Eternal Ethical Question: A Student (Journalist’s) Identity

One of the oldest student journalism ethical tightropes unfurled with a bit of a new media twist recently at Cornell University. As Cornell Daily Sun public editor Rob Tricchinelli explained in his excellent write-up on the situation:

Mike Wacker ’10 is a Sun columnist whose ‘Wack Attack’ column appears alternate Wednesdays. Wacker recently arranged to speak with Andrew Brokman ’11, an at-large representative in the Student Assembly, to discuss something that came up during an S.A. meeting. During their conversation, Wacker started taking notes; Brokman then told him that it was not on the record.   This dispute arose over the nature of the discussion and whether it could be attributed to Brokman. Brokman told me via e-mail that he thought Wacker was coming to him not as a columnist but as a concerned constituent. He was under the impression that their discussion was to be a private one between representative and student, and nothing more.

The bigger question the Brockman-Wack brouhaha raises: When does the student part end and the student journalist part begin? Students inhabit a uniquely hyperlocal universe while enrolled at university, one in which their identities are often overlaid or might shift at a moment’s notice- from student to classmate to housemate to athlete to student organization board member to Greek lifer to student employee in the office of communications.

As Tricchinelli writes, “Professional journalists generally have few other roles in their lives; they report stories and their personal lives are separate. As college students, however, the likelihood is higher for Sun journalists to be part of campus groups and organizations; the chance of them being involved in what the Sun covers is quite high.”  As evidenced by the Cornell saga, even an arranged sitdown can cause issues in a real world setting and new media realm in which everyone is always someone else simultaneously.

Case in point: Brokman, student government representative, is also a student journalist of sorts.  He is the co-creator and overseer of OneCornell Media, an online “uncensored voice of Cornell students.”  So technically of course, he could write about Wack coming to write about him, and so on and so on.

What do you think?

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  1. [...] Student journalists’ identities are often overlaid or might shift at a moment’s notice- from student to classmate to housemate to athlete to student [...]



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