If two CI leaders are dismissed from the cabinet and no one hears about it, should a student newspaper run a story about it? This was the question facing the Hatchet staff and legal counsel as summer heat climbed above 90 degrees over the July 4 holiday weekend.
With CI five scheduled for the coming week, it was a tight situation for a newspaper that wants to keep its news timely. And news it was – check that one off in the “run it” column – at the bare minimum, anyone could easily notice that two students pictured in cabinet literature are not present at their orientation.
CI cabinet members are a highly visible group on campus, hand-picked from hundreds of applicants and trained for a full semester before their summer term. In the world of real journalism, they may even be considered public figures. In the world of campus journalism, they are students in a student group dealing with issues we all face. The goal of the story was simply to illustrate that yes, bad things can happen to “good” students.
But the number-one reason for running the story was that for once, everything at GW was actually running as smoothly as it appeared on the surface. CI did not collapse around administrators’ feet after the second session, when two cabinet members were let go after one charged the other with sexual assault. This is an example of a campus organization dealing, effectively, with a problem that could one day arise in any GW group.
This was the desired focus of the story. Notice no names are included in The Hatchet’s report on page 2 (“CI leaders let go after allegations”). Reporters heeded caution that the situation that caused the students’ removal was strictly a personal matter, and instead tried to shift the focus off the alleged incident to find a broader meaning for the average GW student.
Following this logic, one might point out that the story on page 2 tells the facts, but lacks one voice – the students. One could blame it on The Hatchet’s previous mistakes, or inability to reach CI leaders before officials shushed them, but this is an instance where fellow students failed to trust their student paper.
Those closest to the story – the two students involved in the charge, which was dropped by SJS – have obvious reason not to comment about events in their personal lives. Vice President Mike Gargano also understandably declined to talk about the specific events that may or may not have gone down in April. It should then be expected that reporters will seek outside sources, in this case other CI leaders, to comment on the overall climate of a situation, without digging for steamy details. Failure to disclose basic information only leads readers to wonder what tight-lipped sources are hiding.
Some may be surprised to hear that at The Hatchet, doing a story does not equal trashing the University. Sources contacted for comment on sensitive issues should listen to a reporter’s approach, thoroughly question them about the angle of the story, speak carefully and even request to see their quotes before an article is printed. This can eliminate the confusion that often surrounds delicate matters in the newspaper and, ultimately, leads to less information for all.
Students have a right to know what’s going on in various student groups, especially when tuition dollars go toward one’s programming. It has always been, and will continue to be, The Hatchet’s goal to let students know what is really going on in the GW community. And that includes hearing those trees that fall when no one is around.
-The writer, a senior majoring
in journalism, is Hatchet
editor in chief.