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 NJ.com 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 NJ.com. 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.