To acquire wisdom, one must observe

On behalf of The Hoot and the Justice: Journalistic rights on campus

As the editorial boards of The Brandeis Hoot and the Justice, we have decided to write a joint editorial explaining the rights and responsibilities of student journalists, a topic we feel has been often misunderstood. By outlining our goals and ethics, we want to share what it means to be a journalist and to open communication between us and our community. We believe that informing the public is a service to the community and is necessary for us to understand each other and the world.

Journalism follows a code of ethics, created by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). It is  a widely respected and essential part of reporting, which our newspapers adhere to along with our own constitutions and codes of ethics: The Hoot (constitution and code of ethics) and the Justice. Our codes of ethics are not a choice, but a necessity. The four tenets of journalism listed in the code are to seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. Our job is to inform the public and to do so truthfully and objectively. We volunteer our time; we attend public events; we take photos; we interview the public and include quotes in our articles because we care about this community. 

One of our fundamental rights is to cover public events. Section 2.9 of the 2019-2020 Brandeis University Rights and Responsibilities defines a public event as “an event held either in a public and open space on campus or to which a general announcement has been made or a general invitation has been extended” and clarifies that the University’s privacy policy “is not intended to restrict the work of student journalists to cover open, public events on campus.” If an event is advertised to the public—on the Brandeis events page, with fliers on campus or on social media, for instance—it is considered a public event, as well as if it takes place in a public space on campus. It is important to note that protests, as they occur in public campus spaces, are considered public events.

When covering public events, reporters may record the event and quote anyone who spoke. Recording helps ensure accuracy and thoroughness. Our reporters identify themselves with press passes whenever they cover public events; we never hide that an event is being covered.

If anyone from the Brandeis community or the general public could have attended the event, everyone should be able to read about the event in the campus newspapers. However, we recognize that there are some public events held on campus that may result in harm if certain details were reported, especially events that include sensitive or personal topics. If event organizers, such as student club leaders, department staff or administrators believe that their event will include the sharing of information that would cause harm if reported, they should reach out before the event to the editors in chief of both papers. It is then up to the editors’ discretion to decide how to proceed with covering the event. In making that decision, editors strive to balance two pillars of the SPJ Code of Ethics: “seek truth and report it” and “minimize harm.”

Photojournalists are a vital part of any news organization and are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all other journalists. Just as reporters record public events, so too do photographers have the right to document them through their own medium. They are also identified with press passes and do not seek to target any specific person, but to provide a record of the event in question. If you have any concerns about being photographed, or having a photographer at your event, reach out to the editors in question and talk to the journalist present. There is no guarantee that the photojournalist will refrain from documenting any individual in a public space, but our editors will adhere to the code of ethics upon making the decision to publish said photos.

Journalists have the right to ask you for comment at public events or to reach out for an interview. If you are uncomfortable with speaking about a topic, you have every right to refuse to comment. We will always ask at the beginning of any interview if we have permission to record to ensure that we are not misquoting anyone. Anything said while we are recording is considered “on the record.” Before conveying information you don’t want published, preface it with a request that it be “off the record.” This allows us to stop the recording before you speak; otherwise, it is not off the record. 

We cannot redact or alter any photographs, accurate quotes or information by request because we cannot allow the perspective of any party to affect coverage. We do publish corrections and clarifications; if there are any misquotes or inaccuracies, please reach out. It is also against the ethics of both papers for individuals being interviewed to read the full article before it is published. If an interviewee has legitimate concerns about the article, contact the reporter. 

If you are being interviewed and do not want your name associated with the information, you have the right to ask for anonymity. Reporters cannot offer anonymity; you must request it. Anonymity is only granted to individuals whose lives or livelihoods may be endangered if their name is linked with information included in our reporting. Requests for anonymity are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by editors and, if granted, will be explained in the article.

We are journalists passionate about serving our community by keeping the public informed. We strive to abide by the same standards to which we hold others. We are continuously learning, so please hold us accountable for our coverage. We will always listen to comments, complaints and concerns regarding coverage and we are happy to discuss any issues to best resolve them. This editorial is a testament to our dedication to this community and our desire to do right by all of its members. 

If you have any remaining questions about journalistic rights or the way our papers interact with the campus community, please reach out to our Editors-in-Chief: eic@thebrandeishoot.com and  editor@thejustice.org. These emails are listed in each issue and online, and are always open for community members’ questions and concerns.

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