Covering a big story—unveiling personal conflict

This past week my old world and my new one collided, head-on.

Since the beginning of the Molchanov controversy, it’s been a stressful time for many people here at STU. Starting at the upper levels of the administration right on down to, and including, the journalism department and the students involved in writing about the story.

Jeffrey Carleton, in an interview before my last posting of the story on the New Brunswick Beacon, said in the 10 years he has been with STU communications, he’s never had to deal with anything quite like it.

From my own perspective, as one of the reporters involved, it presented a number of personal difficulties and dilemmas. But, after all is said and done, it’s a story that taught me more about the real-life challenges that exist for journalists than all of my three years of j-school study combined.

For me, the fall-out from the Beacon’s initial publication, as well as the updates, involved both criticisms and compliments, some of which were deserved and some not so much. Learning to discern what actually held merit and what did not, on both those accounts, was lesson number one and didn’t present too much of a problem.

But there were two other elements I really did struggle with. The first, as some pointed out at varying levels of intensity, was that the story was one sided, and unfairly slanted against Molchanov.

It’s an accusation that truthfully can’t be denied. Most people at some point in their lives do and say things they regret for reasons that only the person or those who are close to them can understand. In Molchanov’s case, the public still has no inkling as to why he said the things he did, did the things he did or whether he is sorry for what happened.

However, it’s also true that if only one side of a story is being presented, it’s because only one side of a story is being told. As reporters, the only thing we can report is what we’re told.

In this story—on the surface anyway—a powerful, smart, influential person, attacked someone who was on the complete opposite spectrum of our society, someone who was alleged to be the least equipped to defend himself. The witnesses were outraged, and that made this a significant story. It was never an option to just not cover it nor simply regurgitate the canned bureaucracy issued from a corporate communications department, however sincere they may be.

Unfair perhaps, but in this instance my new journalistic universe prevailed.

Not so with element number two.

The Aquinian, in my opinion, did a superb job covering this story. The front page piece was well written, researched and professionally handled, including their decision to publish the name of the student at the center of the controversy.

The Beacon decided not to publish the name of that student, despite the fact that the vast majority of people at STU already knew who he was even before the Aquinian article, and despite the fact, as well, that it’s more than likely any other newspaper or news site would have done the same as the Aquinian.

To be honest, Beacon editors questioned my strong stance on the issue, but what they were up against was 27 years in the healthcare field and an ingrained adherence to the fundamental principal that privacy of a person’s medical, physical and/or mental health status is absolutely sacrosanct, unless explicit permission to do otherwise has been given.

Although the articles did not come right out and say categorically that the student had an intellectual challenge or disability, nor did anyone guess specifically what that disability might be, the facts of the story as reported by both me and the Aquinian implied it significantly.

In this case, the student was an innocent victim of the events that took place and given that he did not confirm to me or give me permission to say publicly that he had an intellectual disability, my previous world sentiments won out in the end.

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