Letter from the Editors: Balancing Journalistic Integrity with Administration Expectations

Letter+from+the+Editors%3A+Balancing+Journalistic+Integrity+with+Administration+Expectations

As student journalists, we’re taught from day one the necessity of reporting the truth with absolute objectivity. It’s the undisputed backbone of journalism as an industry and it’s what keeps democracy alive today. Unfortunately, there are rare moments of discrepancy between a story’s newsworthiness and a publication’s ability to report it. The Roar was faced with one of these conflicts several weeks ago.

The Roar is funded entirely by the Piedmont College administration, which has no obligation to continue backing our publication costs each year. We’re never told what we can and can’t publish, but because The Roar’s existence is contingent on the approval of Piedmont’s administration, we do have to consider every potential reaction when we publish controversial news about the school. We’ve been especially delicate with our reporting of the developing lawsuit filed against Piedmont College by former Biology professor Dr. Rob Wainberg.

We were faced with a very difficult decision when a recent affidavit was submitted in which Professor of Biology and Mayor of Demorest Rick Austin accused President James Mellichamp of sexual harassment. No other publications were reporting the story, presumably because it was buried in a stack of court documents that only we were checking in on, and we feared the potential repercussions that The Roar could face if we chose to break the news. We knew that the news was important and relevant, but we also knew that the paper could be shut down if we upset the wrong people, and that wasn’t a risk that we wanted to take. After several days of lengthy discussions, we fought against our journalistic instincts and chose not to publish the story.

That wasn’t good enough for us, though. We couldn’t sit idly by while such a newsworthy story went untold. Keeping our adviser in the dark, The Roar’s editors brought the news to the attention of local publications, supplying them with all of our research, documents and previous stories. Within weeks, the story was covered by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Gainesville Times, Now Habersham, and the Northeast Georgian.

Our decision wasn’t made as an attack against Piedmont College or President Mellichamp, nor was it an attempt to sensationalize the news. We simply wanted to find the best way to shed light on a recent story while protecting the future of our own publication. Due to the concern and integrity of North Georgia’s community of journalists, we were able to make sure that the story was still told even though it was out of our own reach.

This is the first time that The Roar’s current staff has ever chosen to withhold from publishing a story out of fear for the publication’s health, but if it ever happens again, you have our word that we’ll find a way to get the news out there.