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What would have been the biggest news story in the class of '01 will be 3000 miles away this fall. Chelsea Clinton is off to Stanford, and gone with her, I'm sure, are Crimson reporters' dreams of scoops about the secret life of the DOTUS (the Daughter of the United States, Chelsea's moniker in the Washington Post).
Rumors have spread this past week that Chelsea's decision was based upon the relative lack of media attention which she received at each school. Though yesterday's coverage of the affair in the San Francisco Chronicle clearly does not provide any evidence that media attention is less invasive on the other coast--they published an editorial listing the "Top ten reasons Chelsea Clinton chose Stanford," which included "#3. On advice of 'Uncle' Webster Hubbell, refused to discuss anything with Princeton, Yale and Harvard interviewers but forgot about Stanford" and "#4. Sick of those wimpy Gore kids hanging around and asking to borrow the helicopter"--the mere discussion of this issue raises an interesting question about where to draw the line between the public's right to know and a student's sense of privacy.
An article last month in Fifteen Minutes, entitled "Don't Look--Harvard is Watching" described the student privacy issues raised by the university's technological infrastructure. Whether our illustrious deans are privy to our personal lives, I agree, is an important subject to broach. However, whether The Crimson will broadcast that same information to the public at large seems a scarier possibility.
In that very article on privacy, it was pointed out to me that the authors revealed information about a student which the student had requested be "blocked"--specifically, the house residence of Kristin Gore '99.
The issue of student privacy from media attention extends far beyond the issue of famous political daughters. Speculation on how Chelsea Clinton would have been treated by The Crimson had she chosen to come to Harvard aside, The Crimson must deal with these concerns daily, regarding not-so-famous (or maybe soon-to-be-famous) students just like you.
I am aware that The Crimson takes very seriously its role in reporting "sensitive" stories. However, it often makes mistakes, and to a student an error in quotation, attached to his or her name, can be an outrage. Such an incident was documented last week in a letter to the editor.
The Crimson faces two difficulties which are seemingly unavoidable. First of all, the community it serves is fairly small, so the chance that people know the subject of an article is larger. Second, being a newspaper, its first responsibility is and must be reporting the news. It cannot report only what people wish to disclose, if it ever hopes to provide insightful coverage.
The Crimson also faces a double standard when dealing with different facets of the Harvard community. I am pleased when The Crimson attempts to investigate members of the administration, and publish what the University does not want to become public. In my opinion, The Crimson should do more of this. When this same type of aggressive reporting translates to student actions and events, I wonder how much the Harvard community needs to know.
A recent letter to the editor criticized the aggressive and pointed questioning style of a reporter in covering a fire in Currier House. I sympathize with those who feel invaded by The Crimson's style; at the same time, as a reader, I want to know what happened.
The question of how much the media should report about people's private lives is one that The Crimson will not solve--it is one that puzzles media ethicists, reporters and editors throughout the country. The phenomena of the "media circus" is often criticized, and The Crimson is clearly part of this "circus" at times.
The Crimson has a responsibility to address this problem, as does every media organization. In my opinion, the best way to do so is by soliciting input from readers, and that is what I'm here for. In the past few weeks, I've received only a few comments from readers regarding The Crimson's coverage, yet I'm aware that many people are unhappy. In my opinion, the pressing issues of media ethics which are pervasive in society cannot be solved from the top down by editors and reporters. Public input is crucial. If you are unhappy with The Crimson's reporting for any reason, please contact me, and perhaps The Crimson will become a better paper for it.
The Reader Representative, who is not a Crimson editor, may be reached by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by leaving a telephone message at The Crimson (617 495 9666).
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