As many of you know by now, the staff at The Bengal is trying to make the paper more relevant to the students of Idaho State University. Whether you agree that’s a good idea, it is a good thing. Most of the funding for the paper comes from student fees, so there’s really not a group on campus it should appeal to, or represent more.
For years The Bengal has been filled with mostly “safe” stories, nothing that would ruffle too many feathers. In reality, there is a lot more “good news” to talk about on campus than there is bad, and in a general context there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the “good”. But there has occasionally been a story that would either cause my office phone to ring, or bring veiled threats of funding cuts from angry student leaders. Overall, though, those stories have been few and far between. And if you contemplate it for a while, can a tool like The Bengal be about effecting change if its main focus is to not ruffle feathers?
Does that mean the goal of the paper’s staff now is to always try and make somebody mad? Absolutely not! But staff members also should not be afraid to print stories that might offend some, as long as the stories are factual and useful. I often remind staffers that changing the direction and tone of The Bengal is a process, not a single step, and there’ll definitely be bumps along the way. I also remind them in order to do it well, they need to be totally fair and as complete in their reporting as possible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out and a certain story angle or perspective may be left out. Sometimes sources aren’t available or willing to share information. Also, these are students in the learning process, not professional journalists. I tell them NEVER fudge the facts to make a story come out the way THEY want it to be. That’s NOT journalism. We also do not play “Gotcha” journalism. It should never be about “I WIN, YOU LOSE”, which is cheap and unethical. I also tell them they should always portray a professional attitude, which will allow them to accomplish much more than they can by being punks. If they act unprofessionally, that reflects on the paper and staff as a whole. And, I always tell them to be prepared for pushback, because it usually means they’re doing things the right way.
So, having said what I expect from The Bengal staff, I also want to say that there are expectations for you, as well. In The Bengal staff handbook it says the paper exists “to present the students’ point of views to (emphasis added) the administration, student government and faculty”. It says that…right there in the handbook. NOWHERE does it say The Bengal is a public relations tool designed to make the school appear to be all “roses and rainbows”. That is NOT its purpose. It will not always make the administration, student government and faculty happy. That is NOT its purpose. It won’t even make ALL students happy all the time. Personally, I think that’s great. I also believe that administrators, student government leaders, along with faculty and staff should be pleased they have students that truly want to make things better at ISU, especially for students. That means Bengal staffers need to hear administrators, student government, faculty and staff AND students respond to issues important to students. If you don’t agree with something in the paper, write a letter to the editor or submit your own opinion piece. Please don’t make threats. That’s not an adult response. They’re big kids. They can handle criticism, especially if it’s constructive and contributes to the overall effort to improve things at ISU for students. The better question might be, “Can YOU handle constructive criticism?”
Finally, this is NOT my paper, it’s theirs. And I’m not here to censor them, but rather to try and help them carry out their duties with a sense of maturity and responsibility. Will they always get it right? NOPE. But they do want to get it right, and keep getting better every week while they try. I believe that if you let them, and help them, that’s exactly what will happen.