Uncategorized | 1:20 am | April 11, 2011 | By Vivian Yee

For Our Readers: Reporting and WEDing Title IX

This is the second installment of “For Our Readers,” an online column written by the editors of News for the benefit of, well, our readers. Exploring issues of campus and city journalism, the column will aim to shed light on the decisions we make every night at 202 York St., answer your questions about our coverage and respond to reader concerns about accuracy and fairness. Read last week’s column about our coverage of the Pundits party here. Submit questions, concerns and ideas for future columns to editor@yaledailynews.com.

At 3:48 p.m. last Thursday, Hannah Zeavin ’12 e-mailed me a press release that began: “On March 31, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced an investigation of Yale University for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX.” For campus publications including the News, Broad Recognition and the Herald, as well as for national news outlets from ABC to the New York Times, the announcement began a week of frantic reporting on the Title IX investigation.

Reporting the story has been slow going, partly because neither the Yale administration nor the News has a copy of the complaint itself. Though we have requested the text of the complaint through the Freedom of Information Act, we understand that it contains sensitive information and hope to learn more about its contents without jeopardizing individuals’ privacy or safety.

If it contains more personal testimony and statistics than have been reported previously, the complaint may help us college reporters over the obstacle that we’ve historically encountered when it comes to writing about sexual assault on campus: a lack of concrete information. Because the Executive Committee’s disciplinary procedures are secret, we often learn little more than broad statistics — the total number of sexual assault cases brought before ExComm in any given year, for instance — and even those numbers are not released until years after the fact. Beyond its larger implications for Yale’s sexual culture, federal funding and nationwide sexual assault reporting guidelines, the Yale Title IX investigation may help illuminate what has always been murky.

Of course, we shouldn’t be relying on the complaint to tell us about sexual assault at Yale. The investigation has highlighted the need for careful, sympathetic and dogged investigative reporting into private instances of sexual harassment and assault on our campus — things that aren’t chanted on Old Campus or photographed in front of the Women’s Center. This important reporting has been lacking from our pages. It will be difficult, delicate and slow, but we hope to make up for that lack in the coming months.

On a (mostly) unrelated note: You may have noticed this past week that the printed paper wore a slightly different look — bolder, more colorful, more graphics-heavy. That’s all thanks to Pegie Stark Adam, the Ottawa-based designer who helped revamp the News’ look in the fall of 2008. Along with Mario Garcia, she developed the concept of WED, or the marriage of writing, editing and design, which we’ve tried to implement in the News ever since its redesign two years ago. Their idea: that the design of a story reflects its content, and that its visual presentation complements the information given within it.

Dr. Adam returned to 202 York last Sunday to oversee production for two nights, resulting in two fresh and unusual front pages. The first, Monday’s front page, focused on the death of Mandi Schwartz ’11. The second featured an update on the Title IX investigation. Title IX was, and continues to be, a story without obvious visuals: beyond reprinting photos of the DKE chanting incident or the Zeta Psi Women’s Center photograph, or portraits of the complainants themselves, there is little we can do to illustrate the story visually. So Dr. Adam suggested that we try a “type attack” — using large, capitalized letters to emphasize the headline, “What’s next with Title IX?”

We’re always striving to present our content in the best possible light, whether with infographics, strategically grouped photographs or what Dr. Adam calls a “type attack” of artfully placed typography. Sometimes we’re surprised by the success of our own experiments; sometimes we realize they’ve gone too far, or haven’t printed right; but we hope they’re always interesting.

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