On July 15 students organized a rally at St. John’s Queens campus, protesting an increase in tuition for the 2020-21 academic year as well as other pressing issues concerning the student body. This protest, and any continuing protests, are of great importance to the St. John’s community, so the Torch made plans to cover it.
Dayra Santana, the Torch’s 98th Editor-in-Chief, attended this protest to report on the event. As with any news story that the Torch covers, photographs were taken for the story. She identified herself at the protest as a Torch representative. The Torch made the decision to publish 10 of these images along with an article on the Torch’s website. A tweet linking to the online article and an Instagram post containing three of the photographs were subsequently put out following the article’s publication.
Our purpose in covering the rally and publishing the article is in line with the two-step goal of journalists — to seek truth and publish it.
Students have expressed their anger and frustration at the University for raising tuition and for not being vocal enough against racism, and have every right to protest as such. In this same light, the Torch, and any news outlet, has the right to cover it and take photographs of public events. This particular rally took place outside of campus, on public streets and sidewalks.
Since the pictures were posted on the Torch’s Instagram on July 16, the Torch has received a large volume of requests to take the photos down altogether or blur the faces of protesters. We have discussed the issues as a staff and have decided to stand by our decision to leave the images as is.
The nature of this protest, as with any and all demonstrations and forms of protest, was public. The Torch is within its legal and ethical rights to photograph at protests on public sidewalks, as is any journalist, photographer or passerby — beyond that, there is no “right not to be photographed” and no expectation of privacy in a space that is visible to public foot traffic. The same implications are involved regardless of the event the Torch is reporting on — whether it is a public rally or a public campus event.
In any newsroom there is, understandably, an obligation to weigh the implications of photographing a person’s face, and for this reason the Torch made the decision to only publish images in which protesters wore masks. Our editors made the decision to do so after receiving a request during the rally to not publish a photo of anyone without a mask from organizers.
There is power in an image. The photos chosen for publication, both on our website and Instagram, were chosen for that very reason. They depict what took place outside the University fences, without any censorship. On that note, we are all well aware of the thousands of protests taking place across the country. We know this largely because of the photographs that have been disseminated from those events, many taken by members of the media.
It’s also important to note that the Torch does not work for or against anyone. We are wholly independent from the University and we are proud of our history of not compromising on that fact. In the same way that this protects our paper from censorship from the University, it also protects us from being censored by any other party.
Our duty is to keep the entire St. John’s community — students, professors, employees, alumni and administrators — informed by documenting events that are happening in relation to our university. Not doing so would allow other community members to turn a blind eye to the truth of what is happening at St. John’s. We have and will always do our best to reach out to the necessary parties involved for comment and leave it up to our readers to draw their own conclusions.
A newspaper that serves the entire community and observes journalistic ethics cannot favor any person or community. This is why the Torch adheres to the Associated Press style book, the rules of the American Scholastic Press Association, U.S. and New York state laws, and seeks legal advice from the Student Press Law Center regularly.
While we recognize that our positions come with an expectation of professionalism, at the end of the day we are still students — just like so many of our readers. We seek to understand and learn without causing anyone harm. In the process of this learning we acknowledge we may falter, but we aim to hold ourselves accountable when we make decisions that do not fall under the umbrella of our ethical and legal responsibilities.
We will always explain our decision-making in the name of transparency. We do not condone the offensive and racist language used by some readers in the comments section on our Instagram post. We are also disappointed and saddened by the language used by some of our peers directed at us and others, both publicly online and through private anonymous messages. As students, the editorial board disagrees with the increase in tuition that impacts a vulnerable student body in the midst of a pandemic and we have always and will always oppose the mistreatment of marginalized students.
We stand by the work we do.