Letter to the Editor 4/9/15

Noble Ingram, Senior Editor for The Miscellany News, emailed me a little over a week ago to ask me a few questions about Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post and my views on the media/journalism more broadly for an article that he and The Miscellany News Editor-in-Chief Palak Patel were writing for the April 2 Edition. As the Editor-in-Chief of The Vassar Chronicle, Vassar’s journal of thought and politics, I was happy to oblige my colleagues. After thinking about Noble’s questions, I spent a good amount of time writing a concise response.

In my email to Noble and Palak, I expressed a strong distaste for The Huffington Post, which I described as being “empty on … analysis,” heavy on “click-baity headlines” attached to unprofessional articles and “full of fluff pieces.” Noble asked me how I felt about The Huffington Post in terms of its ability to alter modes of political engagement. My response was that “they’re certainly shared a lot on Facebook and have really good Search Engine Optimization (SEO), if you want to call that ‘political engagement.’” Though I never outrightly said in my statement “I hate The Huffington Post and equally despise Arianna Huffington,” that should have been quite clear from the statements I made. How, then, could the The Miscellany News note in its article that “Struver values the importance of [The Huffington Post], and journalism in general, in today’s mainstream media?”

To be clear, I value very little the “mainstream media.” Earlier in the same article in which I was misc-quoted, Palak and Noble quoted another section of my response, where I indicated that “Objectivity in the media forces journalists to mask their opinions as fact, and I think that’s extremely dangerous.” It’s pretty obvious that I was referring in that sentence to the mainstream media. More damningly for Palak and Noble, I wrote in my emailed statement that the “Huffington Post is reaffirming this myth of objectivity.” The contradiction between my own views and the article’s analysis is made abundantly clear from my email.

As a fellow writer and someone who values journalism as a tool for social progress, I do not take pleasure in publicly shaming the work of my colleagues. However, I also value honesty and transparency, and I cannot sit by as one of Vassar’s beloved institutions publishes blatant falsities.

I do not want to accuse Noble and Palak of deliberately twisting my words and misrepresenting my position to pad their article with concurring opinions. I also, however, find it difficult to believe that two experienced writers and editors either misunderstood or did not carefully read my email. Yet, everyone makes mistakes, and I believe that this mistake reveals structural and organizational problems at The Miscellany News, rather than malicious intent on the part of individuals.

This week the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism published a damning report on structural and operational problems at Rolling Stone. I think that many of the problems they traced have also plagued The Miscellany News for years. In 2013, Matthew Schultz, the Director of the Writing Center, chronicled the occasions on which writers for The Miscellany News used off the record comments, misattributed others’ statements to him, incorporated out of context quotations from his broader statements and outright fabricated quotations which they attributed to him. The problems that Dr. Schultz pointed out could have been fixed by stricter policies on attribution and quotation, but evidently the editorial staff did not see fit to implement changes in the wake of his criticism to “Write as if each and every reader is skeptical of each and every syllable in your reporting.”

If the current staff of The Miscellany News wishes to maintain their credibility as reporters and live up to the legacy left by their predecessors as some of the top student journalists in the world, The Miscellany News must thoroughly examine its evident culture of carelessness. The Editorial Board should adopt new standards on attribution and think about dedicating part of their copy-editing staff to fact-checking. The entire staff of The Miscellany News should be included in broader discussions about policies and practices that can better keep reporters and editors accountable to their sources. I am hurt by the disrespect my colleagues showed me, and I hope that they will retract or correct those portions of the article that misrepresented my views. I also hope that the staff of The Miscellany News uses this public embarrassment and condemnation of their flawed practices to reflect upon their problems and commit to fixing them.

 

—Zack Struver ’15

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