Ombudsman Column

CW Staff

On Jan. 21, The Crimson White wrote about the Student Government Association and SGA money that was spent to send five students to Pasadena, Calif., for a community service event planned around the BCS National Championship.

Questions have been raised about The CW’s coverage of this initial story and subsequent stories over the past two weeks through letters to the editor, discussions and statements given by the SGA and UA officials.

As the ombudsman for The Crimson White, it is my job to be an impartial observer of the happenings of paper. I observe the coverage that takes place, and comment weekly to staff members on what has appeared – or not appeared – in the paper.

When problems arise in The CW’s coverage, it is also my job to investigate and try to resolve the issue. In this case, I examined the coverage of the SGA sending five students to California for a community service event to see if it was biased, or if reporters did not do their due diligence in collecting facts.

After examining the stories, I spoke with both CW Editor Amanda Peterson and Managing Editor Alan Blinder, who broke the story, about what they did to cover the story and check facts.

After discussing what happened with Peterson and Blinder, this is what took place behind the scenes while they covered the story: The Crimson White began asking questions when staffers heard about the community service event and wanted to find out how much it cost to send five students to take part in it. Financial numbers came directly from SGA President Steven Oliver, Blinder said. After calling senators for a reaction, Blinder was informed that an expense of over $1,000 without SGA Senate approval was against the SGA Code of Laws. This sparked further inquiry and coverage by The CW.

Twice, The CW editorial board focused on this event in the “Our View” editorial. Normally, Peterson, Blinder and Opinions Editor Jonathan Reed all discuss the topic and come to a consensus on the issue. Reed then writes the editorial that appears in print. For the “Our View” pieces about the incident, Blinder did not participate in the editorial board’s discussion.

If Blinder had both covered the SGA Pasadena trip story and given his perspective in an opinion piece – even a group one such as “Our View” – this would have been improper. A reporter must remain impartial while covering a story.

To conclude this explanation, I feel that it is not my place to say if the SGA is wrong, or if there are problems with the trip and the $4,700 of SGA money that was spent. It is not my place to say if the SGA broke rules. I am here to comment on the conduct and coverage of members of The Crimson White.

Therefore, it is my place to say that disagreements between media outlets and any type of government are fairly commonplace. Investigating tips and trying to determine if government officials and bodies followed the rules is how newspapers attempt to keep local governments honest.

I hope that this column has explained what took place at The Crimson White, and what editors and reporters did to give its readers a clear picture of what was going on in the SGA.

While this is the first issue that has required a written explanation, with SGA elections – always a hot-button issue – coming up, the possibility remains that you will hear from me again. I serve the public and the readers of the CW, so if you believe that something requires my attention, please feel free to let me know.

Jessie Patterson Jones is a graduate student in journalism and the ombudsman for The Crimson White. She can be reached via e-mail at jlpjones2@gmail.com.