I still have the piece of paper. I smoothed it out after it lay crumpled on the bottom of my LL Bean messenger bag and now it has joined its other pulpy brothers and sisters in a stack of memories buried somewhere in my room.
It’s probably on of the the last remaining, original, physical copies of Alex Green’s story on David Morgan. We converted the document to a pdf, to help distribution. I guess it’s a lesson as old as the internet–if it goes online, you have no control of what happens next.
For those of us who need a refresher, USA Today wrote an article after Alex won his ethics award.
The memories of the stress will fade, the fear of what would happen when administrators would crack down, the sweat that was not just from the September sun. But that paper remains as a testament to the time when all the dreams of being a hard-nosed journalist came true, of standing up to the man, of becoming a champion for the First Amendment.
I guess most people would expect me to write some congratulatory post, something akin to “we did it! We stood up to the man and won!” but I’m not sure if I feel triumphant a year after the event. After Alex won his ethics award, we celebrated. After the president of the Society of Professional Journalists commended the work of a few undergraduate journalists in a small, liberal arts college, we celebrated. Today, I am reflecting back and I can only remember the doubts, how the whole thing was one big shit storm.
I’m really writing this post because I have some other writing that I have to do, writing that people will pay to read. But this is more fun. I get to type the word ‘shit’ and no one will delete it.
I learned two things from that day. First, doing what right is confusing. It was easier to do nothing. It would have been safer to just go on, publishing a paper every month, following up on the gossip we heard around the hill.
Some of our readers would have like that better, too. Not all the students were grateful for the news. I saw students destroying copies of the story as soon as we put them out. Others criticized, because they thought we were harming more than we were helping.
But in the end, we stayed true to ourselves. After all, we were journalists. We saw the college speak in a way which was misleading. So we ratted them out because we would not live true to ourselves if we did otherwise.
I’m not going to provide a moral to this blog post. I just find a big part of ethics is not compromising on your core values and, to quote Hunter S. Thompson “to hell with the consequences.”
The second lesson was the matter of pride. Sure, we were all Christians on the hill. We all expected a certain level of decency. I remember seeing how everything was motivated by pride, image, power. Despite smartphones and nice clothes, we still are very much the barbarians of our ancestors.