In three years as a journalist I’ve never had an angry reader come to the office to complain.
Last Tuesday there were 12.
Some were calm. Most were not. All were members of USM’s Greek community.
They were upset about last week’s “Question of the Week,” which featured the question, “Are you a Greek fraternity/sorority member?”
Our paper has featured the Question of the Week for several years. People are approached randomly and asked the same question.
Everyone who answered last week’s question said “no” and many gave reasons for why they wouldn’t want to be a Greek.
The Question of the Week is not a news article. There is no research that takes place before the questions are asked. It is completely random.
But I realize probably more people read the Question of the Week than most of the articles in the paper.
And I know that most of those readers make no distinction between a news article and the Question of the Week.
It’s my responsibility to ensure that everything that’s printed in The Free Press is fair.
Let me be clear: Last week’s Question of the Week was not.
Most of the people who came to my office last week helped me to see that the feature helped reinforce negative stereotypes and didn’t represent anyone who had experience with the Greek community.
I started to look back at Greek coverage over the past few years and I realized most of it was negative. I realized something should be done. I contacted the person responsible for Greek affairs on campus to set up a meeting between The Free Press editors and Greek leaders to discuss how to have more balanced coverage in the future.
I began to think that maybe the Greeks have been getting a bum rap all along.
Then I found out over 1,000 copies of our paper were missing.
Somebody had stolen the papers from both campus centers and a few other major drop spots.
Let’s see. The Greek community was upset about a negative article. They come to my office and yell and scream. And two days later most of the papers are missing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.
I feel sorry for the majority of Greeks who take the heat when somebody does something that stupid.
It’s hard to ignore that kind of ignorance.
Forget about the thousands of dollars we spend every week to produce the paper. And forget about the hundreds of hours my 30 staff members spend putting everything together.
The people who stole those papers made a decision for the other 10,000 students at USM. By stealing the papers they decided no one should read them.
That’s crossing a few lines, not the least of which is the First Amendment.
I spoke with the President and several people within the USM Police Department. I’ve received nothing but support from all of them. President Pattenaude issued a special statement at my request that appears in the “Letters to the Editor” section of this paper.
“It is important for everyone to know that taking a press run of The Free Press issues from sites on campus is theft and will be treated as such by USM Police and by the Office of Community Standards,” he wrote.
So now I’m faced with a decision. Should I believe that the people who stole those papers are representative of the majority of Greeks at USM? Should I say screw ’em, they get what they deserve? That’s how I felt when I first found out what happened.
But I won’t.
I will set up a meeting with the Greek leaders. I will run a new feature on the op-ed page giving members of underrepresented groups like the Greeks a chance to talk about what they’re all about. I will work on promoting more balanced coverage in the future.
I’ll do what I can. But it’s tough for me and the rest of the community to ignore 1,000 missing papers.
Word to the wise: When trying to beat a stereotype, don’t engage in stereotypical behavior.