“Why do they think this is front-page news?” said one of my classmates about the recent exposure in the Skiff about the drug and alcohol controversy surrounding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. As I overheard this complaint about the article, I thought to myself, “Why not use it as front-page news?” After all, the exposure, however damaging to the fraternity’s reputation, is interesting news that exemplifies some of my main ideals about journalism: to provide readers with truthful and valuable information as provided by the First Amendment.
In a speech in 1906, Theodore Roosevelt called some journalists “muckrakers,” which he described as a journalist who, in an attempt to expose a certain societal issue, will “rake to himself the filth of the floor.”
I find this a fitting term, seeing as how journalism can sometimes be a dirty job. Historically, journalism has always had a controversial nature. Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper published in America, was banned by the British colonial authorities only a day after it was published. Although this publication existed to provide early Americans with vital information that affected their everyday lives, the government saw it as a threat to its own existence. Benjamin Harris’s newspaper set an early example of how all journalists will be viewed in a certain light. No matter what is written, the topic will surely offend someone.
I hear about it every day around TCU. Some students complain about the Skiff being biased, unfriendly and even exaggerative. I think these complaints are exaggerated themselves, but I am also able to see how someone could think this way. Everyone has an opinion, but only a few of us choose to form our opinions in a more analytical way, rather than emotionally.
As a campus, we need to put some trust in those who are hired to relay the news to us. After all, if journalists value their work, they will hopefully write the news in the most truthful and unbiased way possible. Unfortunately, some journalists throughout history have let us down. For example, Jayson Blair, who wrote for The New York Times for several years, reportedly lied about and plagiarized many of his sources and stories.
It is impossible to put our full trust in some in lieu of some shady moments in journalism history, but we also have to remember that Jayson Blair was fired for his actions. We can at least trust that it is impossible for a journalist to exaggerate a story without constantly being watched by editors and most importantly, the public eye.
I believe that the drug and alcohol story involving Sigma Alpha Epsilon appeared on the front page of the Skiff because it is a current event that will be discussed around the TCU campus, not because the journalist or paper is biased. There are no reasons to avoid publishing it in the paper.
Like it or not, controversial topics are the stories that make journalism interesting. Why else do we keep opening the paper every morning? We are addicted to reality, and at least for me, anticipating the latest controversy feeds this addiction.
Roosevelt said in the same speech that “The man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck-rake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces for evil.” Like Roosevelt did, we should value our contemporary muckrakers and maybe even become involved ourselves.
I hope that as a campus, we can hold respect for our journalists and journalism as a whole, even when they do have to trek through the muck of this world for a good story.
Jennifer Pippin is a senior international communications major from Dallas.