Editorial: Shying away from controversy not an option for student press

At least 40 teachers at Las Positas College believe that a president “requires respect” and hard-working student journalists do not.

On Oct. 12, we at the Express published an article entitled “President Walthers on his way out.” Since its publication, the article has become the subject of a campus-wide controversy mostly because it uncovered a controversy brewing among school officials.

In response, we received the letter published above. Not only do we strongly disagree with the majority of its points — we feel it represents a lack of true understanding about the role of the student press and of journalism in general.

We understand that “not all faculty agree with the article.” That is a fair, yet expected point to raise.

But, the problem is that there is nothing for faculty to disagree with the article about. Our reporting on this issue was sourced from statements made at public meetings and from an interview with President Kevin Walthers himself.

In no way was the articled fabricated or embellished. In the above letter’s first paragraph, reference is made to “varying degrees of accuracy” contained in the article. No examples of inaccuracy are presented.

To make this charge is not only wrong, it is dangerous. To accuse journalists of inaccuracy is to call into question their competence, their character and their integrity.

Reporters who worked on this story not only conducted themselves professionally but also with great care to put forth the most accurate version of events possible. That included allowing president Walthers the opportunity to comment on the allegations made by the Academic Senate — an opportunity which he did not take full advantage of.

If taken at face value, the letter would lead one to believe that we at the Express have done something malicious. Perhaps it is implied that we have purposefully distorted events to paint a public figure in a bad light. Or maybe it’s being suggested that we have hindered the college’s ability to hire another president.

Which brings us to the most upsetting portion of the letter — the idea that a president “requires respect in order to be successful.”

Woodward and Bernstein did not let Richard Nixon slide because it was disrespectful to publish stories which painted him in a bad light. Bill Clinton’s sex life was the subject of television news every day during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Fox News Channel personalities regularly refer to President Obama as “the worst president of all time.”

Title does not and should not shield a public figure from criticism. It’s not what the American media is about and it is not what the Express is about.

Freedom of the press is one of our country’s core liberties. Our founders thought enough of it to include in the very first amendment to the constitution. The challenging and questioning of authority figures is at the heart of this freedom.

Sometimes the truth is hard and cold. But it must still be told.

To not report on such a serious matter would do the entire campus a tremendous disservice. The students, faculty and staff of this school deserve to know any information that affects the campus so comprehensively.

Holding public figures to account is what allows our democracy to thrive. It is what the students at the Express are learning to do with increasing proficiency.

At the same time, in the letter we are admonished for not performing our jobs in a “balanced and respectful way” and that this is “essential if the integrity of the press is to be preserved.”

The article was balanced — President Walthers was allowed to comment. Balance in journalism is often, incorrectly, assumed to mean a story has equal amounts of positive and negative quotes. In the article, the Academic Senate had their say as did President Walthers. That is a balanced story.

Finally, we are asked to “figure out how to use (our) voice and what (our) legacy will be.”

We do not believe it is our job to paint the school in the best possible light.

That job belongs to the school’s leaders — its president, its administration and its teachers. Our job is to report on how well those factions carry out that task.

We hope our legacy in regards to this article is this — we covered a difficult topic, an important topic, and we covered it accurately.

We did not shy away from impending criticism.

We didn’t fudge the truth or become complicit in deceiving our readers.

As student journalists, we should hope that our lasting legacy is that we continue to hold ourselves up to these highest of standards.

If 40 teachers disagree with us, we completely respect their constitutional right to free speech.

As long as they remember, the freedom of the press is contained in the same constitutional amendment that guarantees them the right to that speech.


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