To the Emory Community,
Last week, the Wheel broke the news through a Facebook post that members of College Council (CC) secured comedian and actor Maulik Pancholy for their Culture Shock event on Nov. 9. Understandably, CC representatives were frustrated that the Wheel released this information before they had a chance to execute a publicity strategy.
CC representatives asked us to take down the Facebook post and to hold the article until they released the news first. We declined. And after much back and forth, CC representatives declined to speak with Wheel reporters about Pancholy or Culture Shock in general.
The Wheel’s decision to run with the story and refusal to remove the Facebook post may seem like an illogical and ego-driven decision. CC representatives’ refusal to speak with us about Culture Shock has prompted us to clarify our role in the community. Clearly, we have not been transparent enough with our internal processes or the rationale behind certain decisions.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with our readers a little bit about how and why the Wheel makes certain decisions.
The purpose of the Wheel, or any news organization for that matter, is to accurately and honestly inform the public. Our perception of reality informs our decisions. And if our perceptions are inaccurate, our decisions will be misguided. It is the job of the newspaper to provide the honest facts that shape our reality and help us make the best decisions possible. For example, the Wheel’s coverage of the department changes in fall 2012 provided the community with in-depth information about the situation that was otherwise not available.
A journalist’s dedication to the truth can do more than just inform his or her readers, however.
An honest and comprehensive article has the potential to influence great political and social change. For example, in 1997, journalist Sonia Nazario published a series called “Orphans of Addiction,” which followed the lives of children whose parents were drug addicts. This piece led to systemic reforms in the way child abuse is handled.
Even though we are reporting on the Emory community and not, for example, the U.S. government, the decisions we make every day have consequences. A factual error in the Wheel has the potential to seriously damage someone’s reputation or career. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we have a system in place to ensure consistency and ethical practice. Accordingly, the Wheel has certain guidelines, which are reflective of the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) code of ethics, to guide our decision-making and practices. The Wheel aims to seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.
When a Wheel reporter heard that CC members secured Pancholy for Culture Shock, he or she first aimed to seek the truth by verifying the information with two reliable sources within CC, as is consistent with Wheel policy. The CC sources, who verified Pancholy’s involvement with the event, asked to remain anonymous. And although we try to veer away from using anonymous sources — which asks our readers to trust our judgment without giving them all the facts — we granted these CC sources anonymity in order to minimize harm: attributing this information might have compromised their positions within CC.
Once the information was public, we could not remove the post without compromising accountability. If Wheel editors verified that someone deep within the administration committed a felony and published it on Facebook, I’m sure many administrators would ask we take it down. In this scenario, it is clear that the post, if true, should remain on Facebook. So where do we draw the line?
Perhaps these rules seem arbitrary or unrealistic, but they are the rules that have guided ethical and successful journalists for years. We at the Wheel intend to do all we can to remain ethical, honest and as transparent as possible. We believe these guidelines will ensure we accomplish this goal.
If you would like an explanation for any Wheel decision or policy, please do not hesitate to email Editor-in-Chief Arianna Skibell at firstname.lastname@example.org