As editors, we’re faced with decisions every day that test us and sometimes let us see how far we’re willing to push the boundaries of journalism and ethics. Should we pull that ad? Is that cartoon OK to run in the paper? Does this source deserve anonymity?
It’s a difficult line to toe, one that often leaves us questioning ourselves and wondering whether we’re really fit to run this newspaper. We’re put in charge with no faculty oversight, and most of the time, we feel pretty confident — but then again, we’re students, and I know I’ve had my share of self-doubt in this position.
So when Lauren Redding — The Diamondback’s online editor and last year’s editor in chief — told me she wanted to author a University Senate proposal mandating sexual assault prevention education for the university, I hesitated. Her doing so would violate this newspaper’s policies by taking a political stance of sorts and being heavily involved in one of the university’s governing bodies.
But after some thinking, I realized some issues are bigger than us, and there are times to make exceptions. When that exception could protect so many people and prevent future assaults — traumatizing experiences no one should have to endure — it’s time to stop and reconsider.
Here’s the thing: Sexual assault affects every community of this university, including the community of Diamondback staff members. Lauren herself is a sexual assault survivor, and she’s not the only one on the staff. There was simply no way I could point to a newspaper policy to prevent this initiative from launching when so many people we all know are personally affected by it.
The proposal is quickly moving through the senate; it’s already been approved by the Senate Executive Committee, the most powerful subcommittee, and is now under review by university President Wallace Loh’s Sexual Harassment Task Force. It could go before the full senate as soon as next month for a vote and, if approved, make its way to Loh’s desk for his signature.
We could have brushed Lauren’s involvement under the rug and simply mentioned her authoring the bill in any articles related to the proposal. But that’s not The Diamondback’s mission. We seek to deliver the truth as accurately and fairly as possible.
Yes, Lauren is the driving force behind this potential policy, and yes, I allowed it. Lauren’s job does not require her to be in the newsroom while we work on the paper, so she is not involved in day-to-day decisions, and she is not involved in deciding news content. The reporter on the story does not know Lauren on a personal level, so there is no conflict of interest. And I’m not editing stories that have to do with this proposal to ensure we report as objectively as we possibly can.
Maybe some people will frown upon or disapprove of my decision. That’s fine — being a journalist is never about being popular. If this policy is passed, so many students could be protected from assaults on the campus. I doubt anyone will remember that Lauren, a Diamondback editor, broke the newspaper’s policy to get it passed. What will be remembered, however, is someone stood up for sexual assault victims and put in place a preventative measure to create a safer campus. And if that means my judgment is questioned in the meantime, that’s a small price to pay.
Yasmeen Abutaleb is a junior journalism and microbiology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.