April 3rd, 2011 | Uncategorized

For our Readers: Reporting the Pundits party

For the last several weeks, the News has been covering the fallout from a party hosted by the Pundits society on February 19. Several students alleged that forced drinking had occurred at the party, and at least one told the Yale Police Department that a sexual assault had taken place. The YPD announced earlier this week that no criminal charges would be filed against anyone for events that took place at the party, but five students were sent to Yale-New Haven that night for alcohol-related treatment, and the Executive committee’s investigation is ongoing.

The party and coverage of it would have been a delicate one for any publication—the party was a naked one and part of the Pundits’pre-tap process, adding another level of social pressure to the atmosphere. People who were at the party were obviously initially reluctant to talk about what happened. But as a student newspaper, such events have another layer of complexity. Eight members of the board of the News attended the party. In the nights before running the story, we carefully considered how to handle the potential conflicts of interest. Ultimately, we concluded that the presence of the eight editors that night did not mean that our responsibility to report on the party and the police investigation it had prompted could be ignored. To balance the equally important concerns of getting the story out and getting the story right, the article was managed throughout the reporting, writing and editing process by two reporters who, as sophomores, had nothing to do with the party, and by us, the two managing editors, who did not attend. The story was copy edited and laid out by editors who were not attendees. When the story was being discussed in meetings or email threads, the editors who attended the party were excluded. The two reporters were not allowed to disclose anything they had learned to, or discuss it with, editors who had attended. Attendees affiliated with the News were not interviewed for the story.

An explanation of this careful process to disclose potential conflicts of interest should have been included with the initial story. We have included a brief note to that effect in the story published earlier this week about the lack of criminal charges, in the News’ View about the party and it will be included in any future coverage or opinion writing of the party and its aftermath within our pages.

When it came to our editorial, we felt that as a significant number of the editorial board attended the party and the News’ View is supposed to reflect the beliefs of the entire board, we could not exclude those who attended. So that we did not unfairly exploit the experiences of those eight, we based the editorial only on the information our two reporters had gathered from other students.

Another topic of rumors on campus in the past week, and complaints we have received, was that the story wrongly alleged that Higgins’s email about a possible sexual assault referred to the Pundits party. The night before we were planning to run the story, a member of the Pundits claimed to us that the email was about an entirely separate incident. Because of that information, we held the story for another day to re-report the information. A reporter called an administrator familiar with the YPD’s investigation, who told us explicitly and in very strong terms that Higgins’s email referred to a party that took place at the same off-campus location as the Pundits party and that took place on the same night of the Pundits party. Higgins subsequently confirmed that the email was about the Pundits party.

With the News and its editors and reporters so intertwined with campus, the challenges outlined above will no doubt continue to cause complications to reporting and we will strive to inform our readers at every possible turn of the steps we take to present the story fairly and accurately.

Colin Ross and Egidio DiBenedetto

Managing Editors