The Ethical Limitations of Classroom Reporting

By Lindsay Sweeney

It’s no secret that Rutgers University athletic director Julie Hermann walked into a journalism class a few weeks ago and said that it would be great if the Star-Ledger fell apart. I mean, anyone who has Google’d Rutgers in the past 24 hours has probably seen the story in the Ledger, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune, Fox Sports, Detroit Free Press, ESPN Go…. need I go on?

Let me begin with full disclosure, as all real journalists should when writing something like this. I’m a student in the ethics class every news organization is referencing when reporting this story—a story that is hardly even newsworthy. I watched and listened as Hermann tried to tell the story of her own experience with the media and her hopes for the Rutgers University community as the athletic department joins the Big 10.

Now, I’m all for exposing the truth behind a situation or something an individual said. But what I do have an issue with is an agenda driven story based on a conversation between a class and a guest speaker. I have an issue with a lack of discretion. I have an issue when University policy is broken through and through. I have an issue when we’re talking ethics, and then a sensationalist photo and poorly written story with little-to-no context dominate a University publication. And, mostly, I have an issue with someone shaming his or her own University, not thoroughly thinking through what the broader ramifications of his or her actions are.

So, let’s break this down point by point.

1. Discretion should always be given to sources.

Isn’t this journalism 101? I do not believe at any time anyone in the class identified him or herself as writing for a University publication. Even if they did, it seemed they were using what Hermann was saying for their publication’s benefit. We were told that we would be writing the story for class. I was not aware that included a student-run website.

2. Rutgers University clearly outlines (right HERE) that classroom recordings are for educational purposes only.

“Any recording of lectures or class presentations should be authorized solely for the purpose of individual or group study with other students enrolled in the same class. Such recording may not be reproduced or uploaded to publicly accessible web environments.”

The recommendations on lecture recordings go on to state, “Recordings of classes or of course materials may not be exchanged or distributed for commercial purposes, for compensation, or for any other purpose other than study by students enrolled in the class.” Muckgers and are publicly accessible web environments. And to be honest, this is absolutely for commercial gain. From this, Muckgers has probably received exponentially more hits than it normally would, and the student’s name who “broke” the story is floating around so many different news organizations. So yes, this has become a case of commercial gain.

3. Sensationalism sells, but destroys the very ethical integrity that students are paying thousands of dollars to learn about.

Honestly, I don’t think any journalism professor or professional I have ever met would approve of this news story. I’m disappointed it was written by someone I’ll be sharing an alma-mater with. It looks like something that belongs in a tabloid, yet it’s somehow gaining national attention.

4. In a follow up story, Simon Galperin is interviewed by He says he hasn’t received backlash from the administration. The article reads the following:

“Rutgers might work hard at P.R., and they’re good at it, but I feel free to publish things that are critical of the administration and there is no pressure,” Galperin is quoted as saying. “I believe Rutgers is proud of something like Muckgers coming out of its journalism department.”

Actually, I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. This was not something that needed to be published. It was meant as a learning experience for the students Hermann spoke to that day.

And let me say, I believe we all learned what unethical behavior by the media looks like.

16 Comments on The Ethical Limitations of Classroom Reporting

  1. Lindsay, thank you so much for writing this. I’m also a student in that class, and like you, I was appalled by all of this. I was planning to write a counter article just like this; however, you said at all and saved me the trouble.

  2. Sage, you should write it anyway. Everyone who was in that class should be speaking out about this, and spreading the word.

    Lindsay, great work.

  3. Lindsay, as a graduate of SCILS, and someone who works in the media, very well written article and shame on that student for exploiting what was an off the cuff/record commentary by Ms. Hermann to a bunch of students, which they used for their own personal gain. Hopefully, you’re rebuttal article gets more attention in the coming days, but unfortunately, two things you will learn in media – 1) stories have short shelf lives, 2) To quote Rutgers alumnus Bernard Goldberg – “In the United States of Entertainment, there is no greater sin than to bore the audience”

  4. Lindsay, you said the Julie’s comments were reported with little to no context. Can you please provide some context for them? Did you get the sense that she was joking? That’s how I read what she was saying, but I’d be interested in hearing from someone who was in the room at the time. I have a hard time believing that she’d actually mean to say that she hoped for the death of a newspaper in a room of journalism students.

    • Hey. I had the impression that a lot of what she said was off the cuff. The comparison I’ve been using to best describe it has been, “How many times have any of us said that we hope Fox News dies? We don’t actually mean it, but we are just frustrated with their reporting.”

      • Your Fox News comment cements your terrible, closed-minded approach to the field you are enrolled in as a student. Thank God we have a Fox News to counter the Left-worshiping mainstream media. The Star Ledger is a typical example of the Left’s camp being honored by a major state news outlet on its editorial page and regularly in its “news” reporting. Guess you have a different agenda with your defense of the Rutgers AD……

        • Where exactly does the piece defend the AD, Vin? All it does is state that reporting should offer full disclosure and be ethical.

  5. Those of you who recognize the unethical and irresponsible nature of this student’s actions, PLEASE GET THE WORD OUT. All the Star Ledger has done has tried to get Julie Hermann fired and slander her at every opportunity…one can understand why she feels the way she does. Moreover, only a dunce (eg. Steve Politi or Mike Vornukov) would think she meant the whole organization; her comments were directed towards Pioliti, Dan Duggan, and the sports department, sans Luicci and Hutchinsion. And I agree with her 10)%

  6. Great article Lindsay. You are a quality writer first of all, and your thoughts are lucid, well considered and sincere, which is actually a rare trait in writing unfortunately. It’s certainly creates a contrast with the qualities of the kid who wrote the article , and what’s worse, to the professional writers who latched on to this nonsense for their own pathetic, warped reasons.

  7. Having read the original article, I was appalled by how poorly it was written. Beyond that I have always thought a good journalist’s job was to report the news, not try to make news or push a personal agenda. My faith has been renewed by your well thought out, well written article.
    Thank you.

  8. Lindsay – RU Alumni here and I love this piece! Well written and on-the-money IMHO! I do have a question for you regarding this piece, however, if you don’t mind shooting me a quick e-mail? Thanks!

  9. Thank you so much for this piece! Well done Lindsay! I actually have a question for you, pertaining to the “policy” itself, if you could shoot me a quick e-mail? Thanks!

  10. Great piece! I am a student in the class as well and was a little outraged when this story came out. I’m glad you spoke your mind, I agree with your words. Hermann never said the words “I hope people lose their jobs”, she is just frustrated with how RU athletics is portrayed. Great work!

  11. Now that Rutgers is in the B1G, I welcome anyone and everyone who keeps your AD in check. Her hiring was an embarrassing way for a respected institution to join a respected conference. Was it inappropriate for a student to report out what happens in class? If it was a professor, yes. If it is a public figure, like a controversial AD or a Congresswoman/man, then they are always “on” and should comport themselves accordingly. Especially in a room full of aspiring journalists. It was a journalistic faux pas, but it also exposed another brash and ill-thought action by an AD with a history of them….which was precisely the point.

  12. Lindsay

    I graduated from RU with a major in Psychology. My wife was a Journalist and then went to the dark side (PR / Advertising).

    I appreciate your efforts to educate the public and non Journalism majors. However, it is more than ironic (it is an embarrassment) that Ms. Hermann didn’t want to give the Ledger a headline and hoped they died, when in fact she uttered enough vitrol to cover the front page of the SL, NYT and become the lead story on ESPN as well as Olbermann’s worst people in sports.

    I don’t know when the Ethics / Laws were codified. However, they seem like written in 19th century. I graduated from Rutgers in the late 60’s: the 20th century, and we’ve been living in the 21st century for nearly 15 years. The events that have been captured, reported and gone “viral” since computers, cell phones, ipads etc. became the staple of the US public (and worldwide) should cause anyone to rethink the therm “off the record”. Big Brother has no off the record and people like Julie Hermann would do well to remember this: so Rutgers and her gradsuates don’t have to pay for her mistakes.


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