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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 14, 2024

Letter from the Editor in Chief: Responsible journalism in times of protest

The First Amendment ensures that every Tufts student has the right to protest through peaceable assembly. It is the same amendment that gives the Daily the right to report on any protest that may be relevant to its audience. To neglect to cover newsworthy student activism would be to disregard our responsibilities as a newspaper.

Protection of protest is not, however, accompanied by a right to anonymity, nor does it bar protesters from facing social consequences from those who may disagree with their cause or their means of advocacy. Identities give opinions weight; that’s why protests work, and it’s one of the reasons why the Daily rarely grants anonymity to its sources. That practice is supported by the Associated Press Statement of News Values and Principles, which stipulate that sources who wish to remain anonymous should only be allowed to do so when “they provide vital information – not opinion or speculation.”

Earlier this week, the Daily chose not to publish photographs that elicited questions of our journalistic integrity from some members of the Tufts community. The photos depicted a group gathered outside Sunday’s Tufts Community Union Senate meeting, advocating for “the right to protest.” The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists encourages newspapers to generate a “civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content,” so I’d like to take this space to do just that.

In the realm of photography, the law is extremely clear. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, any person who is “lawfully present in any public space” has the right to photograph “anything in plain view.” It’s the reason why Tufts can take photos or drone footage of students on campus to use in university marketing materials, and it’s the reason why a Daily reporter can take photos of a protest in the lobby of the Joyce Cummings Center. Tufts’ community guidelines prohibit unauthorized recording of a person who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” but students forfeit that expectation the moment they are in public view, and it further disappears when they are engaging in newsworthy activity.

There are many instances when journalists and media outlets may choose to grant anonymity or censor identities beyond what is legally required. The ethical basis of those decisions involves a real fear of retribution and a real threat to a person’s safety. Some examples include photographing activity in areas with paramilitary violence, photographing minors, or photographing people who may be prosecuted if their identities were revealed, such as undocumented immigrants at an immigration rally. The ‘retribution’ that has been cited to our reporters in recent days, and is often cited in cases of student journalism, is a purely social one. It’s facing the consequences of standing by your beliefs in a politically polarized climate.

I also would like to remind our audience that Daily reporters are human, and for many of our readers, they are your peers. As people who volunteer up to 50 hours of their time every week to ensure that Tufts has an independent community advocate and informant, they deserve to be treated with respect. Mistreatment and mistrust of the press is reminiscent of Trump era abuses, and it is a culture we strive to combat through responsible reporting. I stand by our staff, their commendable work and the mission of The Tufts Daily.