Discourse / Editorials / February 16, 2011

Thoughts from the Embers: A newspaper’s job, again

The Knox Student (TKS) has written in the past about what a newspaper’s job is. Specifically, in the Thoughts from the Embers column published on Jan. 29, 2009, we defended ourselves in the wake of a debate about TKE pledges being hazed. To quote that week’s Thoughts from the Embers, “Our job last week was to report a situation between two individuals and a fraternity, not to write the story in the way either side wanted us to.”

This week, in light of the recent election of the college’s next president, we feel that the job of a newspaper might be a topic worth revisiting since it still seems to be a mystery to some people what we here at TKS are supposed to do.

During the speculation on campus about who was to be elected the 19th president of our school, a member of Public Relations (PR) at Knox as well as a member of the Board of Trustees contacted TKS. We were asked not to reveal the name of the newly elected president until the public convocation was held on Monday morning at 11 a.m. to announce Teresa Amott’s selection.

In exchange for TKS keeping the candidate names anonymous before the new president was selected, a member of the Board of Trustees arranged for TKS to have the first interview with the president when the person was selected. There was never, however, any agreement about when the story would be published, and TKS editors thought it was a decent exchange; even though the Board of Trustees made the request for the candidate names to be anonymous, it was a decision made to protect candidates at their home campuses due to TKS being an online publication, and it was a decision TKS agreed with.

Others apparently believed that TKS would interview Amott at a given time, then hold off on publishing the story until the announcement was made through convocation.

This is contrary to what it means to break a story, and, actually, is a good example of why the term “breaking a story” exists in the first place. With a story this big and this important in the school’s history, how could anyone claim to respect us as a newspaper if they think we would hold off on doing our job so PR could save face?

Major events need coverage. Admittedly, sometimes there are smaller stories that fall through cracks when our staff is overworked and when each editor needs to take three stories in a week, but we try to make sure that the stories we leave for the next week are not time-sensitive. With an event that people had been waiting on for months, we would not have been a responsible newspaper if we had let the notes from an interview sit on our desk until the convocation was over.

We do not wait to publish stories for the convenience of others. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and if publishing something at a certain time would put someone in some kind of danger, or publishing something would get us in legal trouble, we would have to work around such circumstances. However, the election of our 19th and first female president? Sorry, folks. We had the chance to break the story, so we broke it.

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