some background re: Collegian

Hi! Today, the latest edition of the Collegian came out, which marks a halfway point as a staff member on the paper. I thought I’d take some time to go over what I do for the paper and cover the methods and thinking behind my latest article. Just for fun, if nothing else.

So what do you do?

I am the “News Editor”, which means that my major job is to decide what articles we publish under, uh, “news.” I assign articles to our reporter and volunteers, I write at least one article per issue, and I help edit the articles once they’re turned in. (Something I still need practice on, some of you have noticed.) Notably, I don’t make any of the layout decisions on the paper, like what’s on the front page or where pictures and page breaks go, but I do sometimes determine headlines if the author hasn’t come up with one on their own. (I’m also bad at that.) That pretty much covers my job.

Ok. So what’s the deal with the latest issue?

Well, people might have some questions about it that go beyond the admittedly short scope of the article, and this seems as good of a time as any to address some of those hypothetical questions and dive into some of my thinking that led the article to be published. So let’s start:

I’m not from Mississippi College and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Right. Sorry. Around the beginning of November there were some rumors going around that one of our men’s clubs on campus (Rotaract) was facing some sort of disciplinary action or was going to be banned. This was only fueled after some support on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #freerotaract, but everyone really started freaking out when the club didn’t show up to a tailgate at all and they were not present at a Council meeting (the club/tribe governing body). Then the word going into Thanksgiving break was that they would not be banned, that they were only suspended, and this turned out to be true. That is the short version.

Sure, but why should I care?

Good question. The club/tribe campus dynamic is really unusual in that it fuels a lot of social life around here, but as far as governance and administration goes, the school tends to handle them kind of gingerly due to hazing. Every club/tribe has an “initiation process” or “rush” and hazing, real or perceived, is a serious threat to the school and students via lawsuits. This apparently is where Rotaract messed up according to Adam’s statement in the article.

Why should you care about this? Some of you care because you love to gossip at MC. Others are just interested because this deviates from normal campus life & behaviors (one way to define news). But let me pitch something to you:

Beginning from the second week of November until today, how much information about the club did you receive from a trusted higher authority, and how much did you receive from friends, rumors, or members of Rotaract themselves? I can go ahead and guess that a majority of your information came from classic MC gossip-spreading and not from anyone actually involved with the Council. In fact, the only official statement we, the Council representatives, were told to give was that a) Rotaract was in fact under investigation and b) not to talk about it any more.

This did not inspire a lot of confidence in me, personally speaking. At this point, the average student at MC has no real idea what the club was in trouble for or even if it deserved some kind of punishment at all. Rotaract being disbanded because they wandered the streets of Clinton beating up hobos and Rotaract being disbanded because a freshman ate too many marshmallows and said he had been hazed were completely indistinguishable. I was concerned that finals would pass into Christmas break, nothing would change or be said, and nobody would even try to figure out what actually happened. So that’s why I started chasing the story down.

Isn’t there some conflict of interest i.e. your authorship since you’re on the Council?

That is an extremely fair criticism and one I might receive once the paper starts really circulating. Both of my really good, go-get-it reporters were busy or sick when all this was developing, so I did my best to report on the story without abusing my position. I did not use any “privileged information” in the story- that is, I didn’t include anything that I only knew because I was on the Council. I also did not ask any other Council members anything about the issue, officially or unofficially, except for Adam Morgan. It’s arguable that I shouldn’t have written it, yes, but I did try to insulate myself from my other position and get information like any other student would.

The article doesn’t even say what they did to get in trouble. If you goal is to truthfully and accurately report the news, shouldn’t that be in there?

Yes and no.

The Collegian isn’t a “real” newspaper. We are completely owned and paid for by the communication department and, on a larger scale, Mississippi College. We’re more like a… news sandbox. A news laboratory. A news scrimmage match. And yes, we have typos every issue. I do genuinely think what we do matters, as a source of news, but we are limited in scope and content. This is not all bad. It gives students interested in journalism and writing a place to practice, show off their talents, and maybe wind up with a big byline or two if they get a good story.

We have, in the past, been limited in what we can and cannot publish about school-related matters. This is common knowledge. If I did find out and write exactly what Rotaract did to earn punitive measures, the article would most likely be stopped and remain unpublished.

I also don’t want to be an asshole about it. Rotaract is a positive social & service force on campus. If someone feels that I didn’t tell the complete story and wants to be heard, then you’re welcome to speak to me. Otherwise, I’m not going to force the issue when real info is hard to come by already.

In a real world where I work for a newspaper that is not beholden or held back by any interests, I would cover much more of the story than I did in the Collegian. That’s fine. I know the difference between a good scoop and a dick move. This is for the students that didn’t think I did enough: there are limitations to what I can do here, and I think I’ve acknowledged most of them.

The article really wound up being mostly the Adam Morgan statement, he should get a byline.

Ha! He probably should've, but I didn’t think about it until we went to press. Apologies, Adam.

Honestly I was trying to get an interview with him, but instead he sent me a very well-written 400-word statement that covered almost everything I wanted to know. Quoting selectively from a statement is pretty bad, especially when it is not a public statement. So we just ran the whole thing. I think it did the job quite nicely.

No picture on the article?

Yeah, the official Collegian rule is that every article has to have a picture, which I disagree with a little, but that’s a digression. I couldn’t find a picture that would be appropriate AND fit the tone of the article AND was not boring (like a Rotaract logo). So it was run with no picture. They let me get away with that sometimes.

Is that all?

That about covers it. This was by far one of the biggest stories of the semester, and a sensitive subject, but I’m happy I got to cover it.

If you want to talk to me more about it or are interested in writing for the paper, my Twitter handle is @ billwallard and my school email is waballard (at) mc (dot) edu. Thanks for reading this whole parenthetical mess. I’ll see you.

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