Monday, February 26, 2007

I'm no Donald Trump, but...

Journalists are weird.

I’m not talking about the dorky smile that briefly – very briefly – can be found on a reporter’s face just after receiving news that a local politician was arrested for driving a lawnmower under the influence of alcohol on his way to a sex store.

Most people would gag; we’d smile.

But that’s not the weirdness I’m talking about.

Journalists are weird because we’re rebels who love rules.

There is nothing we love more than a story about someone who goes against the status quo, who makes noise just so someone will pay attention to them, who shakes things up and makes people question their values and beliefs.

But we’re also the watchdogs of society, which means that it’s our job to make sure everyone else is following the “rules.”

Watch out, public figures. With power comes privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility.

And we’re here to make sure that power stays in check, by making sure you follow the rules.

So you better believe we’ve got a list of our own.

It’s called ethics, and no newspaper or media outlet has any credibility without an ethics code of its own.

And that leads me to my next point.

There’s a stigma that follows newspapers, and I don’t quite understand where it came from.

For some reason, there’s a popular belief that newspapers do not have the right to terminate employees who break the rules, particularly when the rule-breaking has something to do with speaking publicly.

Newspapers, like any company or organization, require their employees to abide by a set of rules. These obviously change from organization to organization, but they are nonetheless in place to protect the company and the employees.

When employees, or staff members in the case of the Collegian, break these rules, they are subject to consequences. In some cases, those consequences include dismissal.

But still, there are accusations of free speech violations and excessive censorship when a journalist is fired for something they say or do in public that does not measure up to the ethical standards of their employer.

Anyone has the right to free speech. No one has the right to be employed at a newspaper. That is a privilege.

At the Collegian, we hold our staff members to high standards and require them to act professionally on and off the job, particularly when they are representing the Collegian and responding to criticism.

I don’t know why you’d expect any less.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You've reached the complaint desk...

I was the proud mother of 200 kids yesterday morning.

Granted they’re actually adults and childbirth is something I’m saving for many years from now, but I swear a motherly pride washed over me when I saw the newspaper and the enthusiasm in my fellow students’ faces as they looked over it in the Willard Building yesterday.

One look at the Thon coverage on the front page gave me goosebumps. The hard work of both Thon members to raise $5.2 million for the Four Diamonds Fund and Collegian staff members to show everyone the power of this event was captured in that photo, that headline, those stories.

And then the phone calls started.

Out of 18 stories, 20 photos and numerous other elements, we almost had a perfect record - almost.

Unfortunately, there were a couple minor facts a couple reporters got wrong.

In one case, the wrong greek organizations were reported to have raised the most money. In the other case, there was a name misspelled.

You probably wouldn’t believe the number of irate people calling to complain about our apparent lapse in competence.

One girl who called actually called the Collegian “obnoxious” for citing the wrong frat.

I can play the part of the unaffected, thick-skinned editor in chief fairly effectively, but it’s going too far when someone calls my staff members “obnoxious” for spending weeks planning coverage, sacrificing their weekend by reporting all hours into the night and basically working their butts off to satisfy the average Penn State’s lust for Thon.

It’s really not hard to believe if you imagine interviewing someone in an atmosphere with constant music blaring, hundreds of people surrounding you and possibly a Campbell’s Soup or Rita’s costume hovering you that a reporter could hear an “a” instead of an “e” in someone’s name.

I’m not trying to make excuses, honestly.

We take it seriously when we mess up, and we run corrections when they are warranted. We’ll do that in this case, of course.

But I’m defending my staff members in this case.

Obnoxious? Ha!

I think they’re fantastic.

Monday, February 12, 2007

If you haven't heard, Thon's this weekend

For some reason, newsrooms are havens for procrastinators.

I think it has to do with journalists’ addiction to pressure, deadlines and intensity.

Long-term planning? Boo. Detail? Ick. Anything less than 15 things to do at one time? Boring.

We thrive under pressure – kinda like athletes, without the cardio training and ability to stay away from junk food.

But every once in a while, usually against our will, we’re forced to think more than one day ahead of time.

At The Daily Collegian there’s a few newsworthy events that we can count on every year. Football games, state appropriations hearings in Harrisburg, Board of Trustees meetings…you get the idea.

And then there’s Thon.

No event at Penn State or in State College requires more planning on the part of the Collegian’s news staff than the largest student-run philanthropy in the nation.

To begin with, Thon has traditionally been a 48-hour marathon of anything and everything Penn State students can come up with to occupy themselves and the Four Diamonds families for that amount of time.

Any minute the Collegian isn’t there, we could be missing something our readers would be interested knowing about.

So part of our coverage of Thon – which begins this Friday and runs through Sunday – is to make sure we have at least one reporter and usually one photographer somewhere on the premises for the entire event.

Reporters and photographers take shifts just like the morale committee does. Each shift is responsible for finding a story and reporting it.

It’s an awesome responsibility and one that we don’t take lightly.

That’s why planning for this year’s Thon coverage began weeks ago.

(By the way, there’s a reason why there aren't any members of the Collegian’s News Division dancing in Thon for this organization. It’s called a conflict of interest.)

Thon’s different than most big news events the Collegian covers in that it affects almost everyone at this school.

Only football and tuition issues really compare.

It’s the talk of the town when it’s Thon weekend – and Collegian reporters and photographers will be doing their best this year, as in years past, to let you know what you missed when you were sleeping at 3 a.m.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Booze is news

Flip through the pages of today’s Collegian, and you might notice one subject Penn State students can’t seem to get enough of.

As much as Penn State administrators, borough officials, state legislators and your parents might hate to admit it, there’s really no denying that alcohol is a big part of many students’ college experience.

That’s why we devote as many inches in our newspaper to it as we do. And it’s especially why we’re running a weekly feature this semester called Alcohol Proof that profiles different members of the community affected by the alcohol culture in State College.

The idea behind the series was motivated by the Collegian’s desire to reflect our readership’s interest in booze – responsibly. The issue of alcohol at Penn State can be looked at from many different perspectives, so that’s what we’re doing with this series.

Today’s installment, written by staff writer Erin McCracken, follows a State College Police Department officer during a routine night on duty when he encounters several intoxicated students and residents.

We can neither ignore its influence on our readership nor ignore the ramifications that come with glorifying it.

We hope readers come away with, at the very least, an appreciation for the opinions on each side of the issue.