Service of Two Sides of the Story

November 11th, 2019

Categories: College, Journalism, News, Newspapers, University

Photo: hvinnovationgroup.com

A news story should represent both sides of a story and a reporter owes it to readers to attempt to shoot for this balance. Let the readers decide. As a public relations practitioner there are times where the most I can hope for in a negative story is the chance for my client to share his/her point of view and I am grateful when the reporter gives my client the chance.

That’s why this debate at Harvard caught my eye and surprised me.

Marc Tracy wrote “Harvard Newspaper Faces Backlash Over ICE Article” for The New York Times. Criticism against the 146 year old daily was made by campus groups Act on a Dream and Harvard College Democrats. They reprimanded The Harvard Crimson for writing that the reporter had contacted for comment Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] for the article “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.”

Photo: thecrimson.com

The editors wrote: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”

Act on a Dream had organized the rally described in the Crimson. Furious, the group launched a petition “demanding that The Crimson vow to never contact ICE again and to apologize for the ‘harm it has inflicted.’ ” They gathered 650+ online signatures.

One grievance by Act on a Dream was that ICE had a “long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them.”  Even though the rally had already taken place when the story ran, they claimed that tipping off ICE could endanger undocumented immigrants on campus. Harvard College Democrats said “It’s very much in line with our values. It lines up with our commitment to protecting these movements, making sure people’s voices can be heard, that intimidation from ICE doesn’t prevent these students from exercising their right to mobilize and organize.”

Photo: wsaz.com

Tracy wrote “It is one of the first tasks a journalist learns on the job, a routine aspect of reporting: asking for comment from people or organizations that are mentioned prominently in an article, especially those cast in a harsh light.”

The Crimson “stood by its reporting.” The paper’s president and managing editor “wrote that ‘every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.'” They cited approval of the practice by the Student Press Law Center and Society of Professional Journalists.

Tracy quoted University of Michigan law professor Margo Schlanger “who specializes in civil rights and prison reform.” He wrote about Schlanger that “while she understands the protestors’ concerns, the paper had done nothing unethical.” Quoting Schlanger: “They’re trying to make ICE a pariah agency” and that it was “not responsible journalism not to call the agency to ask them to respond to things.”

Where do you stand: Should a newspaper reporter always try for comments from people representing all sides of a story or are there exceptions and have the rules changed?

Photo: tes.com

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8 Responses to “Service of Two Sides of the Story”

  1. Kathleen Said:

    I definitely think both sides of a story should be told. If one only watches Fox News or MSNBC, one gets a slanted view, either pro or con. To make an educated judgment, one needs to hear or see both points of view.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Kathleen,

    I agree.

    And I get the feeling that if tables were turned, and someone wrote an article favoring ICE, that groups like Act on a Dream would want a chance to have their say.

  3. Amanda Ripanykhazova Said:

    As reporting three years of Trump lying on the media has shown us (but apparently has not shown to the media just yet)

    It is not always absolutely necessary to maintain a strict balance between the fireman and the fire.

  4. Martha Takayama Said:

    It is hard to evaluate this matter at the moment. News is no longer “news” anymore. Life is an editorial or propaganda feed. Government is a nefarious fiction and news conferences are anything but reportage.

    News reportage is supposed to cover the who, what when, where and why of issues. When used a la Trump to say that there are 2 equally significant and justifiable means to explain horrible acts explaining both sides of the story becomes ingenuous and false.

    It is correct to set forth contradictory views. What is very awkward is to insist that they are of equal importance if they are not to the correspondent or publisher or that they are equally valid even if they are inane or reprehensible. A newspaper like the Crimson and so many others is also entitled to have a point of view or philosophy. We are living in a world so glutted with propaganda, lies, myths and non-news that it becomes very difficult to remain dispassionate about reportage that can also serve as a weapon.

    The protest seems naive in a certain sense, but it seems far more naive to pretend to seek counterbalancing weight in positions that rile the values of most citizens or that can cause real danger and damage to others. Lots of discretion and clear judgment is needed to work through these situations.

    Perhaps I provide no answer, but the reader can always choose to ignore or not patronize the publication he feels is noxious. The Crimson is not unique if it chooses to have a particular editorial bias. Nor is it obligated to satisfy all readers. One would expect more comprehension of both the obligations of reportage and obligations to not speak ala Rand Paul using a faux concern for news as a weapon.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amanda,

    I see your point and appreciate your comment but I side with the Crimson editors: They caused no danger to a soul by asking ICE to chime in. And wouldn’t it be more accurate to say a balance between the fireman and the arsonist?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I realize that many news venues have lost their balance and all sense of what news is. For example, in 2015-2016 DJT shouldn’t have been given space or air time he received for his rants and raves while more serious candidates could hardly garner a photo caption.

    I don’t think it is up to a news reporter to determine whose voice should be silenced in an article.

    Newspapers and their publishers have traditionally had points of view and these belonged on editorial–not news–pages.

    I don’t think The Crimson showed bias–its reporter was doing what a reporter should do. In fact, most of the article was about the protest.

  7. BC Said:

    So much fake news, it is hard to tell anymore, what part of the elephant the reporter is viewing.

    In a perfect world, one would hope a reporter would tell about both sides of an issue. Not going to happen…

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I find myself saying at least once a day: “not sure if this is true, I saw this on Facebook” before sharing a tidbit of news even if the news is from a well-regarded source. Who knows if the logo wasn’t hacked and if the news is true? And there is a lot of stuff posted from sources I never heard of so even if I want to believe something I don’t and I never share/pass it along.

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