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A graveyard of stories

Picture for a moment, if you will, coming to the end of a long college term. During the past several weeks, you learned how to capture and retell the stories that constantly surround you. Your hard work is paying off: the story you reported made the front page. Your first story has rolled off the press, people you’ve never met have read its words, and it’s only natural to grow so attached you want to keep interrogating data points, obsessing over word choice to ensure people understand what is being reported, and interviewing just one more source—but in reality, we journalists are still people with limited resources.

All of these stories are public, as journalism is inherently public. It is meant to be available for review, scrutiny, reference and critique. Journalists write the first draft of history—our work can be out of date within minutes, yet remain an important record for decades. And we lay our reporting out under the public eye because it is their right to know about the world around them. Ultimately, anyone with a rightful claim to the title of “journalist” serves the public through information dissemination. Even mundane stories give life to the zeitgeist, and through it, we learn about who we were, what we aspired to, how we thought and what our problems and flaws were. This work is meant to serve the public, fulfill a need and capture those snapshots. It is a disservice for our work to be kept out of sight.

When you create, your work is automatically protected by copyright, giving you exclusive legal rights to your work. The Courier confirmed through an attorney that student journalists maintain ownership of their work. Our information indicates that the college’s library began the process of digitizing archived editions of the Courier—that is, creating digital images of physical copies—five years ago. It appears they later outsourced the work to a contractor. Under federal copyright law, libraries are allowed to create copies of copyrighted works, provided that they are not selling them and that they are readily available for public or researcher review.

To the best of the Courier’s knowledge, only the print editions appear in the library’s catalog. The digitized copies do not appear in the library’s online catalog and do not seem to have been made available to the public. Despite inquiries reaching back at least a year, we do not know the current status of the digitized copies. We have reached out to the library again this week and hope to hear back soon.

While we are not suggesting and honestly do not believe anything nefarious is taking place, the truth is we simply don’t know. Our attempts to find out have never gotten very far, and more often than not have been ignored. Which brings us to a larger point: at public institutions espousing transparency as a virtue, as Chemeketa does, should press inquiries be ignored?

Working with the Courier has been an experience I cannot forget. I worked with incredibly talented and passionate people. Together we overcame many personal and professional challenges. Unfortunately, some stories could not be finished. Whether we ran out of time, resources, or were just too drained by the run-around to continue, some of the items on our list were just never crossed off.

We did not go looking for problems at the college. When we received a tip about something newsworthy, it was our job to investigate. If there was a story, we reported the facts as accurately as possible. If a member of our audience believed an injustice occurred, it was up to them how to respond, not us. If there was no wrongdoing, we took a moment to be pleasantly surprised—and then carried on reporting the facts. But when issues and problems arose, we always hoped they would be addressed.

Often our inquiries at the college, exemplified by the unknown status of the digitized copies of the Courier, were ultimately met with silence. As to why, we don’t know. Was there a laundry list of problems? Maybe our graveyard of stories had been sprinkled with seeds that could have grown into a forest—or just a field of dandelions. We simply don’t know. In the end, we just want to report the stories around us. “Sometimes where there’s smoke,” as Neko Case lyricized, “there’s just a smoke machine.” But my advice: don’t run the smoke machine when reporters are asking about the haze in the room.

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