Within hours of the Torch being distributed last Wednesday, several student organizations posted a statement to Instagram announcing a boycott of the Torch in response to our front page story. The story, entitled “Call For Action: Gempesaw to Meet With Students Thursday” covered the demonstration that took place on campus in the Little Theatre.
In the Little Theatre that day, there was six hours of raw emotion expressed by students unhappy with the state of race relations on campus. During one exchange, some students said the Torch wasn’t welcome, and someone said there would be a protest if the Torch covered the day’s events. We covered it anyway — more on our reasoning later — and after the paper was printed, some backlash ensued online. People argued that the Torch didn’t have permission to cover the event; that it was nothing but a juicy story for us.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
First and foremost, we were within our rights to cover Thursday’s event because it was public, open to any student who walked in, and also live streamed online. Had the event been private we would have left if that was what people wanted.
Another concern we heard was about the photos of students that we published. This is not something we take lightly. We chose the photos because they were powerful images that displayed the emotion that defined the demonstration. Some have argued that we needed these students’ permission, but because of the public nature of the event, that’s not true. Besides, those same images were on live streams — with their words aired alongside them.
Many students have incorrectly suggested that the Torch works for the University. The Torch is an independent student newspaper. We receive no compensation from St. John’s. The only thing we get from the University is our office, heat, running water and electricity to produce the newspaper. We don’t work for — or against — anyone.
Finally, it is our job to cover news that is important to students. This qualifies.
More than 150 people gathered that day to hold an impromptu demonstration on campus — that’s no small number, and it shows that there are issues unfolding on campus that students are deeply passionate about. It’s our job to report that fairly and accurately to the student body, as well as the staff and administration who may read our newspaper.
The day we agree to ignore a breaking news event on this campus is the day that our role as journalists ceases to matter. That would be a disservice to the student body. We aim to be a trusted source for students and employees alike, and we want students to come to us. We don’t want to exploit the experiences of our peers; instead, we aim to report on the experiences and issues at hand, because students need to know about them.
So while we respect every student’s right to be upset with us, and even “boycott” us, we remain singularly focused on our role here on campus. Our job is to report the facts, and to tell both sides of the story.
That is what we will always do.