People don’t want to see their organization – their family – cast in a bad light. And as cases like the recent Delta Gamma cease order show us, there’s never a good time to break bad news. So why do we at The Miami Hurricane do it?
For one, it’s our job. Just like any news organization, we’re expected to find the story and report the facts. When people around campus are talking about an issue, it is our job to cover it and separate the facts from the rumors and chatter.
The Miami Hurricane is a student-run, editorially independent publication. This means we are detached from the University of Miami and we do not represent its views or opinions. We are not a public relations arm of the university or of any group within UM, including student organizations. We are advocates for our community and believe in the reader’s right to information, but we are not here to only publish the good or the flattering.
So what do you do when you find yourself in the middle of a story?
While a culture of silence pervades many institutions (both on campus and off), this “our lips are sealed” approach often hurts more than it helps. Speak up. Use your voice to share your perspective. We want to approach stories from all angles and provide all sides. Be intentional with your words and stand by them.
Journalists have long served an important role in society. There’s a reason why the press is called “the fourth estate” – it exists as a sort of check on the three branches of government or, more generally, those in power. Without it, would we have known about Watergate? The truth about the war in Vietnam? More recently, the crisis in Flint, Michigan or the rampant sexual assault in Hollywood and beyond?
Still, modern sentiments toward the media aren’t exactly cushy. Cries of “fake news” and a surge of headlines that are increasingly sensationalist or click-bait-y (and outright false) cast a shadow on the legitimacy of a field that, at its heart, exists to serve the people. It’s possible and, among our team, encouraged to simultaneously uphold the mission of journalism and condemn the hack jobs that sully its name.
It is possible for our staff to be engaged members of the UM community – some have gone on to become organization presidents, members of Iron Arrow and other honor societies, homecoming queens and even employees of UM – and to also see the value in reporting the difficult stories.
It is also worth noting that the “positive” stories TMH reports far outweigh the negative coverage, but the latter always gets the most views and shares and clicks, a fact that is out of our control and true for the news media in general.
We hear about things like any other student would. In our case, though, the follow-up includes seeking out sources, sharing what we know and adding information as it becomes available. We might not have uncovered a state secret or national conspiracy, but the role of a reporter is to cover news as it happens, indiscriminately, with no room to be choosy.
The straightforward practice can, of course, seem muddled in college, where we brush shoulders and often share classes, meals and friends with the very people we write about. We try to mitigate that conflict of interest by pulling people off a story if they are too close to it – a member of a certain organization would never be the lead reporter on a story (good or bad) about that organization, for example – because we are committed to fairness.
Few in the community seem to have an issue when Sun Sentinel or the Miami Herald jump into the mix and report a story about UM, but on campus, it can sometimes seem as though we’re going against an unspoken student bond when we share information that’s less than flattering.
Our aim is not to be adversarial or become a cheap rumor factory. If that was our goal, our staff would not spend countless hours a week reaching out to sources, reporting, writing, editing, discussing and fact-checking what we produce. We’re proud to cover the good, meaningful yet often-overlooked stories that happen on campus every day. We know there are incredible stories in every corner of this community, and trust us, the reaction to those is much easier to handle than the wave of backlash we receive whenever we publish something unfavorable (but we know that’s part of the job).
True, the bad stuff is certainly good at catching attention. While we can’t quite prevent that, we can strive to set the record straight. And we want you to be part of that process. Just like newsrooms all over, The Miami Hurricane is working to make our process as transparent as possible.
You can learn more about The Miami Hurricane’s policies here.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.