Student Reporting on School Issues
Fordham University has been mostly clear of scandal in the last few years. But the entirety of the 2017 Fall semester has been full of controversy and contradicting information. It has come down to The Fordham Ram, Fordham University’s journal of record, to share both sides of every issue that has afflicted the university.
Those issues include the banning of the Students for Justice in Palestine club, the salaries and healthcare benefits of faculty, protests in support of these causes and the treatment of protesting students following a physical confrontation between students and Fordham Public Safety.
As the news breaks, it is up to The Fordham Ram’s news team of editor Theresa Schliep and assistant editors Victor Ordonez and Aislinn Keely to compile the facts and share them with the Fordham community. While the gathering of information is not always difficult, making sure to represent both sides and find the truth is where things get tricky.
A recent example was a stalling in talks over the budget, specifically the salary and benefits for faculty.
The Ram received a statement from Andrew Clark, chair of the Faculty Senate salary and benefits committee, claiming the administration had withdrawn their deal. After The Ram made his comments public, they immediately received a statement from Bob Howe, head of communications for Fordham, contradicting Clark.
“There’s only so much I can do to determine who is right there,” said Schliep. “Otherwise, they would be my ultimate sources of information and there’s not really another person I can ask for information on health care. Andrew Clark has offered some documentation to prove that he in fact did not ask for concessions and they made modifications over the weekend but I haven’t seen it. A lot of it is really what they want to tell us.”
With only two opposing sides available and no real access to information, all the news staff could do was report what they said.
The process of objectively reporting conflicting comments and volatile stories can get tricky.
“Firstly, I ask any warranted follow up questions to make sure I understand the whole account and ensure that there are no holes in the story,” said Keely. “I check that on-record quotes are consistent with any background I already have, and if there are conflicts, I ask further questions to clarify discrepancies. I also pursue any implicated parties and give them an opportunity to comment on on-record information.”
Even when they have reporters present, like when Ordonez was on hand for student protestors rushing into Cunniffe House, their coverage still gets questioned by others, particularly on such divisive topics.
“The comments usually illustrate a reader’s anger,” said Ordonez. “They are often upset that I, or my fellow news team, gave the opposing side a voice in the article. The way I see it, these commenters are often upset that the article is fair.”
Another problem facing the staff of The Ram is making sure their readers, who are sometimes not experienced consumers of news, know the difference between the various sections, specifically between the opinion and news sections.
“After recent controversies surrounding the Opinion section I have had to correct critics who assumed I may have helped in anyway to write said article,” said Ordonez.
“I have experienced scenarios in which people believe that the staff personally sympathizes with or condones a point of view,” said Keely.
The article, or articles, in question were those written by Brianna Lyman on such hot-button topics like immigration and the travel ban, which struck many readers negatively and eventually necessitated an editorial from The Ram.
The student reporters also have to make a concerted effort to separate themselves from the story, considering they are reporting on their own school and oftentimes people they know. Schliep conceded that in the current budget dispute, the natural inclination is to side with the faculty over the administration because she interacts with them much more frequently.
That being said, they make sure to represent both sides equally.
“Many times [the administration] just want terms to be laid out more blatantly or for us to specify certain aspects of a story,” said Ordonez. “We often comply, but if we find the requests to be unreasonable or believe they would alter the story so it may favor one party, we decline to change our publication in any way.”
Schliep wanted to make it clear that, even though The Fordham Ram receives all of its funding from the university, that it is not beholden to its whims.
“You know, there’s some rumors that we have to sort of grant the administration some leeway and take their side on certain things because otherwise they would cut our funding, but that’s not at all true,” she said. “We don’t face any censoring from the university.”
Their will to not be intimidated from asking the important questions was shown in a recent interview with Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university. The interview had been set a few weeks in advance and was supposed to be about Fordham’s dodransbicentennial. However, Schliep and editor in chief Erin Shannahan still asked about the faculty senate instead of sticking to only softball questions.
“We are the ultimate source of news on campus,” said Schliep. “You know, we aren’t professional but I think the way we are doing our reporting, under the circumstances, is pretty professional.”