By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

At BU, a big mistake and a tough call

Interesting. Yesterday I told the Boston Globe I thought the Daily Free Press, Boston University’s independent student newspaper, did the right thing in asking editor Chelsea Diana to resign.

Today a Globe editorial argues persuasively (link now fixed) that the paper overreacted.

It’s a tough call. My sense is that given the nature of the Free Press’ offense (putting out an April Fools Day edition that indulged in alleged humor about rape), this wasn’t going away without a suitably dramatic move. Better a resignation now than demonstrations and a whole slew of resignations a week later.

But the whole idea of a student press is to give young journalists a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, this was a big one. Still, I hope this does no serious or permanent damage to Diana’s prospects. If anything, she should get credit for doing the right thing.

Here’s some useful background, with links, from Lauren Landry of BostInno.

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  1. Bill Toscano

    Dan: I agree it was a tough call.

    I do not understand what you mean when you say the young lady “should get credit for doing the right thing.”

    What was the right thing, apologizing or resigning. She should have done both, without any push and in a more persuasive manner.

    I believe the school should pursue discipline against her, and I feel any reporters directly involved in the offensive and insensitive stories should also be suspended or fired.

    I am stunned at how lightly this is being taken in many quarters. The comments in one Globe story I read were running 50-50 saying it was not a big deal.

    Rape is a big deal, especially on that campus right now.

    Rape is never funny.

    There was absolutely no “merit” to those stories.

    If the students involved think this was “OK,” they should consider another line of work.

    Maybe I am an old curmudgeon who “doesn’t understand young people.” Then again, I taught for 16 years, so I think I do.

    Maybe I am just too old school. April Fool’s Day stories are not news and they damage our credibility.

  2. Brad Smith

    Interesting Globe editorial. The news business has become notorious in recent years for throwing its own under the bus for any infraction, real or perceived. It’s the only business I know of that prefers to eat its own so ferociously, rather than circle the wagons and defend, as do most any other commercial or government enterprises.

    Maybe this girl will get the hint and direct her career aspirations where there is a more forgiving future.

  3. Mike Benedict

    I agree that the mission of J-school is to teach and learn, and making mistakes is simply part of learning, but with all that comes accepting responsibility, which in some situations means falling on your sword.

  4. Rick Peterson

    @Bill: I agree. I have been searching my memory trying to recall an April Fools Day edition or a prank edition of a newspaper or magazine that I found to be funny (rather than pathetic or just stupid). Can’t recall one. Guess I’m too old as well.

  5. Bill Toscano

    Mike: Mistakes are one thing, though in J-School we lost a grade for every misspelling in any assignment.

    I think this is far beyond a “mistake.”

    Again, my opinion.

  6. Matt Kelly

    Sorry, I’m in the Not a Big Deal crowd. A group of 20-year-olds made a stupid mistake– that’s what 20-year-olds do. They also get outraged quite easily, so I’m not surprised at that either, but this isn’t the end of the world and this editor should not have her career ruined before it starts.

    Let’s remember that the Freep is a wholly independent institution run by people whose average age is roughly 21. In fact, the editor who resigned was a college sophomore, and the board chairman who asked for her resignation was a college senior. Neither one should be running something with such power to cause controversy, because neither of them fully understand the power they have yet. Christ, I barely understand the power I have, and I’ve been in this business more than 20 years.

    None of this is to say I take sexual assault lightly; I don’t. But we’ve all exercised bad judgment that led to really stupid mistakes, even if we don’t remember them now. Like Benedict said, mistakes are part of learning, and with that comes accepting responsibility for your mistakes. That’s what this girl did. She learned. Nobody got hurt. Move on.

  7. L.K. Collins

    School is a place make mistakes and learn.

    I would suggest that the former editor has now learned that big mistakes can carry big consequences.

    It is nice to see that the politically correct are now reduced to some soulful hand wringing.

  8. I just read Diana’s bit in the Globe. Really, her excuse is “I’m 19, I’m supposed to make mistakes.”? I always heard that if you can say “I’m just a kid” then you’re too old to use it.

    I guess it’s one thing for an obviously immature older teenager to expect a pass because of her age, but I’m surprised by all of the adults who are granting it. At the age of 19 the world seemed like a pretty serious place and one I needed to get right if I wanted to get anything done. I’ll note that this was in 91/92, when college tuition was about half of what it is now and a grad’s job prospects were much better.

    I don’t see any reason to pigpile on this, well, naive child, but I object to people characterizing this as a foolish prank.

  9. Aaron Read

    Humor is, almost by its nature, cruel to someone. That’s why April Fools pranks in the media rarely end well (at best, they’re neutral). Remember how Opie & Anthony tried the prank of “Mayor Menino is Dead”? They paid for that one with their jobs, too…although given their careers after that prank, one could argue they got the last laugh.

    While it’s unfortunate that Ms. Diana will also lose her job over this, it is ultimately the appropriate response. Too often children of the Millennial Generation have been taught that their actions do not have consequences. Well, guess what? They do. When you’re editor, that means you ARE responsible for the paper…good stuff and bad. When the bad happens, it’s your job to stand up and take one for the team. That’s the price you pay for getting to have the power of being editor in chief.

    And hopefully her example will dissuade many future generations of Freep students from ever doing something as dumb as an April Fools edition ever again.

  10. Mike Benedict

    @Bill: We aren’t disagreeing. Like I said, she should fall on her sword. In other words, take the responsibility — and whatever pain that follows it.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Yeah. Seems like I’ve seen a fair number of comments — not just here — that these damn kids ought to take responsibility, ignoring the fact that she just did.

  11. She took action, but her usage of the age defense avoids responsibility.

  12. L.K. Collins

    It seems though, Dan, the falling on the sword was less than voluntary.

    That’s the issue here.

    We must remember that the law assumes that 18-year-old individuals are intelligent and mature enough to enter into contracts.

    Perhaps we should change they law to 27 years old so that the individual can continue to claim themselves as kids as they do for health insurance and get a mulligan for everything that they do wrong.

  13. Mike Benedict

    Yeah, you’re right. She should have thrown herself on a pyre like an Indian widow in the 1950s.

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