In Spring 2021, I took JRN335: Ethical Issues in News Media, and one memory from that class has never left me. As my classmates and I examined ethical dilemmas that real-life journalists had been put into, we kept repeating one thing: “I don’t think I can be a journalist.”
We didn’t feel that we could make the same choices that these professionals had. We had been given methods for making ethical decisions, but when it came down to it, we did not believe ourselves capable of resisting intervention for the sake of an unbiased story while people suffered before our eyes. We were agonized and felt there was no way we could separate our human compassion for the sake of the truth. We just weren’t cut out to be journalists, we said.
The response we got from the wonderful Dr. Benjamin Kuebrich was also something I can’t forget. He told us that he desperately wanted us to become journalists exactly because we felt that we could not stand by. He encouraged us to challenge the current ethical standards and rewrite them with the power of our compassion. At every turn, he told us that we were the journalists of tomorrow, and to not think that we couldn’t do it.
My experiences in this class have irrevocably stayed with me, and as I’ve written for The Quad, Dr. Kuebrich’s teachings have guided me. Of the four major principles established in 2017 by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the one I felt most strongly about during that semester has also been the one I have continued to fight for: minimize harm.
I believe that minimizing harm is the utmost duty of a journalist and I believe it is also the duty of all humans. However, avid readers of The Quad like myself will be aware that The Quad has been receiving and publishing articles that don’t always fall under that principle. I love West Chester and its community, and I love student writing and the power of a student newspaper. It’s because of that love that I want to hold The Quad to a higher standard.
Originally, I wanted to call for The Quad to create a formal code of ethics, but I was informed while corresponding with The Quad’s op-ed editor that they do have one, and was given the chance to read it. I call now for The Quad to have this code of ethics available to the public, and for The Quad to reconsider where it has failed to follow this code recently.
The Quad’s code of ethics highlights their position as a public forum, something I strongly stand for. The code also states that opinions voiced in good faith must be given equal consideration, and it is on the point of “good faith” that I argue recent articles have been in violation of The Quad’s code. In addition, The Quad’s code discusses empathy and radical compassion, as well as the fact that dissent does not remain legitimate public discourse when it criticizes people for “who they are as opposed to what they do.”
In platforming transphobia, racism, anti-science positions and other rhetoric, The Quad has been failing to uphold their ethical code. Certain pieces that have been published recently create harm to our community. I do understand why The Quad has chosen to publish them so far, as they are trying to ensure they are also following their ethical code in terms of remaining an equal public forum. However, the harm now outweighs that duty. This kind of writing threatens truth, using demagogic techniques instead of real persuasion.
In a time when “uninvited guests” swarm our campus to harass our students and preach hatred, West Chester always manages to show them our best side. Prior to spring break, when uninvited guests appeared on our quad, the students that gathered near them were serenaded by a banjo and an opera singer, and I even had the chance to make some friends in the crowd. A person even brought their cat out to meet people.
That camaraderie and united stance against hatred is what West Chester is. West Chester is not a place where we publish hatred that calls for others with the same beliefs to speak up and endanger the community we have made.
I want a wake-up call for our community and I want The Quad to change. The Quad’s code of ethics needs to be posted publicly so that every member of our community and every potential writer for The Quad can read it. The submission guidelines must also be available to the public, and The Quad must reconsider its positions and ensure they are actually following the words of their code. There is a vast gulf of difference between opinions and giving people with bad intent a place to spread these intents and beliefs to others. The Quad cannot be complicit in giving hatred a place at West Chester University. I ask The Quad to change and to not be afraid to challenge the way other professional journalists conduct themselves. Bring your compassion to the table and fight for our safe community. Let’s show the world our best side.
Gwyn Kelsey Holm is a fourth-year English Writing major with a minor in Theatre. KH942694@wcupa.edu.