DePauw College Newspaper Defends Coverage of Class on Arrested Student

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DePauw University student newspaper The DePauw published an opinion piece by Chase Hall defending the newspaper’s report on a university class session focused on the arrest of a DePauw student.

As Hall explained, DePauw “journalism professor Mark Tatge’s investigative reporting class” spent a session on the arrest of a sophomore at the university. Hall wrote, “To show students the kinds of documents that are available on the public record, Tatge passed out a 17-page packet of information on the student, including court documents, her police report and her Facebook and Twitter pages.”  The student was arrested “on four misdemeanors: public intoxication, minor in consumption.., resisting law enforcement and criminal mischief,” according to the DePauw.

While the story in itself is newsworthy, “student journalists” at the DePauw debated publication because reporting “could cause additional harm to” the student.  Ultimately, the newspaper decided to publish because its reports could provide information, facts, context and all sides of the story, according to Hall.  Hall noted that the newspaper “consulted with” DePauw alumnus and media ethicist Bob Steele, the newspaper’s faculty adviser, and the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code.  Also, the newspaper didn’t involve two of its managing editors because they take the class in question, he wrote.

This is The DePauw’s Feb. 27 article on the class, also written by Hall.  The report, “Reporting class sparks controversy over academic freedom,” focuses on concerns about Tatge’s class session on the arrested student.  According to that report, one of the student’s sorority sisters told the student about the class, who told her parents, who then contacted the university’s administration.

The DePauw also published March 1 a set of letters to the editor including some critical of the Feb. 27 article for rehashing the arrest.

Tatge defended his class session to Jim Romenesko explaining, “There seems to be a total misunderstanding of my intentions. I in no way intended to embarrass or humiliate anyone. This was a teaching exercise. This is a public record in a public Indiana court. ”

Inside Higher Ed wrote about the issue noting that it didn’t name the student “because her identity is not integral to the issue at hand.”  According to Inside Higher Ed, a DePauw spokesperson explained that while the professor didn’t break any laws with the class, “”it’s less certain whether the lecture violated a university policy against creating a hostile learning environment.”

The spokesperson added that “I don’t think that because public records are out there means that anything you do with them is necessarily appropriate.  The issue is that a particular student felt uncomfortable with the kind of attention they were getting in class.”

Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte told Inside Higher Ed that “a distinction can be drawn between a legal use of the records and a responsible use of them.”  LoMonte indicated the class could have focused on an “off-campus public figure to analyze”; however, he said “he doesn’t think Tatge should be penalized.”

Jim Romenesko noted that Poynter’s Kelly McBride told the National Education Writers Association that while public records arrests could be used in context to have “frank conversations” about issues, she has “great compassion” for the student because the professor could have used “alternatives that could have minimized the harm to this particular student.”

She is quoted as saying: “My fear is a lot of people think journalism is about publicly humiliating people and invading their privacy, and it would be reasonable for people who look at this from the outside to think that’s what this professor was trying to teach them to do.”

In a March 8 report, Inside Higher Ed reported that Tatge “won’t be sanctioned” for the class.

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DePauw College Newspaper Defends Coverage of Class on Arrested Student

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