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To our readers:
Last month, The Crimson covered a rally organized by campus group Act on a Dream that called for the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During the course of our reporting, Crimson reporters requested comment from ICE — a decision that has proved controversial with many of our readers. We stand behind that decision, and we wanted to share with you our thinking.
The Crimson exists because of a belief that an uninformed campus would be a poorer one — that our readers have the right to be informed about the place where they live, work, and study. In pursuit of that goal, we seek to follow a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small.
Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them. That’s why our reporters always make every effort to contact the individuals and institutions we write about — administrators, students, alumni, campus organizations, and yes, government agencies — before any story goes to press. We believe that this is the best way to ensure the integrity, fairness, and accuracy of our reporting.
It was these same policies that were followed during our coverage of the Sept. 12 rally in Harvard Yard. After the protest had concluded, but before the story was published, The Crimson contacted an ICE spokesperson to ask if they wished to provide a statement in response to the protest.
Let us be clear: In The Crimson’s communication with ICE’s media office, the reporters did not provide the names or immigration statuses of any individual at the protest. We did not give ICE forewarning of the protest, nor did we seek to interfere with the protest as it was occurring. Indeed, it is The Crimson’s practice to wait until a protest concludes before asking for comment from the target of the protest — a rule which was followed here. The Crimson’s outreach to ICE only consisted of public information and a broad summary of protestors’ criticisms. As noted in the story, ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
A few days after the event, Act on a Dream and others expressed disagreement with The Crimson’s request for comment to ICE. It is our practice to meet with student groups whenever they have questions or concerns about our coverage, and — as a result — we contacted Act on a Dream shortly after seeing their criticisms on social media. We met with them to listen to their concerns and share our perspective by explaining our policies and the fundamental journalistic principles behind them.
A week later, Act on a Dream published a petition calling on The Crimson to change its policies so that it never contacts ICE for comment again and apologize for the “harm [it] inflicted on the undocumented community.” In this, the organization has called on other student groups to boycott speaking to The Crimson until the paper complies with their demands.
At stake here, we believe, is one of the core tenets that defines America's free and independent press: the right — and prerogative — of reporters to contact any person or organization relevant to a story to seek that entity's comment and view of what transpired. This ensures the article is as thorough, balanced, and unbiased toward any particular viewpoint as possible. A world where news outlets categorically refuse to contact certain kinds of sources — a world where news outlets let third-party groups dictate the terms of their coverage — is a less informed, less accurate, and ultimately less democratic world.
Experts from the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists have affirmed that The Crimson followed ethical journalistic practices in its reporting in this case and that its request for comment did not place any person in harm’s way. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that journalists should “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticisms or allegations of wrongdoing.”
We understand that some readers may disagree with The Crimson’s policies. But our mission is facts, truth, narrative, and understanding. In our view, consistent application of a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards is the best way to fairly report on the campus in a sensitive and thorough manner.
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