Ten Steps to Surviving Reader Outrage
Abstract: In the Spring of 2003, the student newspaper at the University of Hawaiʻi printed satirical Valentines’ Day articles and then cartoons on the opinions pages that some considered to be misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Campus organizations called for the firing of the writers, the opinions editor, and his cartoonist; mandatory and on-going civil rights training; and mandatory contracts with columnists requiring them to abide by canons of journalistic ethics. The University’s then Chancellor Peter Englert and US Senator Daniel Inouye vowed they would do something. In the end no one was fired; no training was mandated; no contracts had to be signed.
Ten Steps For Student Editor to Survive Reader Outrage
- Editor should meet with the aggrieved parties as often as they request and listen sympathetically.
- Editor should consider requiring desk editors to submit for the editor in chief’s prior review anything that might be sensitive and publish policy for handling sensitive material in the newspaper.
- Editor should consider disciplining staff who consciously abuse their First Amendment responsibilities.
- Editor should discuss the issue with reporters from the commercial daily, weeklies, television states and websites who may report about the controversy.
- Editor should insist that all letters to the editor about the issue be published even after the two week cut off that an opinions editor may apply to letters on an issue.
- Editor should direct the news editor to report on the controversy and why it happened.
- Editor should consider coordinating a public forum on the rights and responsibilities of the press that features one of the newspaper’s critics. Cover the forum.
- Editor should remind the publishing board of its responsibility to uphold the First Amendment rights of the student newspaper before it meets with the community. Make sure the board speaks with one voice on the issue to the community.
- Editor should consider having the faculty advisor meet with administrators to explain the rights and responsibilities of student media and why administrative prior review will make the university liable for future content.
- Editor should support training for incoming editors that includes the American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles or Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics as a reminder that the First Amendment is not a blanket freedom and that editors are liable for the content of the newspaper and answerable to the students whose fees support the publication.
ARTICLE I - Responsibility. The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people.
ARTICLE II - Freedom of the Press. Freedom of the press belongs to the people.
ARTICLE IV - Truth and Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism.
ARTICLE VI - Fair Play. Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports.