Case Study: Student journalists handle controversy

Grow a thick skin. Trust in your work. Revel in criticism as a sign of your public significance. And recognize readers are often not the best judges of quality journalism.

6 lessons student journalists learned at the center of a reporting controversy by Daniel Reimold

At my very small school newspaper, the Setonian, it would take a pretty big scandal for us to make the national news. We’ve faced some complaints and controversy, and while the cafeteria does occasionally use our issues in the dish area to contain messes, we’ve never had to face a protest. Still, what the student reporters at The Eagle of American University experienced was very real world, and therefore, valuable to study as a student journalist.

It’s crazy to me, sometimes, the expectations people have of journalists (even student journalists). We frequently get Facebook statuses and tweets due to tiny typos or perceived mistakes (even in a crossword puzzle). I can’t imagine having to face so much backlash, and I’m incredibly impressed with how these students responded. In the end, the reader is always right (even if they aren’t) and you can’t just lash back at people. Your reputation depends on it.

Still, it’s important to remember that this was a battle of a 19 yr-old (and a staff of similarly aged students) vs. a professor. Students have to make mistakes to learn (although I’d argue that this wasn’t really a mistake, per say). Adults, however, should be more mature than what was exhibited in the example.

The idea? Adults aren’t always going to react responsibly and maturely to journalism… not on a college campus and not in the professional world. Controversies are the basis of journalism, and if you can’t handle negative reactions, you’re probably not in the right job. I found this both encouraging and discouraging.

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