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Ester Cross: How The D Really Works

Thumbnail image for Ester Cross4.jpgToday’s column regarding the dysfunctional inner workings of The Dartmouth was written by Ester Cross ‘15, who has been writing for the paper for two years. In 2012 she covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for the Talk Radio News Service. Her other experience in writing includes a fellowship with the Congressional Research Service, work in communication and outreach with the Rahm Emanuel mayoral campaign in Chicago, and producing briefs as an intern with the American Civil Liberties Union. Ester is currently studying Government and French, and she will be studying at Oxford this fall.

I joined The Dartmouth newspaper staff during freshman fall to pursue my passion for journalism, improve my writing and become better acquainted with the College. Two years later, with 65 articles under my belt and having co-produced this year’s Freshman Issue, I feel that it is my duty to reveal the abuses and the lack of journalistic integrity that pervade the newspaper.

Most of The D’s problems stem from an utter lack of accountability on all fronts. The paper has no faculty advisor, no formal grievance procedures, and no structures for discipline. All decisions are made by the Editor-in-Chief, and the current Chief has pushed journalistic integrity and morality in interpersonal relationships to the wayside in an effort to assert her control.

Members of the directorate privilege deadlines at the expense of content, accuracy and verification. A vivid example of this practice became evident when the Editor-in-Chief forced me to write an article about Parker Gilbert ‘16, who is facing criminal charges, based on legal documents that I had acquired earlier that day. I had no choice but to write without proper verification or even an adequate understanding of the documents’ content. The lawyer that I interviewed was the mother of a fellow writer; she is based in California and had not seen the documents in question.

Pervasive misquotation in The D occurs because most writers do not record their interviews. Reporters fill in holes in interview notes based on their personal understanding of the content, leading to significant reporting errors. Misquotation and misrepresentation can also occur during the editorial process when some editors become zealous in paraphrasing and cutting content without regard for accuracy.

Moreover, reporters who attend events and conduct interviews commonly pass their notes to other reporters to actually write the final article. The result is the misrepresentation of facts, misquotation of comments, and misinformation. False and inaccurate reporting is the end result, as many people who have been the subject of a story in The D can attest.

Another policy practiced at The D to procure interviews involves threatening a possible interviewee with attributing “declined to comment” to his/her name — even if the interviewee wishes to comment but cannot do so for a day or two. In fact, an editor once grabbed my computer, wrote an email under my name to Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson that contained this threat, and then forced me to send it to compel the Dean to comment. When I voiced my concerns about this practice to the directorate, my concern was dismissed, and I was subjected to verbal abuse: I was labeled as “stubborn,” “condescending” and “unable to take criticism.”

As for balanced coverage of the news, members of the directorate encourage writers to interview people who scream the loudest, and they make no effort to balance reporting by capturing dissenting voices. Notice differences in coverage between my writing about New Hampshire state politics, where I was able to insist on balancing political voices , and the bias demonstrated by other reporters under the supervision of the directorate. The news room is routinely filled with derogatory and insulting comments directed toward interviewees who disagree with the editors. This bias and bigotry is consistently reflected in articles that misrepresent and diminish dissenting voices.

I have used the words “force” and “push” several times above to describe the ways in which students are treated at The D. Readers wondering how one group of students can compel other students to act against their own better judgment need to understand the hostile, abusive environment in Robinson Hall. Reporters are kept in a subservient position within a rigidly hierarchical structure without any procedure for redress. They are acutely aware that if they stand up for journalistic integrity, their hard work will be discarded at the arbitrary behest of the Editor-in-Chief.

The editorial staff at The D stifles initiative, creativity and investigative journalism. Editors prohibit and sanction writers for interviewing sources and investigating stories without their specific authorization. I was punished, and my story was not published, when I wrote an article about alumni involved in the 2012 national conventions prior to the start of the conventions. I was also prohibited from covering the conventions for The D. Though I have been writing for The D for two years, my fellow writers and I are not permitted to present ourselves to people as affiliated with the newspaper unless an editor sends us out on a pre-approved story assignment.

Throughout my time at the paper, I have been verbally abused with insults directed at my work and my commitment to journalism. Hiding behind The D’s status as an independent newspaper, the directorate has created an environment in which journalistic integrity is pushed to the side, freedom of speech and criticism within the organization are denied, and reporters are treated worse than day laborers. Is it any wonder that most reporting at The D is done by first year and sophomore students?

The threatening email policies and the Gilbert article were significant points of contention in which I defended journalistic integrity and responsibility to the Directorate. When two weeks ago a fellow ‘15 writer, and the future Editor-in-Chief of the paper, edited an article I wrote, she brazenly misquoted interview subjects, took quotations out of context, and diminished the work of the people I had interviewed, I again stood up for factual and responsible writing. In response, I received a new round of insults and punishment. No wonder my fellow writers do not join me in voicing their concerns; they live in fear of similar retaliation, especially at this time of the year when editorial positions are being distributed.

As I have been denied the opportunity to improve the paper from the inside, I must do so from the outside with this Dartblog post in the hope that my peers, when they take positions on the directorate in 2014, will curb abuses and reinstate journalistic competence and integrity in the oldest college newspaper in the nation.

In response to Ester’s criticism of The D two weeks ago, the Editor-in-Chief has permanently removed Ester from The D’s staff. Without providing any explanation as to the decision, the Editor-in-Chief sent her the following e-mail:

Addendum: The D’s Editor-in-Chief Jenny Che has written to the paper’s staff:

D Jenny Che response.jpg

Addendum: The D’s Publisher Gardiner Kreglow ‘14 has written to the business staff:

D Gardiner Kreglow Response.jpg

JOE MALCHOW adds: This story reminds me of this amusing joke edition from 2008.

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