Middle East Studies in the News
Columbia Spectator Rejected Same Deal As NYT
In two stories today [1, 2] the Spectator quotes students from Columbians for Academic Freedom in response to the committee's report, while the New York Times has no student comment in its story.
Megan Greenwell, editor-in-chief of the Spectator, told CampusJ in a phone interview that university spokesperson Susan Brown had proposed two "ground rules" for gaining early, exclusive access to the report. "We were not allowed to take the report...out of Low Libary," Greenwell recalled as the first rule, and said that Brown declared a second rule, saying "we will set up interviews for you with several administrators, however, you may not spread this to anybody who has not seen the report." Greenwell said the clear implication of Brown's second ground rule was that students could not be interviewed for the story.
In response to the second ground rule, Greeenwell recalled, "We said we need to talk to students, we're the student newspaper." Greenwell said that Brown responded by saying "You can use student quotes, as long they're not about the report."
In the midst of reporter Lisa Hirschman's interviewing the CAF students, Greenwell said, Provost Allan Brinkley allowed the students to read the report, by which time (around 10:45 PM) the NYT story had already been posted to the Web. By then, Greenwell said, Brown "knew that we were interviewing students……she never really gave us permission, nor did we seek it, but we knew she knew."
As to the NYT deal, Greenwell said, "we assumed that the Times had been offered the same deal that we were." Asked if Brown had said that the Times promised not to run student quotes, Greenwell said "It was never explicit, but I'd say that that was pretty clearly the understanding." Greenwell asserted that when she asked Brown if the NYT had agreed to the conditions, Brown said "the Times had exactly the same ground rules as you do." Greenwell asserted that "Susan Brown was certainly under the impression that the Times was following her ground rules."
Opining on the NYT story, Greenwell said "I don't know what the conditions of the Times deal was, but I read the story, and they didn't quote students...whether coincidentally or intentionally, their story did follow the ground rules."
As to what Greenwell thinks of the NYT's apparently taking the deal, she said "I think if the Times took the deal, then I'm a little disappointed…it was so clear to us at the beginning, that we cannot do this." If the Spectator were to run a story that only included the administration's opinion, Greenwell said "that's not journalism, that's a university press release." Greenwell added, "that the Times did not live up to our fairly obvious standard is very disappointing to me…as aspiring professional journalists, we hold the Times in the highest regard."
Moreso, due an erroneous report in the New York Sun that the Spectator had agreed to the deal, Greenwell noted "because of the deal that the Times allegedly struck, we got lumped in with them in the Sun today…because they did this, now our name is getting lumped in with theirs in the blogosphere, and everywhere."
UPDATE: Some readers have suggested that this interview indicates Greenwell simply accepted the deal, and then reneged. Greenwell made clear in the interview that she never agreed to the terms of the deal, and simply kept pushing off negotiations of it until her team had gotten the whole story. In her initial discussion with Brown, Greenwell said, "What we said was, we'll come see the report, we'd like to talk to you more about these ground rules…[we said we] weren't going to write a story if all we were going to get was the administration's point of view." As well, by waiting until the students actually saw the report -- as opposed to the NYT's earlier filing -- Greenwell's team met the condition of speaking only to those who'd seen the report.
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