For the sake of transparency, I’ll just say it. I’m biased.
At USC, there are two student-run news outlets, and I have always worked for the official campus newspaper, the Daily Trojan. The alternative student publication, Neon Tommy, is an online only news website endorsed by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, covering the area outside of USC, while the Daily Trojan, focuses on the USC campuses. So when there is breaking news on campus, it’s hard not to compare each outlet’s coverage.
That very situation presented itself earlier this week, when USC administration issued new sanctions against Greek events held on The Row, the street near campus where most sororities and fraternities are housed. Neon Tommy posted a story online with limited-to-no sourcing and a few small errors early in the day, then an updated version of the story was posted later with links to the social media accounts of a student referenced in the article and sources which included, “various campus sources,” and “Facebook friends” of the student, confirming her identity. Their lack of solid sources and willingness to publish information about a student without confirmation from an official source was troubling to me as an editor of a news publication and a journalism major.
Daily Trojan special projects editor Daniel Rothberg recently addressed all of these issues in a column, along with the fact that Neon Tommy was later cited by CBS News and the Los Angeles Times, and I do not wish to re-hash them. What I do want to make clear is that I am uncomfortable with the fact that the journalism school I attend condones the mentality of being first over being accurate that is often associated with online journalism.
Annenberg abides by a common policy among journalism schools that students are to receive an “F” on an assignment should there be any factual errors, including misspellings on proper nouns. Based on that rule, Neon Tommy’s story would have failed more than once, which I personally find unacceptable for a publication that is officially sponsored by a nationally recognized journalism school.
I also realize that, as a student, these student publications come with a learning curve, and mistakes are sometimes to be expected and learned from. In my opinion, however, it’s not the errors themselves that are troubling, but the cavalier attitude that the editors of Neon Tommy seem to have about publishing sensitive information without proper sourcing. After all, today’s student journalists will be the leaders of the media tomorrow.
I am extremely proud of the story that the Daily Trojan writers and editors published, and I applaud both publications for working diligently to bring news to the attention of the public. I can only hope that Annenberg will practice what they preach in the future.