I recently came across an editorial from The Daily Egyptian, SIU Carbondale’s daily student newspaper, explaining how factual errors were made in a late-breaking news story that was written on a tight deadline. An accident occurred in the university’s coverage area, and witness accounts that turned out to be inaccurate were included in the final copy. I’m not condoning the errors or making excuses for the student journalists at all, but the following statement from the editorial really touched a nerve:
“The reporter at the scene had tried to verify information with one of the police officers, but because he said that because she was from ‘just the Daily Egyptian,’ it wasn’t important that she get information.”
That sentence should NEVER have to be written. College newspapers are just as important and just as entitled to information as any other media outlet. Withholding vital information that could potentially be the difference between a factual story and an error is despicable. Just because student journalists are still learning the craft doesn’t mean they should be directed (even if it was unintentional) in such a way that results in misinformation. And by the way, you’re constantly learning in journalism, regardless of how many years you’ve been in the industry.
What makes situation even more aggravating is that the student journalists did everything right — talking to witnesses, talking to officials, making multiple follow up phone calls, holding production of the paper in order to verify the facts. But the fact that nobody responded to the requests shows a blatant disrespect for college journalism. It’s disgusting.
However, despite the crappy situation the DE was forced into by default, I feel they handled it as professionally as possible. I know they had to make a decision on deadline. That’s something everyone has to deal with at one point or another — college journalist or not. For what it’s worth (and as a ‘nobody’ in the journalism profession, I know it’s not worth much), I commend the DE for their professionalism in this situation, for explaining the interactions that unfolded the night of the story and for owning up to their part in the situation. I don’t think I can say the same for the police officers involved in the situation.
If I haven’t made myself clear, my tweet from a couple nights ago after reading the editorial (but before furiously typing away to create this blog post) says it all: