Ball State Newspaper’s Student Government Endorsement Raises Hackles, Ethical Questions

The Ball State Daily News at Ball State University is currently embroiled in a situation its editor-in-chief Andrew Mishler confirms “gives a good look at the ethical side of endorsements by student newspapers and what kind of controversy it can cause.”

As Mishler explains: “On Monday, the Daily News ran an editorial endorsing a slate for the executive board of the Student Government Association during elections at Ball State.  This is a typical practice every year for us prior to the election and something that many of the top circulating newspapers in the country do.

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“That day, we received a letter to the editor from the elections board chair of the SGA at Ball State.  In the letter, he criticized our endorsement, saying it brought into question our ethics as a newspaper and made our reporting look biased.  We published his LTTE [letter to the editor] as well as a response from our editorial board in the paper the next day.”

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A portion of the letter: “When I read news, I want to learn the facts so that I may formulate my own opinion. It is not [the paper’s] job to tell me what to think, only what the facts are.  When you take a side, or show an opinion, it brings all of your reporting into question. Some of the same people who wrote articles throughout the election season sat down and decided to endorse a particular slate. . . . The writers at the Daily News never informed me, or the elections board as a whole, they were writing an editorial about us. They never asked for comment on it or for specific comments to be used in it. It was extremely one sided.”

A portion of the response from the Daily News editorial board: “[T]he reality is writing endorsements is standard newspaper practice.  The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Indianapolis Star all write endorsements, just to name a few.  Each slate came to the Daily News willingly on Sunday and were all aware that we would likely endorse one of them. It’s a process [the SG elections board chair and letter writer Kevin] Thurman should understand since he sought the Daily News’ endorsement when he ran for SGA president in 2011. . . . It’s not a coincidence the Daily News’ opinion section is called Forum. It’s an outlet to start a conversation. . . . If Thurman or other students think it is unethical for the Daily News to have an opinion page, then should we eliminate it?  If so, Thurman would not have been able to write his letter to the editor.”

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More from Mishler: “From there, Ball State students erupted on Twitter– agreeing and disagreeing with the LTTE.  Many of the students in the TCOM department at Ball State publicly supported the elections board chair, essentially creating additional disconnect between the Ball State Journalism and Telecommunications departments. It doesn’t help that the Ball State College of Communication, Information and Media is trying to unify the different student media organizations at Ball State at the same time.  The feud only serves to build more walls against that at this point.”

As a follow-up, I asked Mishler why be thinks this year’s endorsement caused so much trouble, given that the paper has published similar endorsements in the past.

In his words, “[T]here was a lot of controversy surrounding the election in the prior week due to sketchy campaigning tactics and harassment over Twitter from anonymous accounts directed at certain slates. . . . Thurman may have also been upset about an editorial we ran last week calling for the elections board to be more transparent.  This all may have blown over into a LTTE aimed at our ethics and coverage of the whole election process. Personally, I think our coverage was as in-depth and fair as I’ve seen since I joined the Daily News four years ago.”

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