That was a point we considered and quickly refuted (I think I explained it well enough in the editorial). Additionally, we are an independent newspaper, not the campus PR rag. The president is the voice of the administrators and the bill collectors, not the voice of the students.

Should CNN have photographed/videotaped 9/11? Those were harsh images, of human beings jumping to their deaths, fire and falling rubble, potentially spreading the propaganda of Bin Laden and his cronies to billions of people across the world (contextually, an extreme analogy, but the principle is the same).

The press are still invaluable to our country. Journalists get a bad rap nowadays - many of them for good reason, don't get me wrong - but they fill a vital role: Keeping the public informed of just what their leaders are doing, and what issues we face as a society.

Social issues like these should never be pushed under the rug. They lose significance if one's understanding of them is vague. It's obvious that racism is still an issue in this country, even among young people. Why hide it?

Here's the extreme example in our community. Now what are we, as students, going to do about it?

What decision would you have made in this position? Why?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:47 AM

    I think you did the right thing! Racism is a serious issue, and photos are much more powerful than words alone to make people realize there's a real problem. Hopefully the article will create a dialog on your campus about the problem.