Editor’s note: The following is a staff editorial written by the staff of the Belmont Vision. From time to time, the Vision editorial staff may deem it necessary to comment on campus events, attitudes and atmosphere as a collective, and not just an individual writer. This is one of those times. If you would like to share your thoughts, we always welcome letters to the editors at our email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here at the Belmont Vision, we pride ourselves on being as professional as we can, seeking to be a forum for the student body to share its stories and concerns in a balanced and ethical way.
With each story we write, we aim to get as much of the story from as many perspectives as possible, to “diligently seek subjects of news coverage” and to “support the open and civil exchange of views,” as the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics says.
We aim to be transparent in our procedures and to encourage other organizations on campus to embrace transparency as well, using the Vision as a resource.
That means going to sources over and over again; it means trying to get in touch with as many people as we can. It means making phone calls, sending emails and chasing down interviews.
And sometimes, it means printing “No comment” when sources aren’t willing to work with us on a story.
On Aug. 14, sophomore Lauren Forsythe resigned from Belmont’s chapter of Phi Mu Fraternity after a photo on her personal Instagram account showed Forsythe wearing a bikini top with nipples painted on it, making it appear to some that she was topless.
Forsythe was allegedly told by chapter leadership that she had the option to “take the photo down immediately and face no consequences, resign voluntarily or go through the discipline process to be dropped, getting Phi Mu financially penalized,” she said.
Ultimately, she made the decision to drop, saying that it would go against her feminist beliefs that the female body should be desexualized to remove the photo from her account.
A few days later, a story about Forsythe’s resignation ran on Cosmopolitan magazine’s website, gaining Forsythe both support and opposition from Phi Mu members and non-members around the country.
Well aware that the resignation was important Belmont news, we wrote a story on it.
Ultimately, however, the Vision’s editorial board made the executive decision not to run it– not because we were under any pressure from other organizations or any obligation to hold the story because of the approaching recruitment season– but because it was no longer timely news. Other organizations had already told the story and we had gathered no abundance of new information.
But just because the story was never published doesn’t mean that a lesson can’t be learned from it.
For this story in particular, contacting both the president and adviser of Phi Mu only resulted in directions to Phi Mu headquarters. Efforts to reach out to the assistant director of student engagement went unreturned.
The simple process of getting a comment from someone near the situation– something that could have been accomplished over the course of a 30-minute conversation– turned into a frustrating two-week cycle of testing the waters with what questions would or would not end in redirection to Phi Mu headquarters.
Our sources just weren’t talking.
The only Phi Mu-based source came in the form of a statement provided by Phi Mu National Director of Communications Jackie Isaacson, limiting our local sources to Forsythe only.
This lack of perspective left the story untimely, heavily one-sided and, above all, entirely unuseful.
While it is within everyone’s rights to deny comment to the media, Forsythe’s story had already been told. What was lacking in other articles was a Belmont-based source, an authority on why the chapter made the decision it did. And who better to give that perspective than the campus newspaper?
In an ideal world, Phi Mu leadership could have used to article to candidly explain the options that Forsythe was allegedly given, how the photo went against what the chapter stands for or even who the new assistant recruitment chair would be.
By electing to remain silent, however, the organization forfeited much-needed transparency and, in the process, fashioned themselves as a faceless antagonist of the situation, appearing secretive and desperate to maintain good public relations as recruitment season began.
In the end, their uniform silence was worth less than a single direct, attributable quote and effectively destroyed the possibility of making the article the centerpiece of what could have been an interesting and important discussion on student organizations, activism and social media.
The responsibility of the Belmont Vision is to share “Student news, student views,” and dedication to that responsibility means we must act on any newsworthy story in the most accurate, truthful and fair way we know how–even when that’s a simple admission that we did reach out but got nothing in return.
As we move through this semester and into the next, we welcome organizations to speak to us not only as a newspaper, but as an accessible means of public forum: a platform for the discussion of ideas and the instigation of change, for the clarification and the defense of values.
We welcome people to send us letters to the editor or come talk to us in our brand new office in DAC 108, to tell us what’s going on and why.
It’s the office with the wall made of windows.
We’re transparent so you can be too.