Letter from the editor

The Spectrum regrets and apologizes for mishandling Israel-Palestine coverage

You may have seen a correction on the front page of our Friday edition addressing the article “Students for Justice in Palestine comes back to UB.” It was the first step in rectifying a regretful error. This letter is the next – and after that comes the job of rebuilding our readership’s trust in our credibility.

Saying “I’m sorry” does not wipe away the inaccuracies and unfair coverage that ran on The Spectrum’s front page last week. Saying “I’m sorry” does not earn back your trust – nor should it.

Still, I am going to say it because as a journalist and as a person I believe in admitting my failings, correcting them and learning from them. I apologize to the Jewish community, to members and supporters of Students for Justice in Palestine and to anyone else who was offended by our coverage for my ignorance, insensitivity and inability to find a proper editor for our story. I also apologize for our insufficient, inaccurate and inappropriate reporting.

The Spectrum, and I as its leader, failed our readership in our Wednesday edition. An article, which was not properly examined or fact checked, ran. It shouldn’t have – not in the way it was presented. It unfairly represented the ongoing Palestine-Israeli conflict. It did not give the proper voice to the Israeli perspective nor a full accounting of the goals of the SJP students. It was not an objective piece of journalism.

There’s no excuse for that. Language was used inappropriately and quotes were improperly vetted for accuracy. That’s not the standard of this newspaper.

The Spectrum’s article, which highlighted a pro-Palestine student club getting its footing on campus, was not presented in a way that was balanced. I sincerely apologize to those these errors offended. The article has since been corrected online.

In no way was it the intention of The Spectrum to offend anyone. But that does not change that it happened. It was a third issue of the fall semester and as a new staff was getting used to its news roles, our effort to cover a contentious topic failed.

And I learned a tough lesson. I’m in my senior year and spent the summer working as a reporter at The Oregonian. I know what it means to be informed about a topic.

Yet, I wasn’t as informed as I should have been. Reading a few New York Times articles and catching a couple clips on NPR does not make me an expert on this conflict – a conflict that has proven difficult to cover objectively. The Times, which some view as the pinnacle of objectivity, received more than 1,000 emails with charges of bias for its Palestine-Israel coverage over the summer. The charges came from both sides and about the same stories.

With that in mind, it makes it that much more difficult to admit the piece in question was not edited as carefully as it should have been. I take full responsibility for that.

College journalism is different from most other university experiences in that our mistakes are not confined to a classroom and a conference with a professor. They’re broadcast in print for the public to scrutinize. Our newspaper – one of the only fully independent college newspapers in the nation – is not vetted by a professor or by our faculty adviser before it is printed. We only hear the critiques after our words see print.

We have an amazing freedom and a tremendous burden.

I have wanted to be editor in chief of this paper ever since I walked through the door as a freshman. In Wednesday’s paper – my third as editor in chief – I failed. We failed. My staff and I are properly humbled, largely because of input from you, our loyal readers.

As we move forward, I welcome your scrutiny. You can help us be better.

I also know the only way The Spectrum can earn back its reputation and credibility is through the promise to continue on our mission of publishing objective, award-worthy college journalism. We are revamping our fact-checking curriculum, and as unfortunate as this situation is, it serves an invaluable lesson for every member on The Spectrum’s new staff.

I can assure our readership that procedural changes are being put into place to ensure nothing like this happens again.

Mistakes are inevitable in every newspaper, especially in college journalism, where many students are taking up their first stories, conducting their first interviews and learning through trial and error. But that’s why college papers need to be aggressive in their vetting. The Spectrum is committed to minimizing errors.

But as journalists, we own up to those mistakes when they happen. We run corrections. We issue apologies.

Many students – including me and my staff – are not educated enough on the Middle East.

That makes The Spectrum’s role in the topic all the more important because, perhaps, a student is more inclined to read our student-focused coverage on these issues rather than a lengthy piece in a national newspaper.

The worst thing The Spectrum could do in this situation is stop covering these international topics out of fear we’ll again make errors. Those of you who were most frustrated by the piece are likely the sort of students and faculty we need to talk to in the future to break this topic down for the average reader.

But I’m completely aware, regardless on which side of the conflict your opinions fall, that you may no longer trust the paper to cover it fairly.

And though I cannot fault you for not wanting to read us after this error, I hope you can accept our sincerest apologies. I hope you can help us rectify this situation by being the sources we need to cover this topic appropriately in the future.

I’m sorry for what happened, but I’m looking to improve ties with those unhappy with the article the best way I know how: through journalism and the promise that we’ve learned from our blunders.

email: sara.dinatale@ubspectrum.com