Emerson College Student Group Accuses Berkeley Beacon of Bias Over Unpublished Op-Ed

An interesting journalism ethics battle is being waged at Boston’s Emerson College over an unpublished op-ed.  Student members of something called Emerson Progressives and Radicals in Defense of Employees (PRIDE) claim editors of The Berkeley Beacon attempted to change the stance of an op-ed submitted to the paper so that it aligned more with their opinions.  Beacon editors deny the charge.

The 30-second backstory: The student group PRIDE formed last month at Emerson to “give a voice to security guards, dining hall workers, and maintenance workers at the college.”  Soon after its creation, a pair of security guards were fired for allowing an unauthorized man into a campus dorm– where he went on an attempted stealing spree.  An Emerson student and PRIDE member penned an op-ed supporting the security guards– arguing the current crew overall is underpaid, short-staffed, hastily trained, overly scrutinized, and attempting to keep everyone safe amid “murky rules.”  So, in essence, according to the op-ed draft, the recent intruder was not the guards’ fault as much as the school’s and the system it has put in place.  The student sent the op-ed to the Beacon.  It was not published.  Why?  Speaking of murky. . .

PRIDE members are handing out a flier accusing Beacon editors of stepping over their editorial-ethical boundaries and effectively killing the piece prior to publication.  The flier– which also features the unpublished op-ed in full– alleges, “Instead of editing for structure and grammar, most of the comments [from Beacon editors to the student writer] were blatant opinions. . . . The three editors inserted their own bias into this editorial piece, which is not the intention of the editing process for op-eds.”

In an editor’s note published yesterday acknowledging the flier and accusations, the Beacon fully disputes any “editorial improprieties.”  According to the paper’s editorial board,

In the Beacon’s opinion section, we are accustomed to respectfully editing the words of students who disagree with our private views and that of the Beacon’s editorial board.  The diverse opinions we publish are what make that page an arena for students and faculty to exchange ideas.  However, op-eds worth publishing must survive a process of challenge and scrutiny to ensure they hold up against opposing arguments. . . . Shaping a well-reasoned argument requires identifying holes, unfounded accusations, broad generalizations, logical inconsistencies, unidentified sources, and unattributed statistics in its construction.  Working with writers to clear up those issues strengthens their credibility and ours.  It is with the intention of improving the integrity of an op-ed that we give edits.  If a writer is unwilling to revise a piece in such a way that it meets that standard, we reserve the right not to publish it.

The larger related ethical question pertinent to student press everywhere:

What are the proper procedures for editing op-eds– especially ones dealing with controversial topics, written by contributors with obvious agendas or espousing viewpoints you are personally aghast at or against?

One Response to “Emerson College Student Group Accuses Berkeley Beacon of Bias Over Unpublished Op-Ed”
  1. As the opinion editor of The Berkeley Beacon, I want to clarify that we didn’t pull or kill this piece; the writer revoked it voluntarily upon reviewing our suggested edits.

    We do, however, reserve the right not to publish pieces that are not returned having satisfactorily met the quality standard we guide writers to reach in the editing process. Thanks for drawing attention to this important issue; I think it’s a matter of viewing the college newspaper as a curatorial and editorial entity and not an “unfiltered” soapbox for students.