Journalists and reporters have an obligation to report news in the most balanced, fair and unbiased ways possible. The Montclarion, as a student publication in an institution of higher education, should strive to live up to these standards of fairness and balance as strictly as possible. Yet sometimes, the fear of covering controversial topics can prevent us from doing this, as can the desire to attract a large readership. This past week’s article on the Nov. 16 anti-Trump protest was a great example of this.
Let’s be clear here: the campus community is not so divided following the election on Nov. 8, and this fact is one that is clear to anyone who fully read the article about the recent protest. The article stated that a little over 80 percent of the campus community who voted on campus voted for a candidate other than Trump.
So how is it that an 80-20 split is called “divided?” How is it that a well-organized protest of more than a hundred students, opposed by only about a dozen students, represents division? How is it that one of these dozen counter-protesters is given a block quote on the front page of the paper, while quotes from the more than a hundred anti-Trump protesters are relegated to the body of the article?
The answer is simple: we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into the same traps that major news sources around the world have. The title of the article? It’s an attempt to prevent accusations of bias. That block quote? It serves as a printed form of clickbait.
As a student-run newspaper, we need to do better than this. We need to hold one another accountable for what we are printing and spreading throughout campus. We need to understand that spinning a story to make it appear that our campus community is balanced on an issue, when it is in fact not balanced, is biased.
We need to understand that putting a block quote of a counter-protester, without at least balancing it next to one from a protester, does nothing for our concern for “balanced” reporting. We need to understand that briefly including the voice of co-organizer Kevin Ha without citing him, while giving a great deal of space and citations to the three counter-protesters whose quotes were included in the article, is bias. (Let it also be noted that Melissa Morillo, another of the protest’s organizers, was quoted in the original article, albeit under an incorrect name.)
At the end of the day, what we need to understand is that the way we report on issues at our school reflects how we will report on issues when we enter mainstream news outlets. When we claim that our campus is divided, we aid in the normalization of the election of Trump.
It is not normal for a president-elect to claim he will appoint as his chief strategist a man that even members of his own party recognize as a white nationalist. It is not normal for a vice-president-elect to want to divert money from AIDS research into torture methods that attempt to make LGBTQ people like me claim not to be who they are. Yet somehow, mainstream media has made all these things seem normal—and even we at Montclair State have played a part in that.
In short, we need to do better.