Integrity and Respect in Campus Journalism
“Je suis Charlie”—a phrase waved like a flag by First Amendment activists following the attacks on French magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Free speech is undoubtedly important, and often times is key to a publication’s journalistic success. Without free speech, #BlackLivesMatter protesters might be silenced, American women may still be without basic civil rights such as voting, and The Wake Student Magazine might be government-regulated.
Free speech is a right, but one that should be handled with care, precision, and thoughtfulness. While we may not always agree with the imagery and words a publication chooses to publish, we respect their right to express themselves freely… under certain conditions: journalistic integrity, honesty, and with what’s best for the readers the publication claims to benefit. Journalists’ duties include, among many things, digging deep into what concerns us, and keeping checks on those with great power and loud voices. Sometimes, journalists check on government officials. Sometimes, prisons. And sometimes, the publications that live right across the hall.
A talk with Allison Maass of The MN Republic and Grace Birnstengel of The Wake.
Sitting down with the Editor-in-Chiefs of both The Wake and The Minnesota Republic provided further insight into some of the publication’s fundamental differences as well as its similarities. Both editors were interviewed separately and neither was given the questions ahead of time.
What is The Minnesota Republic’s organizational mission?
THE MINNESOTA REPUBLIC: You can find our actual mission statement word for word on our [Student Unions and Activities] page. But really our mission is just to provide an alternative view on campus.
What is The Wake’s organizational mission?
THE WAKE: The Wake’s organizational mission is to provide grounds for students to express themselves in a very open manner, but also learn how to do it in a way that strengthens their writing skills, and strengthens their research skills, and also gives them a community to meet new people.
What’s the budgeting process for The Minnesota Republic like? As far as student service fees and things like that.
THE MINNESOTA REPUBLIC: A majority of our budget is operational expenses, printing, paying writers, office stuff that we need, stuff like that. We do hold events though, so part of our budget is for programs. We are co-sponsoring Ron Paul coming next week, so some of our budget goes towards that.
As far as the breakdown for the budget and requested fees, where is some of that going?
THE WAKE: The total amount we are requesting for the 2015-2016 year is a little under $40,000. The majority of that goes to printing and paying wages and paying our rent. I would say that on wages, I know we spend $18,000 and that’s for a staff of about 20. Printing, I think it’s about $16,000 for the whole year and I can’t think off the top of my head what the rent and utilities are, but I think it’s somewhere around $11,000. And other things include some events that we plan.
I noticed on the application for the student service fees, you pay your advisor. I believe it was $5,000? Why do you choose to pay your advisor?
THE MINNESOTA REPUBLIC: He’s kind of staff. He does a lot. He helps us out a lot. To be honest, our kind of group, it’s not easy to find a faculty around here to help us out, um, the majority of professors aren’t really supportive of what we do. So it would be really hard to find somebody without paying them.
Do you think he still would have been your advisor had he not been compensated?
THE MINNESOTA REPUBLIC: I don’t know. That’s a really would-be situation.
So The Wake has an advisor, can you tell me about the advisor?
THE WAKE: Her name is Chelsea Reynolds, and she’s got a background in magazines, she ran her student magazine like we do now. We meet with her once a month and just talk about everything from what our upcoming features are going to be, to anything we’re struggling with, to conflicts on staff, to money, and she’s just super, super helpful and she does that for free.
Where would The Minnesota Republic divide between free speech and something hateful?
THE MINNESOTA REPUBLIC: I mean, where do you really draw the line, how can you ever define what’s offensive speech? I mean, all speech is protected in our eyes.
At what point does free speech become hate speech?
THE WAKE: I think when it’s doing more to harm a group of people than it’s doing good for what you’re trying to say. So it’s kind of just measuring that. And it’s definitely a hard thing to measure, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it’s hard to see the harm directly until after you’ve published something.
A closer look
The Minnesota Republic has stirred up controversy since its conception in 2011. With covers shouting phrases like “Celebrating White History Month” and “The Minnesota Republic: Terrorists Hate It,” this University-funded publication understandably raises the eyebrows of students and faculty alike. The monthly magazine self-identifies as a conservative voice on campus that aims to provide students with a more diverse political perspective. Running a right-wing publication is both necessary and risky on a liberal-leaning campus like ours, and The Minnesota Republic never shies away from addressing political issues from a conservative point-of-view. The way the student-run and University-funded publication handles those issues, however, is worth a second look.
From a journalistic standpoint, The Minnesota Republic is often questionable in its practices. Each issue boasts an impressive array of inflammatory headlines that are, on many occasions, poorly worded past the point of what is necessary or excusable. Articles that are satirical, mocking, or critical in nature often serve little to no purpose in informing readers and fail to incite valuable discussion due to a rampant lack of fairness and credibility. More times than not, the content’s discriminatory undertones overshadow what has the potential to be quality content.
Yet the apparent lack of sensitivity in itself is not a journalistic crime. The pushback of offended readers does not completely discredit The Minnesota Republic. In fact, opposing and unexpected coverage often adds to public discourse and proves healthy for the informed citizen—when it’s done well. While The Wake, among others, may be offended by what The Minnesota Republic publishes, we defend its right to publish what they want. Yet we wish the publication would do so in a more reverential way—a way that is respectful of journalism as a field, and respectful in its use of University resources.
Publications have a right to a political affiliation, to challenge the popular (or unpopular) opinion, and to rock the boat. But we believe there is a way to challenge thoughtfully. Statistics without backing, stories with biased sources, and operating on an inflated budget—these things are not journalism. They are not informative to the reader, nor are they helpful in opening a discussion.
The Wake believes in transparency. With this, we hope you can recognize the transparency that is currently lacking in The Minnesota Republic. While we cannot call ourselves a magazine without fault, we do pride ourselves on our values of journalistic integrity and respect for the University that makes our publication possible.
Checking the Facts
November 7, 2014: There is no War on Women here
An article published in The Minnesota Republic website on November 7, 2014 stated that a Gallup poll found 47 percent of women describe themselves as pro-choice, while 46 percent describe themselves as pro-life. In reality this was a poll of U.S. adults, both men and women, with the numbers for just women respondents coming in at 50 percent pro-choice, 41 percent pro-life.
The article also states that “rhetoric of a gap in compensation between men and women has also been shot down as a fallacy,” having no statistics in support of this claim. A 2013 Pew Research Center report estimates that women, on average, earn 84 cents for every $1 made by men.
Focusing locally, a 2015 research report by the Association of American University Women found that Minnesota ranks 19th in the nation for median earnings of women compared to men, with women earning 80% of what men make. Furthermore, Hispanic or Latina women make 54% of what white men make, and African American women make 59%.
February 28, 2015: The business side of abortion
An article published on February 28, 2015 in The Minnesota Republic stated that Planned Parenthood’s (PPFA) “government subsidies have resulted in over $700 million in profits.” While the date is unclear, PPFA received $540.6 million in government funding for 2014. This number is also incorrectly stated later as $528 million. Also, PPFA’s profits are later inconsistently listed at “over $127 million last year.”
The article also stated that Charmaine Yoest, a speaker at an event called “Supply Side Strategy: Exposing and Confronting the Abortion Industry as Big Business” on Feb. 28 in Maryland, said “full term pregnancy can reduce the chances of a woman developing breast cancer in the future.” No statistics were listed to support this claim. According to the National Cancer Institute, some factors associated with pregnancy may reduce while other may increase the chances of breast cancer. Specifying this difference would have helped with clarity in The Minnesota Republic article.
Also in the article, an included claim says that abortions take up “94 percent of the PPFA’s pregnancy related services in 2014.” According to PPFA’s 2014 annual report, the three pregnancy related services they offer are pregnancy tests, prenatal services, and abortion procedures. Of the number of those services totaling 1,475,120 instances, abortions made up 22.21 percent of services in 2014.
December 6, 2014: Galactic Fiesta Becomes a Fiasco
An article published on December 6, 2014 in The Minnesota Republic defined the term “cultural appropriation” as “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, specifically the use by cultural outsiders.” However, according to Oxford Reference, cultural appropriation is “the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another… is used to describe Western appropriations of non?Western or non?white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.” Therefore, the comparisons made between the Mexican-themed party and St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, and Oktoberfest misrepresent cultural appropriation.
In addition, The Minnesota Republic’s use of the term “hate crime” to describe the celebration of Oktoberfest is inaccurate. According to Congress and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Celebrating a holiday is in itself not a crime, making this an inappropriate comparison.
The Minnesota Republic lists Professor Christopher Phelan’s letter to the editor in The Minnesota Daily that supported the controversial party. However, The Minnesota Republic failed to mention that another letter to the editor written by a student at the University criticized the party and emphasized the negative effects of cultural appropriation.
Check out the rest of the feature at issuu.com/wakemag/.