Since 1922, The Ball State Daily News has been committed to providing the campus community with breaking news and accurate, timely information.
We value the mission of our department: “stories better told, lives better lived.”
However, we did not live up to that mission, nor did we follow our own code of ethics in a printed column on Aug. 30, 2018.
Now we are holding ourselves accountable.
One of our senior columnists wrote, “Pencil Shavings: Jumping into Puddles,” an opinion piece analyzing the death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who was first reported missing on July 19. Her body was later found Aug. 21 in a cornfield near her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.
The column contained a host of errors and The Daily News must correct the record.
First, the victim’s name was misspelled.
Additionally, the columnist’s assertions of guilt in Tibbetts’ death were grossly premature.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the suspect authorities have charged with Tibbetts’ murder, has not yet been assigned guilt by a court of law. While he has been accused of the crime, he should not have been labeled “a murderer,” as was done in the piece.
As journalists, it is not our job and, in fact, it is unethical to assign guilt to those who are still innocent.
Lastly, the suspect’s resident status was mischaracterized in this piece as authorities continue to investigate. He should not have been labeled an “illegal immigrant.”
The Associated Press Stylebook, which journalists use as a guide, dictates that it is incorrect style to use the term “illegal immigrant.” Rather, the columnist should have referred to Rivera as potentially being in the country illegally.
So, how did this happen? How did we allow this column to go to print?
It is a question that I have been reflecting on for the past two days.
The truth is, we got lazy as a team.
The columnist, opinion editor, copy editor, managing editor and myself did not do our jobs. We did not adequately fact-check or question the piece.
Daily News reporters and editors are human and we make mistakes.
We are using this incident as a learning opportunity.
I have had conversations with both the columnist and opinion editor, reflecting on what went wrong, why it’s wrong and how we can fix it. And those conversations of accountability and responsible journalism will continue to happen within our newsroom.
Being objective as a journalist is not a state of perfection. Like any other skill, it takes practice and can always be improved.
We still want to emphasize that diverse voices and opinions are extremely important and will continue to be featured in The Daily News. We need more people from diverse communities to share their thoughts on the issues that matter most to them.
But, those opinions need to be responsibly reported and written.
Even though there were multiple editors who handled this opinion before it went to print, I am responsible for the news that is published by The Ball State Daily News and I take that job seriously.
I am sorry mistakes were made.
This is not the standard we want to keep.
We value the trust our readers place in us and that is a relationship we don’t take lightly.
We will do better.
Editor-in-chief, The Ball State Daily News