BROOM: The hard truth
The Cavalier Daily must not refrain from publishing unpleasant news
Tragedy struck the University of Virginia community this past week with the death of second-year student Shelley Goldsmith. The Cavalier Daily coverage of the story began with a simple announcement published on the website on Sunday, Sept. 1. The announcement contained a bit of information about Goldsmith and noted that counseling services and other support is available to students via Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of the Dean of Students, which includes Housing and Residence Life.
The second and only other news piece The Cavalier Daily published about Goldsmith’s death was a short article about students and faculty gathering outside the Alpha Phi sorority house to commemorate Goldsmith’s life, published on Sept. 5. It is clear from the statements made at the commemoration that Goldsmith’s family and friends and the University community as a whole have suffered an awful loss.
When the first article was published, no one had much information about the circumstances surrounding or cause of Goldsmith’s death. By the time the article about the commemoration was published, though, there was significant information available that wasn’t included in the article and wasn’t covered elsewhere by The Cavalier Daily. On Sept. 3, The Washington Post had a brief news item stating that Washington, D.C. police were investigating Goldsmith’s death. On Sept. 4, the Post had another short piece elaborating on the previous story. Lastly, on Sept. 5 the Post ran a full-length news story noting the possible involvement of a drug referred to as Molly, a synthetic drug that is referred to at times as a purified form of ecstasy. The cause of Goldsmith’s death has not yet been determined, according to Washington D.C. police, but the involvement of illegal drugs is an important part of the story. Indeed, it is one that Goldsmith’s father commented on when speaking with the Post reporters. Robert Goldsmith said that after discussing the situation with his family he had decided to make public that his daughter had apparently taken the drug. He is quoted in The Post as saying “Shelley deserves a legacy of being someone who cared for people, someone who achieved, someone who contributed, and not a druggie who died. That’s not who she was. But if her death can open someone’s eyes, then we need to talk about it.”
The Cavalier Daily simply can’t leave out significant information from such an important story so intimately connected to the University. The first article was appropriate; it contained all of the information known at the time. But by the time the second article was published there were important facts available that The Cavalier Daily writers and editors either hadn’t learned or chose not to report. I can understand how difficult it would be as a part of the University community to include information about possible drug use in an article about people coming together to commemorate a young person with tremendous potential who has just died. But the information is still newsworthy and should, then, at least have been reported on in another article.
Expectations for a student-run paper
Given my criticism of news coverage above, it’s worth asking: What’s reasonable to expect from a group of undergraduate college students who publish a paper in the time they have between classes and studying and all the other activities of college life? Certainly in the stories and columns and editorials that are published, readers should expect professionalism and accuracy. It’s not worth publishing a paper if you’re not going to strive to meet those baseline requirements for journalism.
However, this is not a profit-making enterprise, there are not a tremendous amount of resources available and not every story that could possibly be covered will be covered. Choices about what to write will be made every day and not all readers will agree with those choices. For example, I think that the Board of Visitor’s decision to change the AccessUVa program to include loans could stand to have an entire issue of the news magazine devoted to it. Others, according to comments on The Cavalier Daily website, feel that the news writers should focus more on crime in the Charlottesville area.
I tend to think that it’s more important cover the stories that the staff and editors choose to cover accurately than it is to cover every possible story.
What do you think should be the expectations for the staff of The Cavalier Daily in terms of reporting news? Please let me know in the comments, via Twitter or email at the address below.
Christopher Broom is The Cavalier Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CDPublicEditor.