Believe me, the last thing I wanted to see last night was the word “raped” typed up on the front page of The Daily Helmsman.
It’s an ugly word, and it represents an awful, inhumane act that no one likes to talk about. But here we are, talking.
I recently participated in a classroom panel and was asked what “news” means. I responded by saying, at it’s core, news is what people want to know but also what they need to know. I was then asked which is more important. “Need to know.”
Presented with information and evidence about an alleged rapist on University of Memphis campus, this semester’s editing staff of The Daily Helmsman had many discussions about the story we ran Tuesday. The implications of getting details wrong in a story of that magnitude are huge, and we handled the information we had with extreme care.
Making accusations without evidence is not responsible journalism. Critics of our front page were absolutely correct in this regard Tuesday.
This is why we, as a newspaper, made none of our own opinionated accusations in the story. Every sentence about the alleged rapes are attributed to Caroline and are described as her account, not ours. Every mention of alleged rapists or alleged assailants have the word “alleged” placed by them.
As for evidence, managing editor and reporter Mitchell Koch compiled university emails, incident reports from the Memphis Police Department, medication reports showing that Caroline and her friend had been diagnosed with PTSD, forensic nursing evaluations from the Rape Crisis Center and a Shelby County Court record showing that Nick Wayman is facing charges of rape and sexual battery with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
I understand that the case is ongoing and that due process is an important foundation of the American legal system, but faced with the evidence we had and the fact that a grand jury found enough evidence to proceed with a trial, we proceeded with a story to inform the campus community of a potentially tragic situation.
I cannot name another news organization that would not use a suspect’s name who was indicted and charged with a crime. A suspect just being arrested is a different story.
I’d also like to make it clear that in addition to what we were collectively comfortable with running in the story, there was additional information we excluded from our final draft. Responsible journalists only print what they have evidence for, and refrain from going to press with what they cannot verify. That is what we did.
Our goal is not to be extravagant. Our goal is certainly not to be salacious, which is a word that should not be used to describe a case of rape or sexual assault.
Using the word salacious implies a certain sexual connotation that in truth does not apply to assault. Sexual assault is not really sex at all, but a violent crime. Our goal in the story that ran Tuesday was to inform the campus community.
At the beginning of the semester, I shared my distaste with the U of M’s most recent slogan. However, I’ve never understood that slogan more clearly than I do now.
When faced with important evidence, and by executing crucial edits, we at The Daily Helmsman did what we had to do Monday night. We are not driven by ignoring pressing matters that affect the campus community. We are driven by fulfilling our unique role as journalists and campus watchdogs.
We are driven by doing.