Give them hell—they can take it

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • April 20, 2017

I forgot to record my first phone interview. It was one of the first articles I'd been assigned for the Beacon, and it was the very beginning of my reporting career. I couldn't really hear the numbers the MBTA representative gave me referencing ridership on late night train service, but I was too nervous to ask her to clarify. The day we published, I got an email saying the information I had written was off by thousands. That was my first correction.

I was devastated, obviously. This was a sure sign that I should just switch majors. But the Beacon’s news editor at the time gave me some advice that would prove formative for me: Don't beat yourself up today. But remember how it feels to not get it right.

Campus newspaper reporters are faced with a fundamental dilemma: While we are here to learn how to do good journalism, the mistakes we make in the process take a toll on the community we cover. The reputations of others’ careers, relationships, and passions hinges on our learning curve. Sources don't accept inexperience as an excuse for mischaracterization. Readers don’t see our quest for understanding as justification for incorrect information. And that's how it should be.

The Beacon has gotten backlash—a lot, and rightfully so—in the time I've worked here. It hasn’t been fun, but I never want to see a day when our community takes it easy on us. Our reporters come to know that their options are to either learn to get it right, or to live with that guilt when you don’t. This has pushed me to be thorough. It has stomped down my pride, and made me willing to examine my faults and biases.

I can only hope that the Emerson community remains at least as critical of this newspaper when I’m no longer a part of it. It seems strange to ask for the public shaming of a staff for which I care so deeply, but I know they can take it. When I wanted to give up after that first correction my freshman year, there were senior Beacon editors who wouldn’t let me. I gained mentors that never let me get away with misquotes or sentence fragments, and always gave me the support and guidance I needed to learn. I’ve done my best to play that role for others. And I can see these relationships forming among younger members of the newsroom. Systems are in place for the Beacon to withstand a good critique. They’ll be the better for it.

Although I am not graduating this semester, this is my last issue as editor-in-chief of the Beacon. It’s rare for those in my position to get to see the paper continue after they leave, and I count myself lucky. I’ve been editing the writing of my successor since their first few weeks at Emerson. I’ve watched them grow into a confident and incredibly capable reporter and editor. I’m probably going to have to watch them and their staff mess up, and that’ll be tough. But after, I’ll have the pleasure of seeing them make the necessary corrections, learn from their mistakes, and continue to find and tell the stories that our college community needs to hear.