On The Record: The Eagle reflects on decisions in recent breaking news coverage
Sourcing, confirming facts and deciding what to include when news breaks
The Eagle reported on a story last week about a student in the Chi Omega sorority who was filmed on camera using the N-word. Given the nature of the incident, and its larger implications for the campus community, I felt it was necessary for us to explain what went into our reporting process and how we published the story you saw online.
Our staff first learned of the social media post when one of the news editors saw it online on Tuesday night and notified the rest of the staff. On Wednesday morning, we began the reporting process by reaching out to sources, including the women in the video, the leaders of the Chi Omega sorority, black student organizations on campus and students who shared the video online.
The entire day was spent reporting the story and contacting sources to provide as much context as possible, which includes fact checking names, times and the series of events that unfolded. Most of the people in the story posted public statements online, via social media or otherwise, to take a stance on the issue and communicate what steps were being taken to remediate the situation.
However, it is important that as a news organization, we take those formal comments as a starting point and not as the final say. We followed up with each of the key individuals and organizations involved to seek additional comments or ask follow-up questions that were not initially addressed. It is our job to continue the line of questioning and not just aggregate a series of quotes from publicly shared statements.
Another major component in reporting this story was the inclusion of the video at the center of the incident. When the story was initially published, the video was embedded so it would appear in the body of the piece. However, the next day, an executive decision was made to only include the story through a link to the initial Instagram post.
We felt it was crucial to leave our audience with access to the video written about in the story. It was a challenging choice to make and one we reflected upon as a staff. It also raised questions for us about past decisions that were made to include videos posted online in our coverage. There are significant ethical considerations, like seeking truth and reporting it, as well as minimizing harm, that must be accounted for when publishing this type of content.
When using a video shared widely online, it is critical to consider how the people in the video will be affected, as well as how the people viewing it will be. The immediate thought is to allow the audience to see the video in the reporting, but at times, it could be a greater detriment to the subject or the audience to continue the circulation of such content.
These digital ethics are something that we as a news organization are still grappling with. In terms of our coverage last week, we believe we made the right decision in the moment. This was a video that we felt the AU community should see and acted accordingly. We still feel that the same access is possible by providing a link to the Instagram post.
If this is something you took issue with or wish to discuss, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, readers are encouraged to submit letters to the editor and op-eds if they seek to address concerns or offer feedback about our coverage. We additionally ask that you fill out this survey if there is anything you would like to specifically see addressed in this column.