Last week we ran a story on how largely underreported sexual assault is on campus. This story garnered much attention and some controversy.
The controversy, however, was not due to the content in the sexual assault
story. It was because of the photo we chose to accompany the story on the page.
In the article, two females told their stories of overcoming sexual assault. So to illustrate their stories, we chose a female model to be the focal point in the photo. We chose a male model to place his hand over her mouth as a way of portraying the evil force of sexual assault.
The female was white. The male was black.
The decision to run this photo had much larger implications than we expected. My photography and news editor had come together to generate ideas for the photo and once they had their idea, they began looking for models.
Most of the time we try to use models that are not a part of The Signal staff, but sometimes people outside of The Signal are uncomfortable with posing for us and understandably so. There is much pressure that goes into modeling for a photo that will be put out to more than 30,000 students.
So when we are on a tight deadline, we try to find the most efficient—and admittedly easy and convenient—ways of resolving the issue at hand. With the time we had left, we chose to use two staff members from The Signal. It just so happened one was a white female and the other a black male.
To our staff, the models were just two people we knew coming together to help us complete our work.
But to some of you, this felt like a form of oppression and racism toward black people. And although that message was not intentional, it was still the message that was received by many of you.
I understand the gravity of this issue and I would like to apologize for the decision I made to run that photo.
The message that was sent was completely unintentional. In our eyes, we only saw the models as people we know and interact with on a daily basis. Race was never considered in the process. I take full responsibility for that.
As a news organization, we have a larger responsibility to monitor the messages we put out there and to be mindful of what those messages could say whether the messages are explicit or implicit. As journalists, we pride ourselves on being fair, accurate and sensitive to the culture around us.
Race and ethnicity was not a part of the story. The message we had hoped to put out—which is that sexual assault is vastly underreported—was clouded by a decision perceived to be intentionally racist.
We know we cannot reverse what has been done; however, in our best attempt to take back that message, I have decided to pull that photo from our online archives and open the floor to you, our readers.
We are a student newspaper and as students, we are constantly learning. We are not perfect. We hope to continue improving.
And we need you, our readers, to help us with that. We appreciate that you are able to read our paper with a critical eye and voice your concerns. Just as we are constantly keeping the institutions and people around us in check, you should keep us in check.
If you have any general comments or concerns, feel free to write a letter to the editor and email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, I will be able to answer questions in a GaState Reddit forum titled, “AMA (Ask me anything) I am the Editor-in-Chief of The Signal.” You may ask me about the issue brought up in this letter or anything in general.
Thank you for reading.