Monday, September 12, 2016

Journalists Are Supposed to Provide a Forum for Public Criticism, Right?

Temple will play Penn State in football this weekend and at some point during the festivities, Penn State will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno's first game as PSU's head coach.

Citing the conviction of a former football coach for sexual assault against children, the student-run newspaper took issue with the idea of celebrating Paterno:

"Paterno has not been a member of this university’s staff since 2011," wrote Lauren Davis, the opinions editor at The Daily Collegian. "He is no longer a community hero. Paterno was a remarkable part of this university for numerous years, and for that we have the right to be thankful. For those who attended Penn State while he was here, he has every right to remain a legend. He was a hero, and no one wants to see their hero fall.

But in light of these past years — even these past few weeks — this is in no way the right time or manner to 'commemorate' him, if he even deserves to be so."

The news organization has received hundreds of angry comments online.

"How old is the idiot who wrote this?" asked a commenter whose occupation is listed as a teacher's assistant at a Catholic school.

Other comments are much worse and some get rather personal.

Multiple questions arise from this:

1. Even if this story is in the "opinions" section, is it acceptable for the journalist to take sides?
2. Would you be able to take an (apparently) unpopular opinion and put it into the world like this?
3. How would you react/respond to the critics? Would you state your case again or just allow them to vent?
4. As a journalist trying to be comprehensive, should you invite a leader of the opposite viewpoint to write their side of the story?
5. In a digital world, an essay like this could follow you. Some potential sources, employers, friends, whomever might find it and judge you based upon what you wrote. Would that make you reconsider the opinion or would you go for it anyway?


Teresa Sayers said...

One of the principals of journalism is that journalist must remain independent. I feel that in this situation, the journalist remained independent, and followed the principals. Because she told the unpopular opinion, and was willing to speak out in a way and place where she knew she would be reprimanded, I have more respect for her.
I feel one of the best parts of being a journalist is having the power to stand up for what you believe in and speak in your mind in an open way. As a journalist you have the power and means to speak for those who could have their voices heard by themselves. I feel that by speaking up like this she spoke for so many people who would not have been heard otherwise. I feel she spoke out for the victims, and that is one of the most important things about her article.

If I were in her situation, I would hope that I would have the courage to stand up for what I believe in. I would also just let the critics comment. I would feel as though I already said my peace, and they also deserve to say their opinions.

The fact that an article like the one that was published could hinder future jobs and opportunities would definitely make me think twice about publishing it. But, in the end, I would want an employer who would respect me for speaking out and taking a stand.

Zach Kocis said...

I think it's dangerous when someone lets others' opinions, such as future employers, friends, and family, influence their decision to voice their own opinion in writing or aloud. If a future employer chooses to discriminate against you based on your personal opinions, even though you may do good work, then are they really worth working for? If you change your mind in the future, it's important that you provide a thoughtful response as to why you did. Because it's an opinion piece, it's perfectly acceptable for the journalist to take a side. After all, that's what an opinion is. I think it's important to welcome the criticism and different opinions, and respond to them in a thoughtful way. That approach fosters the discussion of new ideas. If we simply went along with everyone else, we wouldn't get anywhere. Part of being objective is listening and presenting other viewpoints.
I believe I would be able to publish an unpopular opinion like this. As a journalist, you have to be able to deal with critics and stand up for yourself, remain independent.

Siani Colon said...

I believe it was acceptable for the journalist to take a side. For one, it was in the opinion section which provides a free space for people to voice said opinions. I believe it was very commendable for them to have the courage to step forward and voice an opinion that would be especially controversial on their own campus. While journalist should not be biased, they also should not just stand-by especially in situations of injustice. By speaking up, they are creating a discussion and giving a platform to those who may have been afraid to say anything. While it may be difficult to print an unpopular opinion because of the reaction, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is very opinionated. In the real world, no one agrees on everything and you shouldn’t try to pander to your audience with an opinion you don’t even believe in. If you’re voicing an opinion whether it’s popular or not, it should be done in a respectful manner and reasons to back up why you believe so. Critics can be vicious and you can’t respond to every single one. I believe depending on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, take those critiques into account. In other cases, it’s best to just keep moving forward and stand your ground if you truly believe in it. Maybe it’s a good idea to introduce the opposite opinion, but point out the flaws in it. How people treat you depending on your opinion really depends on the severity of it. If an opinion is hateful, it’s understandable that employers might turn away. However, opinions change over time and the person as a whole should be evaluated instead of that one thing.

Walter Kirby said...

I do not believe it was acceptable for the journalist to take a side on the story. Although taking sides in stories has become increasingly common in journalism, that does not make it acceptable. Having conservative or liberal views should be kept personal when political news outlets produce news. CNN and Fox News should not be allowed to show their bias aloud because it takes away from the actual story itself. The bias draws viewers to agree or disagree with the journalist who is taking a side. The focus should not be on the journalist; it should be on the story. So in this case, taking a side on whether or not Paterno should be commemorated takes away from the actually event. The point this story actually appeared in the newspaper is because the football team decided to put Paterno in the light of the public and honor his successes as a coach on the field. That is what the story should be. The story should not be on whether on not Paterno should be honored. The journalist should simply keep his/her opinion to the side and write a fact-based article on why Paterno is being honored, which is because of his on-field coaching, not because of his poor locker room awareness.