Columns, Opinions

Campbell ’18, Campanelli ’18: Don’t ostracize The Herald

By and
Friday, March 24, 2017

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, nearly every major candidate for the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Undergraduate Finance Board issued a statement via Facebook denouncing The Herald and stating that they would not be seeking The Herald’s endorsement. This was followed on Tuesday by a joint letter published in The Herald that repeated this position and called on The Herald to work with the UCS toward reform. Every year The Herald endorses candidates that they believe will best represent the student body in working with the University. In their rejection of The Herald, the candidates cited the two racist columns published in fall 2015 as well as the “exploiting (of) narratives of students of color and low income students.” We, as a columnist and a previous op-ed contributor for The Herald, recognize the hurt that was caused by these columns and in no way want to understate their impact on marginalized groups and on our campus as a whole. Regarding the Herald’s reporting side, some level of error is unfortunately always present in even the most sound journalism. We cannot speak directly to the misquotes mentioned by the UCS candidates. Yet all news publications, from time to time, make mistakes. All newspapers misquote and print retractions. We have no desire to invalidate the experiences of any UCS candidate, or of any Brown community member. Yet The Herald, as a key institution working for accountability on campus and one that has made great efforts to remedy its ailments over the last two years, should not be delegitimized in this way. As important news outlets on the national stage are repeatedly labeled “fake” by our own government, we should not allow this trend of ostracizing the press to spread to campus.

We need The Herald. We need a highly visible and frequently published newspaper. We need it to hold our student government accountable, present information about the administration that is not readily available or transparent and cover the diverse activities occurring around campus. In their Tuesday letter, the UCS candidates suggest that The Herald must work with them to be reformed. The Herald can improve, but this improvement should not be led by UCS. Changes to The Herald cannot be led by an organization it is meant to hold accountable because then the newspaper loses its freedom and its core purpose. The UCS, like any governing body, has the potential to stray from the desires of the students it represents. The administration has the potential to conduct actions that harm students. The Corporation often makes decisions and rulings that counter many of the beliefs held by students on campus. We need to support a newspaper that is willing to publish articles critical of the UCS, administration, Corporation and student body because without such a newspaper, we will not only fail to hold these powerful organizations accountable but also fall into a self-reinforcing echo chamber devoid of critical analysis.

Our point is not to diminish the mistakes The Herald has made in the past. The Opinions section has published very hurtful columns, and while the editorial board has worked hard to vastly improve the editing process, we understand that members of the student body may not yet be ready to forgive.  But The Herald’s news serves too great a purpose to be cast as unnecessary.

The UCS candidates charged The Herald with “falsely manufacturing narratives by misquoting students” but cite no specific instances in which this has occurred. Given the current political climate, we must be wary of making such broad claims without providing any tangible evidence. The Trump administration has made the same accusations to degrade legitimate news sources that hold him and other leaders accountable. This has allowed the charge of “fake news” to be appropriated by the Trump administration and to be attributed to CNN and the New York Times, rather than to the alt-right publications for which the term was coined. Charges like these currently threaten the free press in the United States.

The Herald is the most significant provider of news about the Brown community. With 150 members, The Herald has beats on the administration, student life, and yes, UCS. No one else covers campus so thoroughly. Who else is here to hold UCS, the administration, or the Corporation accountable? If any of these institutions transgress, it will be The Herald that alerts students. It will be The Herald that provides vital information to those who want to push back. It will be The Herald that holds these institutions to their word, ensuring that they look out for the interests of the student body. The Herald has made mistakes. But The Herald serves far too great a purpose as a news organization for us not to support it as it seeks to improve.

Vaughn Campbell ’18 can be reached at vaughn_campbell@brown.edu. Bryce Campanelli ’18 can be reached at bryce_campanelli@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Correction: Ironically, a previous version of this article included the following line twice due to an editing error: “Regarding the Herald’s reporting side, some level of error is unfortunately always present in even the most sound journalism. We cannot speak directly to the misquotes mentioned by the UCS candidates. Yet all news publications, from time to time, make mistakes.” The Herald regrets the error.