March 2, 2007

Verbum Penultimum

The D's Verbum Ultimum—a roundly Orwellian term, no?—today argues that administrative hiring processes should be more transparent. I suppose I should have addressed this earlier, but I am not opposed to such an idea in principle. If arrangements were made with applicants such that all knew that, if they reached the finalist round, their names would be released, I would think that The D, or anyone else, not only could, but should be reporting on it, commenting on it, etc.

But that was definitely not the case in this situation, nor is social service really The D's motivating force. The understanding all around was that this was confidential information—which is, I acknowledge, not a reason not to print it, but it is a reason for consideration of the possibility of going about printing it in a different manner—i.e. not splashing it on the front page, running a mug-shot-looking photograph and generally trying to make students believe that The D is doing us a great social service. A great social service would be reporting in a manner that lets students know things that really help them—the original article was singularly unhelpful, more sensationalist than informative, disorganized and short on facts. Instead of rushing to the presses, it would have been more responsible to wait for more facts, more contact with the persons involved, and more context.

The same holds true with today's reporting on last night's Speak Out, an event where women and men relate stories of their experiences with sexual assault and its aftermath. Instead of an article focusing on the nature of the event, the reasons for holding it, or something of that nature, they choose to dwell at length on one woman's story—clearly, the story that is the most shocking and, indeed, most personal. I do not know if the writer of the article received permission to quote from this woman's speech at length or to quote her at all—I know that there were some guidelines for the press laid down at the beginning of the event, and I'm not clear on whether the writer followed those guidelines. Certainly, the writer was under no legal obligation to do so, but she also was under no obligation to write the article in the way that she did—that is, luridly.

It's not tough to write in a way that does not sensationalize things, and honestly, The D really doesn't need to plump its circulation numbers with big-draw stories. These "scoops," this yellow journalism—it's not necessary for any actual journalistic purpose. It's not even good journalism—it's power-tripping, plain and simple. Maybe we should be use to it—3/4ths of the campus is on a power trip at one point or another (God knows I have mine), but The D's are a little more impactful, a little less responsible, a little more common.

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