Was it “Grave Insensitivity” or Balanced Reporting?

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Harvard University’s daily student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, has come under fire after it contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a comment following a campus protest against ICE immigration policies. On September 12, Act on a Dream, a Harvard-based student immigration advocacy group, held a rally at which it called for ICE to be abolished. The Crimson covered the rally and later reached out to ICE officials for comment as part of its reporting on the protest.

Act on a Dream and other student organizations attacked the paper’s decision, asserting that it should not have contacted ICE because of its “long history of surveillance and retaliating against those who speak out against them.” Students were quoted in the story and identified, and photos of students were used. The group wrote a petition to get the paper to no longer contact ICE for comment which, as of this writing, has gathered 650 student signatures.

In the petition, Act on a Dream expressed concern that by contacting ICE, the paper compromised the identities of some students who might be targeted for action by ICE officers. The organization said that the paper “has an obligation, as a student news publication, to consider the safety of the students they are reporting on. As our fellow peers, they have displayed a grave insensitivity in the handling of reporting on undocumented individuals.” The paper did not contact ICE during the rally; it did so after the event, in the process of writing the story.

Crimson Managing Editor Angela Fu defended the decision to reach out to ICE, saying the paper follows a “commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small.” She added, “Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.”

It could be argued that Fu is right; asking for comment by all parties involved in a story, whether they are present at an event or not, is considered proper journalistic procedure. It’s simply a matter of balanced reportage. But in this case, did the pursuit of balanced reporting put student safety at risk?

Sources: nbcnews.com; thecrimson.com

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