Online Update | Internet video of naked run sparks students’ outrage

Students who shed their clothes to run in the annual Naked Quad Run (NQR) last month got more exposure than they had anticipated.

The Somerville Journal newspaper posted an online video of the event, which is officially recognized as the Nighttime Quad Reception and took place on Dec. 10. Students reacted, expressing their dismay in comments on the Journal’s Web site and in a group on the social networking site Facebook.com. One student wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal.

The Journal posted the video on its Web site, along with three photographs and a full-length article. The paper also put the video on YouTube.com.

Kathleen Powers, the Journal’s senior editor, said that the paper decided to post the video, which includes almost exclusively backside nudity, primarily because it allowed readers to comprehend the “large scale” of NQR.

“A lot of people knew about the naked run but had no idea how large the run was,” she told the Daily.

Powers said that a print article without photos and a video could not convey the scale of the event well enough.

“We and the Medford Transcript have done articles like that in the past and folks did not understand the scale of the event,” she said.

But many people felt that the video was inappropriate, and some questioned the newspaper’s integrity. Many posted comments condemning the Journal’s actions on the article’s Web site, and hundreds of Tufts students joined “NQR 2007: a Tufts Tradition, NOT a Media Sensation,” a Facebook group protesting the coverage.

Every year, the Tufts Community Union Senate writes an e-mail to the student body before the event asking that students not bring cameras.

But the e-mail is only sent to students, not to residents of Medford or Somerville, many of whom come to watch the event every year.

These local viewers often take photographs and videos. The Journal’s coverage marked the first time a professional publication had released photographs or video footage of the run.

Although doing this may be discouraged, it is not illegal, Tufts’ Associate Director of Public Relations Alex Reid explained.

“It’s on a public street and the participants knew that going in,” he said.

Beyond that, it is not the university’s responsibility to determine the morality of the issue, Reid said. Reid emphasized that Tufts has taken no stance regarding the Journal’s actions.

Powers, the editor, said that she believes it was ethically right to post the video.

“We needed to point out that there were four incidents that our taxpayer-funded public safety officials responded to that appeared to be linked to the event,” she said. These incidents included the hospitalizations of two female students, one male’s fall from the roof of Sigma Nu’s fraternity house, and the pulling of a false fire alarm, all of which involved students who were participating in NQR.

She also mentioned NQR’s value simply as a local news item.

“It’s news when you have dozens and dozens of people running around naked,” she said. “A whole bunch of naked Tufts students are a news story.”

But some believe that the Journal was simply using the video to get attention.

“This is the worst kind of sensationalism and a microcosm of what’s wrong with the news industry as a whole,” one reader commented on the article’s Web page.

Regarding the issue of nudity from a moral standpoint, Powers said the Journal paper used the “SYPOPITZ” rule, taken from the television show “NYPD Blue,” where the only nudity allowed is shots of people’s backsides.

“The video only shows butts to the best of our knowledge,” she said, adding that they weren’t trying to show any frontal nudity or single out individual runners. But in fact, a small amount of frontal nudity does occur in the video.

Sophomore Jennifer Bollenbacher, who wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal, did not agree with the newspaper’s use of the “SYPOPITZ” standard. “I encourage you to reexamine your journalistic integrity and the ethics that you follow at the ‘Somerville Journal,'” she wrote. “Please remove the video from YouTube….”

Many students were upset that video and photographs had been taken without the consent of students.

But Powers said that Auditi Guha, the Journal reporter who shot the video, took the photos and wrote the article, “made it as obvious as possible” that she was a reporter. “There’s no way in hell they didn’t know their picture was being taken,” Powers said.

But the girls pictured in one photo that the Journal posted on its Web site called in to request that the newspaper remove the picture. The Journal complied.

And one male runner, whose naked backside appears in a photograph on the Journal’s Web site, said he was “very surprised” to find his picture there. “The photographer definitely did not ask me to take my picture,” the runner, who requested anonymity, said in an e-mail to the Daily. “I would have remembered if anyone asked permission for me to pose naked for them.” He was sober during NQR.

Guha has been accused of taking advantage of drunk students when she interviewed and photographed them.

One student who commented on the article’s Web site recommended that Guha “apologize for publishing information that was taken without consent…. The students … were probably asked [for interviews] because they were very drunk and the author knew it,” the commenter wrote.

In response, Powers said that interviewing people who had consumed alcohol can be appropriate, if the event is based around drinking. “We often go to events where people have been drinking-say a celebratory party for a politician,” she said, also mentioning that public drunkenness is illegal even for those over 21.

“It was not our intention to take advantage of anyone that was so blahed-out they could not speak for his- or herself,” Powers said. She added that Guha was very careful to stay clear of anyone who appeared to be highly intoxicated.

Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting to this article.

See the Daily’s first print edition for more coverage of this story


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