Seek the truth and report it. Minimize harm. Act independently. Be accountable and transparent. As journalists, we are trusted in holding the powerful accountable, in guiding the conscience of our society and in discovering the truth. Needless to say, we have a tremendous power that we must guard through intuitively employing journalistic laws and ethics. When mistakes happen, our credibility will be inevitably doubted by the public. And in a time where the press is constantly under attack, we need to make sure that we're holding ourselves to the highest standard when we're reporting the truth.
Published in Vol. 30 No. 3, February 2018
A student approached me with a friend's personal narrative about sexual assault. Although the friend hoped to remain anonymous, she wanted to share her story with The Harbinger after the #MeToo and TimesUp movements made her feel like she finally had a voice. I was sent a draft of her narrative and upon reading it, I felt so impacted. Hearing about the effect the incident had on her, how she felt so powerless, was shattering. After thorough discussion, as we thought about it more and more, even though her story was compelling and would garner a lot of attention, we realized possible harmful repercussions of publishing a narrative like this in the school newspaper. First off, we would have to verify her story in some way, giving audience confidence in the information reported. And upon publication, administration would want to find out the person behind the story. Legally, administration and police could force us to disclose the source’s identity since school officials are mandated reporters of sexual assault cases on minors. I was afraid that her identity will not be anonymous anymore after publication. However, I understand how important it is for us to address this issue, especially the fact that it has affected members of our own community. I took her compelling story and bravery as inspiration for a new story idea: What support systems are in place at school for victims? What can someone do in the aftermath? Through this new idea, inspired by the girl, I hoped to empower and support those who have been victims and voiceless.
First, I wanted to find out how the school defined sexual assault. I looked up the definition in our school handbook; from there, I saw a note that described how further information regarding sexual assault cases can be found in the regional policies index. After researching regional policies for sexual assault cases, I seeked a human voice from administration. I interviewed our principal, who commented on the school's general protocol and her hopes going forward.
Tackling in-depth stories that deal with complex issues often means granting sources anonymity. For the vaping feature, we had to protect our sources because sales of vaping devices are illegal to people under the age of 18. To make sure that the integrity and validity of the facts of the article would not be compromised by anonymous sources, we supplement personal narratives with fact, whether from research or expert sources.
Choice of Graphics
As news editor, I had the task of laying out the page that featured a story on a student wearing a confederate hat to school and how he eventually got into trouble after complaints to administration. After talking with our adviser, we decided that this graphic had to be carefully thought out. We didn't want to publish an image of a confederate flag because readers will often flip through pages, just looking at images, and not get the full premise of the article through that, harming our reputation. Instead we took a baseball cap and wrote the words "Freedom of Expression?" over it-- a much more powerful and accurate embodiment of the article's message.