Last week, The Vassar Chronicle’s Editor-in-Chief Zack Struver ’15 submitted a letter to the editor addressing instances of misrepresentation concerning his quotes for the article on our commencement speaker Ariana Huffington. (“Ariana Huffington to speak at 151st Commencement,” The Miscellany News, 04.01.2015) Struver asserted that Editor-in-Chief Palak Patel and Senior Editor Noble Ingram took his critical statements about The Huffington Post out of context, wrongly framing them as declarations of praise for the publication he deems largely devoid of value.
While I cannot speak to what led to this oversight, I can say with certainty, in agreement with Struver, that these mistakes were innocent and not intended to create a biased or misleading article. That being said, a simple email to Patel or Ingram requesting a correction would have surely sufficed in lieu of a letter to the editor, especially from someone who sees himself as a colleague. Though this space is meant for readers to both air their grievances and engage in dialogue with The Miscellany News staff, I believe Struver’s letter was fueled by a certain degree of ill will.
Struver makes it clear that he doesn’t “take pleasure in publicly shaming the work of [his] colleagues,” a sentiment that strikes a discord when he later finishes, stating that he hopes we at The Miscellany News use “this public embarrassment and condemnation of [our] flawed practices to reflect upon [our] problems and commit to fixing them.” Struver seems to have allowed himself this pleasure, though he claims it is for a noble cause: He “cannot sit by as one of Vassar’s beloved institutions publishes blatant falsities.”
Firstly, I’d like to make it clear that the misstep of which Struver speaks is not as humiliating as Struver would hope: errors of this variety happen all of the time, and none are immune. During The Miscellany News’ journalism panel this past Friday, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Trends Jeremy Kaplan ’96 recalled a time he ran a story about Canon printers, mistakenly printing the wrong phone number—a number to a phone sex line—instead of the company’s sales line. For avid readers of The New York Times, an institution with greater resources and abilities than The Miscellany News, it doesn’t take long to notice the corrections at the end of many articles. And, as someone who has made errors in her own pieces, I can attest that finding out that I’ve made a mistake produces a pang of panic and a feeling that I’ve betrayed the trust of sources who have put their trust in me to do their stories justice. However, it’s not always so dramatic.
The error that Struver bemoans results in a singular, isolated consequence: Students and faculty reading the Ariana Huffington article may falsely believe Struver likes The Huffington Post, when in fact he does not. Again, with consequences as arguably low-stakes as these, a note to Patel would have functioned perfectly—she would have fixed the error online and published a correction in the following edition of The Misc.
Yet Struver goes on to point to his misrepresentation as being commensurate to the mistakes of Rolling Stone, a false and hyperbolic analogy if I’ve ever seen one. Struver ventures that many of the problems the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism pinpointed “have also plagued The Miscellany News for years.” Yet the fact of the matter is journalistic ethics and fact-checking could not have saved Rolling Stone, a publication that threw not just a source but a rape victim under the bus, to the end of further trauma. With that being said, no, Struver, The Miscellany News does not suffer from these same ailments in the journalistic process.
Still, I must acknowledge that while The Miscellany News always does its best to prevent mistakes, misquotations and misrepresentations, they will continue to occur. However, it’s not for lack of caring or dedication: When all is said and done, The Misc is a student-run paper. Putting out a weekly publication requires between 30 and 40 hours of work from our executive editors who are, of course, full-time students. While this alone does not excuse us from any mistakes, this caveat should be taken into account. We have limited time and resources, working at an institution that has few journalism classes and no major or program to guide us. Controversies, misunderstandings, structural problems and questions of ethics are all things we must figure out among the members of our editorial board. We’re learning as we go, something the editors of The Chronicle surely feel as well.
Nonetheless, Struver fails to acknowledge the difference between the operations of our publications. The Chronicle has an entire month (or often much longer) to ensure that everything is in order before going to print. The Miscellany News has a week. This time crunch is further compounded by the fact that many articles happen at the last minute, allowing for far less time to fact-check every detail of a piece.
The truth of the matter is The Miscellany News is always trying to do better, and while we continue to learn and grow, we hope the Vassar community always assumes we have the best intentions when publishing our news and stories . We never mean to cast classmates, professors or faculty, whose relationships and readership we value so, in an unfairly negative light. However, Zack Struver believes that in his case we have made an exception.
—Marie Solis ’15 is Contributing Editor for The Miscellany News.