Co-editing a university newspaper throws you up against the wall. Throughout the semester, Joel and I have faced many difficult situations in regards to how and when to cover serious, hazardous events.
With each situation, we have to reevaluate our responsibilities: as journalists, how to best follow our operating policies; as humans, how to retain sensitivity and community.
Comprehensiveness and minimizing harm are both aspects of our guiding principles. Necessarily, these two journalistic virtues will sometimes exclude each other.
Questions about coverage have echoed through the student body, and I will explain a few of our recent dilemmas and decisions.
Our decisions are not the product of a Mennonite need to be righteous. I am not a Mennonite, or religious affiliate of any kind. Preservation of a Mennonite image is not part of my considerations as to coverage, nor should it be for an independent student newspaper. Decisions are made based on the Weather Vane’s guiding principles and conscience.
Some view journalism as a relentless force of tabloid exposes. However, ruthless coverage can quickly degrade into gossip. That is a soiled shell of the potential of edifying journalism.
At its best, a newspaper should be used to inform its readers of important events that affect their lives and provide them with a voice. It should have the power to implement positive change, inspire new thoughts and discourse.
What, then, are our responsibilities as a newspaper when dealing with alcohol poisoning on a dry campus? What benefit would investigating this event serve the community?
There are already acres and acres of literature accessible at the click of a mouse about the effects of alcohol consumption. The student was already receiving medical help. Publishing an article about it would have humiliated the student and done nothing for the student body but to provide fodder for gossip.
Perhaps our biggest quandary was whether or not to cover the Northlawn drug bust. The largest and most immediate impact from publishing a story about this would be legal complications for someone already facing charges.
It is legally inadvisable for them to comment on their own actions, preventing us from writing anything at all comprehensive or fair. In that situation, there is immense possibility to cause pointless harm, and very little to produce anything good.
We have many goals to fulfill, which sometimes contradict one another. However, preserving image and decorum at the sake of truth is not one of them. In every crisis, we have painstakingly reviewed the pros and cons of coverage.
In some cases, such as the student petition to reinstate former Fitness Center Coordinator John Wilson, our journalistic and moral principles required publishing. In others, they have required sensitive silence.
We do not shy away from controversy, but strive to best serve the student body with truth. Discussion about the manifestation of that obligation is always welcome.
-Randi Hagi, Co-editor in Chief