Editor in Chief responds to ethical concerns

Marais Jacon-Duffy | Editor in Chief

The past few days have been the most trying I have ever faced as a journalist, as a leader of a team and as a student.

I found the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” to be all too true. I have always known critics of The Collegian, and I have seen how they can both shake and strengthen a staff. I am proud of the strength that our staff has shown in such a difficult time.

Following an interview, a source reached out to someone involved with The Collegian—I am still unsure when and to whom the concerns were sent—to relay concerns with my reporting practices. I was told that the source, Elizabeth Mix, chair of the Faculty Senate and a Butler professor, interpreted the placement of my recording device during an interview, paired with my attempt at a joke, as deceptive and secretive.

I was stunned, to say the least, when The Collegian’s faculty advisor called me the next morning and presented two options: resign as editor in chief or be removed from my position.

I was stunned for a few reasons.

First, I was surprised to hear there were concerns because no concern was expressed by the source during or after the interview. It lasted about a half hour and the source even stuck around to chat and said, “I hope to talk to you again,” at the end of the interview.

Second, I was surprised that no one asked me my side of the story before making such a large decision affecting me and The Collegian staff.

Finally, I felt the measures were too drastic given the circumstances. I was surprised my intention to accurately record an interview was misconstrued as deceptive or malicious in nature.

Writing notes while interviewing always leaves room for error, so recording the interview is a common practice that provides security and an extra way to check accuracy.

In addition, I am a student, as are all Collegian staffers. The Collegian is one of the best learning tools for students hoping for a career in journalism, but too harsh a level of scrutiny and sanction will never allow for successful learning and growing.

Nonetheless, I was told repeatedly my resignation was the best thing for the paper and the staff moving forward, and I did what I could to accept that fate.

To my surprise, my staff rejected this decision.

During a meeting on Monday night, I informed the staff of the recent events and the advice delivered by our advisor. I made it very clear that I was upset to have been asked to leave the staff and that it was a decision essentially presented to me as an ultimatum—leave or be removed.

Our advisor, also present at the meeting, explained the reasoning behind my removal. When a discussion started concerning who would serve as interim editor in chief, the staff began to voice concerns.

“This seems too extreme,” the assistant opinion editor said.

“We are just students and we’re learning,” the design chief said.

The current opinion editor said he plans to run for editor in chief the following semester, but said stepping in at this time would be “messed up.”

Our advisor then mentioned the staff’s option to vote to overturn my resignation, an option that I did not know existed (our advisor said she forgot to mention this option). The staff demanded a vote, which resulted in a unanimous decision to keep me as editor in chief.

I had no expectation of leaving that meeting on Monday night as editor in chief of The Collegian. I anticipated a hard breakup, in a sense, with something that meant so much to me. But the strength and conviction of the staff prevailed, and I was moved by their passionate arguments. Because of them, I will continue in my role for the rest of the semester when I graduate.

Our advisor reacted to the vote by saying that she “was hoping this would happen.”

My loyalty as a leader is to my staff. My loyalty as a journalist is to our readers. I seek the truth and report it. I do all I can to avoid causing harm in my work. I work without being swayed by outside sources. I have never worked deceptively and I continuously operate in a way that promotes transparency and fairness.

I apologized to the newspaper staff for any hardship or stress this experience caused for them. I apologize to readers if, perhaps, my distraction in dealing with this matter took anything away from our typical coverage. Readers are still and always will be the first priority of The Collegian, no matter what troubles come our way. The decision made by The Collegian staff was made with the readers’ best interest in mind.

The Collegian’s role on campus is integral, as a resource, a service and a tool for student journalists to practice their craft. I hope that this truth prevails beyond any conflicts now or in the future.