When American University anthropology professor Adrienne Pine decided to breast-feed her infant in class earlier this month, she did much more than spark a debate about classroom decorum: She started a chain of events that would ultimately call into question the treatment of student journalists on campuses nationwide.
Some students were uncomfortable when Pine breast-fed her sick child in class on Aug. 28, but the controversy didn’t begin until a reporter from The Eagle, AU’s student newspaper emailed Pine for an interview. Pine retaliated with an online article, published Sept. 5, called “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposing My Breasts on the Internet.” The article said: “I was shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy, and at the anti-woman implications inherent in the email’s tone…[The reporter] continued hounding me … I, unfortunately, was in professor mode, too polite to tell her to go to hell.” She called the student newspaper “a sexist, third-rate university newspaper” that “has long had a solidly anti-woman slant” and “would craft a poorly-written story … and would shape my online reputation for all eternity.”
National news sources picked up the story, and The Eagle eventually decided to continue its investigation and publish a news article covering the facts for campus. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief also responded in an editorial defending the original choice to pursue the story:
“We stand by our reporting because this is the essence of journalism: we received a news tip and followed up with the proper sources to confirm the truth. The story, in our eyes, became newsworthy when we found specific policies that afforded her protection, opinions from the University on her actions, and widespread campus debate on a very legitimate question on the social acceptance of public breast-feeding.”
Interestingly enough, three Elm staff members visited AU just two weekends ago for a collegiate editor conference they held on their campus. They were wonderful hosts. They invited three expert lecturers to talk to the visiting schools, took us on a tour of their newsroom, even swapped advice and stories with us. We left AU with more than information on libel and style: we left knowing we’d just made new friends.
We’re not experts on The Eagle’s editorial history, but based on our interactions with them just recently, we can safely say their hearts are in the right place. They, like The Elm staff, report because they believe the student body deserves to be informed.
It’s an unfortunate and all-too-common misconception that student journalists are more concerned with spreading gossip than telling the truth, that they interview professors with the intention of dirtying their reputations across the front page of the newspaper.
We at The Elm are lucky that we haven’t come across any Professor Pines yet. For the most part, the staff and faculty we interview support student journalism and are willing to help us in any way they can. They understand that we’re still students; as hard as we try to get our facts straight, the occasional correction box is needed (see page two if you need any proof).
But the bottom line is this: We genuinely care about our newspaper. We work long hours every week writing objective, balanced articles to keep our campus as informed as possible. It’s a struggle, juggling interviews, snagging photographs with schoolwork, sports and club meetings.
It’s even more frustrating when we hit roadblocks from individuals who, like Pine, think we’re just a “third-rate university newspaper.” We may not be Pulitzer worthy, but we promise, we put ethics and objectivity first with our reporting. And we’re proud.