In our Nov. 14 editorial, Pipe Dream’s Editorial Board responded to the events that took place at Northwestern University. Later that day, we found ourselves in a similar situation, and it’s become a moment of self-reflection for our organization.
On Thursday, Pipe Dream covered a protest that arose in response to a tabling event hosted by Binghamton University’s chapters of College Republicans and Turning Point USA, a conservative group that broadly supports President Donald Trump and his policies. While covering the situation, Pipe Dream staff members took photographs of protesters and students tabling and posted several images on Pipe Dream’s social media accounts. Hours later, many students began commenting on the photos and expressed they felt the photos displayed a false narrative about the event, one linked to a historical narrative of people of color as aggressors in protest situations which has been perpetuated by media outlets in the past.
Since then, Pipe Dream has seen criticism from several student organizations, some of which criticized the photos we posted and others which voiced concerns about bias against conservative students in our written coverage.
While we maintain the stance we took in our editorial regarding the situation at Northwestern University, experiencing backlash from our own readers isn’t something we can or should ignore. Instead, we’d like to take this opportunity to explain the flaws in our editorial process that led to the situation we find ourselves in, as well as how we intend to do better in the future.
The photographs used in our Instagram post were chosen for their quality and perspective. For the purpose of getting breaking news out as quickly as possible, content editors — not our photo editors — curated the photographs that would ultimately make it into the Instagram post. In the course of delivering news in as timely a manner as possible, the potential impacts of the photos were not fully taken into consideration. Many students consequently responded to the post to communicate their displeasure with the results of that decision, and since then, Pipe Dream staff has been having an ongoing conversation about how our photographs ultimately reflected on the event — and ourselves.
Media outlets have historically done a disservice to people of color in their selective reporting, and in many ways they continue to do so today. We recognize that systemic racism finds its ways into media and that we are not immune to it, but it’s something that we have tried actively working against, and we will continue to look for the methods of reporting that enable us to do that.
Our intentions were never to portray anything but the truth, but with so many students telling us that our photographs illustrated a different story, it is hard to deny that they can be interpreted as something else. This also extends to the accusations of biased reporting following the publication of our news article on the protest. Although it’s not easy to maintain an unbiased position in reporting the news, we stand by our reporting, which documented what happened on campus, and believe that our article accurately describes the details surrounding the protest as it unfolded around us.
It’s important that we maintain our journalistic integrity. It has been a long-standing policy that we do not retract our published work, and it is our belief that we should not make an exception here. Should we remove the photos in question, we would have to honor any further requests to remove content because it is believed to portray an illegitimate narrative. Being put in the position of deciding whether photos should be taken down is not something we believe is right. It would lead us into the complicated issue of appearing to take sides, challenging us as an objective news source. Instead, we will continue our current policy going forward, but with greater caution and perspective in choosing what is fit to publicize.
This is a difficult decision to make, but we feel a responsibility to uphold our journalistic standards. Going forward, we’ll be exploring ways to better report the news to BU students. We want to do more than just make an empty promise to our readership, and so we’ve discussed a number of ways that we can make meaningful improvements. For example, when choosing photos to tell a story, photo editors and other staff members will have greater say in what is selected before any posts or publications. We’re also considering holding a community outreach event in the next few months where we’ll be able to explain our journalistic process in greater detail for anyone who would like to know more — an important component of media outreach and education. In the meantime, we’ll be inviting our contributors into our productions as a way of spreading knowledge about how our paper comes into being. We’ll also be exploring other options to educate our staff, such as sensitivity training. Lastly, we will continue to maintain the office hours we have posted in front of our office should anyone wish to speak with us to raise concerns or provide feedback.
As BU’s only independent, student-run newspaper, we value all criticism we receive from our readers and fellow students. When we encounter the type of criticism we did last week, we will strive to use it as an opportunity to improve. Our work as a news organization will forever remain a work in progress and having these conversations will help us improve when we falter. We encourage any students who feel there was an error in our reporting to participate in this dialogue and help us become better through it. We’re not excluded from the community we report to, just as the community isn’t excluded from the work we do. We want our readers to trust that when they pick up our paper or open our website they’re getting nothing but the truth, and that can only happen if we push ourselves to be as transparent as possible. In other words: We hear you, and we will continue to work to do better.