It’s a generally accepted notion in the journalism world that news reporters and news writers should not be news makers. The members of a newspaper staff must adhere to certain standards of objectivity that allow them to provide readers with credible, unbiased information. As the voice of the student body, they must keep their own opinions closely in check.Makes good sense when you think about it.
However, there should be a balance; an affiliation with one’s campus newspaper should not come with an automatic obligation to always keep one’s mouth shut. As college students, and especially as students at Mills, we are taught to be passionate, to seek justice, to use our power as strong, proud, educated women to fight for what we feel is right.
The members of the Campanil staff are no exception. But as journalists, we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it.
This I know, because several weeks ago I became a newsmaker.
In February, I spoke out in defense of a staff member in the Division of Student Life; someone crucial to the Career Services Office who does not know if the College will enable her department to keep her here past June.
Thinking that student support could make a critical difference in the retention of this employee, I created an online petition. In one week it garnered nearly 100 signatures.
I was later told that I didn’t understand the situation, and that no one should have said anything to me about it in the first place. I should have remained in the dark, they said.
Didn’t the College learn anything two years ago, after Joanna Iwata was ousted? No one bothered to give any explanation as to why the then dean of students, a friend, mentor, and role model for many, suddenly packed up and left halfway through the semester. The College’s secrecy resulted in a massive student protest, a petition with over 300 signatures, and cries of hurt and outrage from hundreds of staff and students who felt treated as though their feelings weren’t worth dirt.
Does all that mean nothing now? Because I don’t want that vicious cycle to start again, I became a newsmaker. I overstepped a line I normally would have drawn as a journalist and spoke out against what I see as a huge problem on this campus. Mills has given me a voice, and it’s taken me almost three years to develop it and find enough courage to actually use it. So when I see an injustice that would affect me and others in a critical way, I am not going to sit quietly, journalist or not.
I know that I didn’t think through all the possible repercussions of my actions, and that I became a biased journalist. I didn’t understand the entire situation then, and I don’t now because no one will let me. But while I must be objective and unbiased, I’ve also learned that it’s okay to take risks and to fight back if one does it in a sensible and respectful way.
I could have approached this situation in a number of other ways that would have made it less sticky. But I stand firm in my belief that the College must honor and respect its students, faculty, and staff by making decisions that best serve their needs, and by being open and honest about those decisions.