With great power comes great responsibility
For my final piece in this editorial series, I wanted to take a moment to address a few things that may be overlooked or misunderstood otherwise.
The decision of whether or not to run a story can have consequences. Every Editor-in-Chief, no matter the publication, knows this. The decision is never made in a vacuum.
Despite it being an unethical, immoral, and sometimes even illegal practice, it isn’t unheard of in the professional journalism world for staff to be fired or retaliated against for working on a piece that angers their publishers. But that’s the thing: in the professional world, it’s the staff who bear the blowback of their decisions. The reporters and the editors get the chance to look at the facts of a story and decide among themselves if they’re willing to risk their own careers to take a stand and speak the truth.
During my time as EIC of the Courier, I too wrestled with these weighty decisions. I felt it on several occasions, but none more so than with the story about the lead in the water at the Chemeketa daycare. I failed in my duties as a journalist by not publishing that story, and I hope to in some small way atone by publishing it now, knowing the risks.
For me, the fear of retaliation was never a matter of self-preservation. I stand by my reporting, and I have the emails, recordings and documents to back it up.
But in the world of student newspapers, there’s a catch: administrators know that going after student reporters publicly looks bad for them. Instead, they typically go after the faculty advisors and the support structure of the paper itself.
It’s one thing to take on that kind of risk personally. You can brace yourself against the incoming storm. You can prepare. But when the storm is directed at someone else? An innocent bystander with a kid and bills to pay? That was too much for me.
If that story had run, it would cost my faculty advisor his job. I do not wish to publicly share why I’m so certain of that at this time, but I will stake my reputation on it.
Having to deal with that kind of pressure is something that no student should ever have to experience, but it’s an experience that was forced upon me. It came to define my time at Chemeketa Community College.
The sleepless nights, the worry, the stress, the guilt – fearing that the decisions I made would result in retaliation against my advisor, or the end of the journalism courses, or the end of the Courier – it takes a real toll on you.
It stays with you.
I’m not the only EIC to experience it. Every single editor I’ve met has known this burden or some variation of it. We’ve all shared this trauma. We’ve all witnessed its withering effects on one another.
The incidents we’ve endured are not normal for a student newspaper. None of what we’ve come forward with in this series is normal.
This should be obvious, but apparently it needs spelling out, so I will. I chose to pursue the lead story, not our advisor. I made that decision, and I alone. The EIC of the Courier is responsible for the content of our publication. The advisor has no editorial control whatsoever. Despite this, some in the administration were all too eager to blame him for my story.
I made that decision, not because I wanted to make college officials look bad, but because it’s what the ethics of my field of study demanded of me. The lead story was absolutely fair game. It was something that needed to be brought to light.
When Courier reporters would confront college officials about their decisions in the past, they would either admit they had made a mistake, or they would explain why they stood by their decision. None of this runaround-stonewalling-intimidation-gaslighting bullshit we’ve grown accustomed to now. I don’t know the reason they chose to abandon that old way of doing things, but I fear for the future of this institution if they continue down that path.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, throughout this series we’ve chosen not to directly name anyone. We made that decision early on because doing so helps no one. We’re not here for petty revenge or spite. We just want to share our experiences in the hope that their disclosure may force a change for the better.
We harbor no grudges.
During my final few weeks as EIC, I remember telling a group of new reporters about my experience with the lead story. When I’d finished, one of these reporters said to me of the highest-ranking administration official involved, “wow, that guy sounds like a real asshole.” Without hesitation, I turned to that reporter, looked them straight in the eyes, and responded, “No. He’s a good man and I respect him. He was just on the wrong side this time.”
I meant every word of it.
Or another former high-ranking administration official, one who I’m told treated my successors quite poorly. When I think of her, I think of a time she showed me kindness that I’ll never forget.
I was exhausted after a long day on campus. I was standing in the pouring rain, soaking wet, too tired and too numb to care. I was waiting for my ride to arrive so I could go home. As I stood there, I saw a vehicle pull up and drop someone off. It was this certain high-ranking administration official, walking towards the entrance of Bldg. 2 with an umbrella. I avoided eye contact.
When she noticed me standing there, she went out of her way to come over to me. She stood there, making small talk, sharing her umbrella with me for several minutes until my ride arrived.
There are no villains here. Only humans who make mistakes.
We’re all human. You, me, my advisor, my fellow editors, college officials, everyone. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes don’t make someone a bad person, but they must be brought to light and rectified.
Student journalism isn’t just another academic pursuit. It’s a solemn duty. We serve as an unbiased, impartial check on power. Through the decisions we make, the stories we pursue, the pain we endure, we serve our community.
With many of my fears now coming to pass – the journalism courses gone, the lab gone, the Courier handed over to Student Life – who will be there to shine a light now? I fear that without an independent Courier there to bear the torch and cast away the shadows, things may grow very dim at Chemeketa.