Editor-in-chief resigns: Explaining the change

MARC ALLAN | mallan@butler.edu | Public Editor

With its editor resigning twice—and the staff accepting her resignation the second time—The Collegian closes the semester on a rough note.

But I am confident the paper will be back stronger, and hopefully with a staff that is wiser about the importance of conducting itself ethically at all times.

Yes, there are far worse journalistic sins than what former Editor-in-Chief Marais Jacon-Duffy did, which was to secretly record an interview with Elizabeth Mix, Faculty Senate chair and associate professor of art history. Google Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, the News of the World phone hacking and the Mirage series, just to name five examples.

But in all journalism, trust is vital. If newsmakers cannot trust reporters, the lines of communication shut down. If readers cannot trust the contents of their newspaper, there is no newspaper.

One of the best and brightest members of The Collegian staff asked me why the staff had to accept the resignation when the newspaper is an independent entity.

It is an excellent question. As I explained to him, everyone is technically independent, except that everyone is interconnected. You can be as independent as you want, but you do have to answer to others. The Collegian is part of the university. The paper has space in a university building and depends on some university funding. The staff members are students in the university.

Eventually, independent or not, you answer to many people.

School of Journalism chair Nancy Whitmore and Collegian faculty adviser Loni McKown explained to the staff last week that this is not about one person. This is about the newspaper and the journalism program at Butler. And beyond that, it is about the value of the students’ degrees. They are working on a newspaper that has won three national first-place awards in the last three years for excellent journalism. That is what they want to be known for—not for being part of a program where ethics are considered secondary.

“The things that are most important to me are the reputation of The Butler Collegian and that it continues publishing as it has since 1886 and that it continues to be the voice of the student,” McKown told me. “The other important thing to me is that it maintains a reputation for excellence, which is what is expected of them. Even though they are students, they strive for that standard of excellence, and it is demanded of them.”

I expect that Ben Sieck and Mallory Duncan, who are overseeing the paper for the rest of the semester, and the next editor, who will take over in January, will do absolutely everything they can to establish, and in some cases rebuild, the Butler community’s trust.

If there is any good to come from this situation, it is what Whitmore told me last week. She pointed out that Butler journalism students are taught to interview and use a voice recorder. “And at no time do we ever, ever say that it is OK to start taping without the source acknowledging that it is OK to tape. So we are going to be doubling down on ethics in the classroom as a result.”

When we send ethical journalists into the world, Butler is doing the university, the public and the world of journalism a great service.