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The Gazette did a curious story prominently splashed above the fold on the break page about a controversy created by a column published in the Umass Daily Collegian calling into question the facts in the assault case of former Umass student Jason Vassell a violent incident with, gasp, racial overtones.
Now I say curious because one newspaper—especially a bricks and mortar traditional one--does not usually cover another newspaper creating a controversy via a column. Most news editor’s rate columnist just barely above bloggers.
The Collegian columnist relied on public documents for primary source material (probably more so than a typical reporter would) so I also find it curious the Gazette did not use and quote from the same material.
Thus far the response has included a Letter to the editor by Vassell’s two attorney’s lambasting the column and paper. Usually when contacted by a newspaper about a client in a highly public case most attorneys respond with: “I don’t try my case in the media.”
The President of the Student Government Association, who is Asian, also (over) responds to the column with an overly personal counterattack, and when the Collegian insists on editorial oversight an anonymous donor comes up with the cash to buy ad space so the vitriolic Letter would run without editorial filter.
Curiously the Collegian spiked the follow up effort by the columnist defending her original work by citing her reliable sources. Thus, they abandoned her.
A journalist’s (reporter, columnist or blogger) only weapon is their word. And a source needs to know that they will be protected. Reporters have gone to jail to protect a source that divulged information “off the record” and wanted it to stay that way.
If a newspaper will not stand behind a columnist, then maybe they should rethink their mission.
Original Collegian Column
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