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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Plug up the leaks, not the reporters

Published: September 22, 2006
Section: Opinions

Its funny I dont do opinion pieces. You see, Im more of a hard news kind of guy I like talking to people, getting their side of the story, and leaving my personal biases out of it as much as any living, breathing human being can.

So can somebody please tell the Student Union that?

Over the course of the last week, Ive been getting my fair share of mail from the Union (some of which youll see in this issue), calling an article I wrote last week (Voting system failure in close Treasurer race, September 15, 2006) unfair, inaccurate, and my personal favorite, slipshod reporting. What my detractors dont realize or perhaps refuse to believe is that a journalist doesnt come up with these sorts of conclusions out of thin air. And in my case, all of my facts came from you guessed it straight from the Student Union itself.

Now, for those of you just tuning in, my article last week covered the tied treasurer election, as well as the sudden e-mail sent in by Alex Braver 09, saying that if you voted or attempted to vote before 3:30 [p.m.] today, your vote may not have been recorded due to a technical error with the UNet elections system. He added that because of this, the election for treasurer had [its] vote tallies erased, and, with the permission of the Union Judiciary, [was] restarted at 3:30 [p.m.].

Shortly thereafter, I along with two other Hoot staff members was called in at the request of one of the candidates, Brian Paternostro 07, who lividly told us that [a]s a candidate, I am upset with the complete lack of responsiveness from LTS, and their inability to work with us to come up with a credible election system, adding that maybe [LTS] should focus less on IPTV and more on something that actually matters.
Now, based on that, where would I possibly get the idea that LTS wasnt meeting with the Student Union to fix an election system that currently had a hat trick of errors? Maybe from the aforementioned statement made by the Unions former (and now reinstated) Director of Communications?
Should I have believed him? According to many Union officials, apparently not.

Since my article was published, I have been snapped at, accused of unethical behavior, and had my reputation as a reporter smeared. But can you see where the Hoot would get upset by reports of vote tallies [being] erased and restarted? I sent Alex Braver 09 an e-mail explaining the Hoots point of view of why erased tallies would seem like a bad thing:
I know [Union officials have] been big on saying that no one was “disenfranchised” by the election issues. My question is this: say someone voted at, say, 2:00pm, and then didn't get on their computer for a day or two. For just this point, let's say that they didn't get back until 4:00 p.m. the next day. If their vote was erased, and that's the vibe I got from the [campus-wide] email which I quoted in my article — and they didn't realize until later that they needed to vote again, wouldn't you say that their vote wasnt counted? I mean, one could argue that elections that are restarted have lost a bit of their currency, since they could start and stop and restart and stop again pretty much at random intervals?

Again, our conclusions didnt come out of thin air: Bravers e-mail to the student body said that vote tallies were erased, and if you voted before 3:30, your vote may not have been counted. Indeed, it took several e-mails with Alex after the fact for the crucial detail — that there were no tallies erased because no one was able to vote before 3:30 — to finally be extricated from the translation. Yet, when writing a quickly-evolving article — from scratch — over the span of one afternoon, how is a journalist supposed to know that an e-mail from the Secretary of the Union didnt mean what it actually said?

So now the Unions ticked, and Im under fire. But what a lot of people dont get is that good news journalists dont do opinion pieces they do interviews, and get facts, and report on them. Indeed, the Hoot in general and I in particular have no anti-Union bias: we report on the good, the bad, and the ugly on this campus without spin and without regret. What the real issue is and perhaps the Hoots critics should own up to this is not that our reporting was slipshod, but that it came directly from the Student Union itself.

So a note to our detractors: plug your leaks, not the reporters. Because our facts whether you like them or not are coming straight from you.