Freedom of the press is threatened each and every day at a local, national, and international level. Within the United States, we enjoy constitutional protection of our most basic freedoms of speech and press; the same can be said here at Swarthmore for the most part. However, with the rise of President-elect Trump, the national and international press are entering into new territory. They no longer have an ally like President Obama within the White House, who protects free and independent journalism. Instead, the press is being antagonized by President-elect Trump, who is accusing media outlets of applying bias and liberal skew to their portrayal of every issue. Undoubtedly, certain networks are politically biased and slanted. However, the press serves an absolutely critical role as the fourth estate, an institution that has an unparalleled ability to monitor and report upon governmental affairs. It then falls upon us as citizens to ensure that we are consuming media that is transparent and reputable, spreading truth rather than misinformation. This becomes essential amidst reports of fabricated news stories and false claims, especially when these fallacious statements are being spread by someone as powerful as the President-elect himself.
The Phoenix strives to uphold a high standard of transparency and journalistic integrity as we conduct our affairs on campus. However, we have run into some obstacles in the past. We hope to work with faculty, staff, students, and the community to overcome these hurdles. We write this editorial in hopes that we can move forward and achieve progress together.
Most recently, when tasked with covering a story involving the Student Government Organization, the Phoenix became aware of the circumstance that members of SGO must present their statements to the Co-Presidents of SGO before releasing them to campus publications. The Phoenix was, unsurprisingly, unable to find students willing to go on the record to discuss the reason why this policy was enacted. However, we denounce such practices as inherently opposed to the free flow of independent information between members of SGO and campus journalists. Providing objective and unbiased coverage of the ongoings of campus institutions is near impossible when we are unable to gather untampered quotes and information from all relevant stakeholders and sources; the news we are able to present can only unbiased and impartial when our sources, be they students, faculty, or administration, cooperate fully and are willing to be quoted on the record and not regulated by the voices of others. We encourage SGO to work to create a more transparent and open dialogue with campus publications to ensure continued accountability as they pursue various policy agendas.
Furthermore, criticisms of coverage of on-campus events by student journalists can often be proactively resolved if the campus community engages openly and honestly with those student journalists.The journalistic process is severely impeded when no students of a particular constituency are willing to comment on a given issue. The Phoenix strives to include as many perspectives as possible, but the Phoenix also recognizes that the nature of journalism makes this task particularly difficult in certain instances. As per our policies, the Phoenix staff also recognizes that the newspaper’s audience is a small campus community; therefore, reporters and editors continue to strive for a balance between reporting events accurately and respecting the privacy of community members. However, the Phoenix asks the college community to continually engage with student journalists and work with them in the pursuit of comprehensive news coverage.
The Phoenix staff has also noticed an increase in the number of requests for anonymous quotes and anonymously published op-eds this semester. Anonymous sources undermine the integrity of campus journalism and detract from our stated mission to keep institutions accountable. The senior editors may choose to publish submissions without the writer’s name in exceptional circumstances only. In no case will the Phoenix publish the name of anyone submitting a letter or op-ed with a request for anonymous publication. Letters may be signed by a maximum of five individuals. Op-eds may be signed by a maximum of two individuals. The Phoenix will not accept pieces exclusively attributed to groups, although individual writers may request that their group affiliation be included.
Furthermore, when the Phoenix is forced to publish stories with the disclaimer that certain sources were unable to be successfully contacted, we inevitably and reluctantly provide an unobjective and limited view of an issue; this is not the type of journalism we wish to pursue or engage in, and we rely on the members of the college community to aid us in this pursuit.
Despite the challenges the press may face on a national or international level, the media continues to be one of the most valuable institutions to hold governments, institutions, and individuals responsible for their actions and words. We want to maintain and improve our standards of journalistic integrity, and seek the support of each and every one of you in this endeavor.