Transparency Item: Letters from the editor are based on opinion. This is the opinion and perspective of the writer, in this case Managing Editor Abby Wilt.
When I want to truly get to know someone’s story, I like to talk to them face-to-face. I want to hear their thoughts, see their emotions and connect with them on a deeper level — deeper than something I can observe via email or text where thoughts can be misconstrued or misinterpreted.
While I know challenges come every year, this year has been unique.
This year, a new University policy requires that when any member of the Graphic requests an interview with senior administration — individuals whose voices are vital to stories about the University — we are directed to the Integrated Marketing Communications department.
We are also directed to IMC for select staff and faculty members, outside of senior administration.
The IMC department promotes the University and handles brand marketing and public relations, according to their website.
At the beginning of the academic year, the Graphic leadership agreed to work with IMC to solely schedule interviews with members of the senior administration only.
In its original intent, this is typical practice from a PR perspective.
But what often happens under this new policy is that once Graphic reporters email their senior administration sources, with IMC CC’d for scheduling, IMC responds to the Graphic request — rather than the intended source.
In some instances, the Graphic emails staff or faculty members outside of senior administration, without IMC CC’d, and IMC still answers.
While we understand that everyone has the right to request an email interview, or even decline an interview all together, IMC and the senior administration should be leading by example when it comes to transparency and openness.
IMC then asks reporters to send all of our specific interview questions via email so sources can send their responses in writing — something that goes against our policy.
Our policy states we will only do email interviews for special circumstances, such as data-only questions. We will also not send written questions prior — just sample questions and general topics.
The problem with an email interview is there is no proof who wrote the email, nor is it a transparent form of communication. Anyone could be writing or editing interview responses — speaking for the intended source and misrepresenting their thoughts.
If and when we send the questions to IMC, we are often told the source is only willing to do a written interview via email. Again — an ask that goes against our policy.
If the Graphic does settle for an email interview, IMC or the source will send written answers — and the reporters move forward with the story, never knowing how the source actually wanted to conduct the interview, because IMC does the bulk of the communicating for these sources.
Is that email interview written by the intended source, or is it written by Pepperdine’s IMC department and sent to us, without any real depth or substance?
And, more importantly, how are we to share ethical, unbiased journalism at Pepperdine with just a few simple, scripted sentences about important topics?
The whole process takes up unnecessary time for reporters who strive to share timely news with the community, and we are never speaking to our actual sources — just to IMC.
I acknowledge there are members of senior administration who do talk to us in-person and do not have us include IMC on emails to schedule interviews — and for that, I am thankful. There are individuals in the senior administration who have told me in-person interviews are simply easier and will still speak to us as they have always done.
I am happy to work with IMC to get news out in a timely, accurate, fair and unbiased way to our community. I am happy to respect their policies and work with my staff to come to fair agreements that work for both parties.
But I am not happy to be given answers for every story that are scripted or just simply not get the information I need to tell balanced and ethical stories at Pepperdine.
I should not have to settle for email responses with individuals I have a good relationship with and have talked to several times in-person before. I have had numerous conversations with several administrators about what I can do to help the Graphic establish more trust with the Pepperdine community. In all of those conversations, never once have these administrators told me not to talk to them.
I am studying Journalism at a top University and want to be prepared for my future in the industry. I don’t want to graduate only knowing how to conduct an interview with professionals over email.
Top politicians, executives and world-class leaders should all learn how to talk to the media, how to conduct themselves in an interview and how to represent their organization. This is an important aspect of public accountability to communities. I trust the senior administrators at my school know how to do that too.
I understand the Graphic has hurt members of our community in the past, and for that, I am deeply sorry. The Graphic’s intention is to avoid hurting individuals and not to publish false information, under any circumstances. We have a thorough editing process that upholds professional standards and ethics.
I will always be the first to welcome community members to send us any inaccuracies. We are happy to issue a correction, if needed. We will gladly send sources their individual quotes before publication and we strive to be transparent with our reporting.
We, as the Graphic, and as journalists, aren’t out to get Pepperdine — we just want to report on the community we belong to. We want to hold Pepperdine accountable and make this school the best it can be for our community.
I believe it is our job as journalists to seek the truth and report it while maintaining accountability and transparency. The Graphic has been doing this since 1937 — and we aren’t going to stop now.
We are not going to settle for a few email responses by our top administrators — the individuals who are running our school, making our decisions and ultimately, representing Pepperdine on a national level.
In the very first issue of the Graphic, published on Oct. 20, 1937, the Graphic staff shared their original objectives, one of those being, “to represent what we believe to be the best standards in college journalism.”
If we aren’t holding our administration, and in particular our IMC department, accountable, we are not representing the highest standards of journalism. We, as journalists, should not have to settle for hiding behind a screen in the newsroom and not actually talking to the members of our community.
The Graphic has been reporting on the University while staying editorially independent for over 80 years, and we will continue to do so.
“PGM participates in Pepperdine’s Christian mission and affirmations, especially the pursuit of truth, excellence and freedom in a context of public service,” according to our mission statement.
Our goal has always been, and will continue to be, to work independently but cooperatively with our University to deliver news and tell stories in an unbiased, fair and most importantly, truthful way and that includes conducting in-person interviews.
Follow the Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic
Contact Abby Wilt via Twitter (@abby_wilt) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org