“Cold objectivity in the face of injustice is a form of complicity,” renowned Mexican author Octavio Paz writes about Elena Poniatowska’s journalistic testimony “Massacre in Mexico” in his introduction to her book.
Last year, the Intentionality and Inclusivity (I&I) Committee wrote a statement with the spring 2017 Managing Board for the Daily that dissuaded journalists from seeking “objectivity” above all else, and instead affirmed an important goal of our paper to “speak truth to power.” The Tufts Daily is not an apolitical space — decisions on what to publish and not publish reflect choices made by leading editors, and these choices are informed by bias, context and other beliefs.
The I&I Committee has lacked transparency about our relationship with The Tufts Daily, one of the most powerful institutions on campus. As the current members of the I&I Committee, we want to use this op-ed space to be explicit about what we have been doing within the Daily.
I&I has been holding weekly meetings in the Daily office since 2013 to discuss journalistic ethics as well as to work on projects to educate our staff of 200+ writers and editors, with some of our initiatives on our website. The Daily’s current managing board includes an editor-in-chief, two managing editors, one associate editor and a production director. Throughout the year, two to three of these members typically come to our meetings.
Engagement between I&I and the Daily’s staff changes from year to year. In the past, many of our own members have been executive editors and writers of various sections or former managing board members. Others join I&I without having been part of the Daily before. It has been difficult to solicit any feedback from staff about I&I’s work, and though we offer writer resources, such as a style guide created this past semester with terminology and story frames to address frequently discriminated-against social groups, very few writers have brought specific concerns to us. Efforts to hold staff-wide trainings and discussions have often felt forced and unnatural, giving us the sense our efforts were burdensome to those who were not already focusing on social justice self-education in their own time. So, when staff told us that we had been referred to by leaders of the paper as the “PC Police” and that we would ‘come after’ writers no matter what they do, we came to truly understand how certain members saw us.
This year, our internal dialogue about the arts column “Is This Thing On? Surveying the rap scene” became one of the most revealing moments of the relationship between I&I and managing board, as well as the Daily’s position on campus.
As brought to our attention by black students on this campus, the writer’s column carried many harmful and uninformed iterations of stereotypes about black people and rappers. As Issay Matsumoto writes in his account published on the Tufts Observer website, the writer’s column passed before multiple eyes before it was published. What followed was more than one, but not enough, conversations with members of the managing board about why this column ‘slipped through,’ and how this could be prevented in the future.
Despite the 1 a.m. deadline each morning, executives often uphold that deadlines can be delayed and articles can be removed under case-by-case circumstances. Yet when moments of conflict with the Tufts community occur, they are often chalked up as ‘mistakes’ that would not have happened had there been more time to give full attention to the article. We believe that time is not the Daily’s largest issue — it is a culture of insensitivity and the prioritization of professionalism over social-awareness that makes our coverage hurtful and untrustworthy.
Instead of re-evaluating what biases the managing board and the Arts Section within the Daily might have, the quick apology and removal of the column reflected their desire to sweep the issue under the rug and forget about holding actors accountable. After Issay’s piece was submitted to the editors Monday evening for Wednesday’s issue, two members of the managing board met with Issay in an attempt to understand his concerns. However, he felt that his efforts to offer helpful criticism were not trusted and treated with respect, and that the two high-level members did not acknowledge the power imbalance when talking to the first-year writer.
One of I&I’s key roles should be to encourage writers to voice their discomfort and marginalization within the Daily, and we strongly supported the publication of Issay’s piece. For us, how Issay’s concerns were ignored spoke directly to the way that Daily culture did not welcome writers who wish to speak against harmful biases and management in the paper. Though Issay was a member of I&I and had referred to our committee in his piece, and we had indicated to members of managing board that Issay had allowed I&I to see it before he filed the article, I&I had almost no say in whether or not it would be published. This indicated to us that the board was not willing to change or truly recognize its power on campus. As the managing board changes every semester, it’s the responsibility of each new board to uphold high standards of journalistic integrity in a consistent manner. It was not fair that this semester’s board could make a decision that could determine the ethical stances of the Daily.
We want to make clear the ways that efforts of inclusivity do not always translate into structural change and better staffroom culture, and that having a group committed to these types of efforts is not enough, especially when the relationship between the two parties has not always been clearly defined.
However, we recognize that we opened up a much needed space for considering the ethics of student journalism on campus that responds to specific practices in ways that journalism classes, for example, cannot. We joined an institution, The Tufts Daily, because we believe in the civic responsibilities of journalism and have high hopes and expectations for a publication that holds the power to inform an entire campus and hold those in power accountable. Throughout our time at the Daily, we have met individuals and allies who are sensitive, hard-working, open-minded and thoughtful. I&I exists because we have been trying to hold accountable an institution that has mistreated so many people we love and care about on this campus.
In light of this, we are in conversation with administration in hopes that next year we can put in place a Media Advocacy Board (MAB) consisting of leaders from different publications that can operate as a third-party commentary on publications that represent people on campus. In the past, the MAB has honored an ombudsman position or “public editor” who has served as “impartial officials who generally investigate and address complaints made against a publication, government agency, corporation or other entity.” We implore students who find this issue of power and representation important to join this effort and invite them to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former and current chairs of the 2018 Intentionality and Inclusivity Committee