On Nov. 29, the Yale Daily News planned to publish a story about a Monday night vigil on campus to mourn the lives lost to China’s “Zero COVID” restrictions. 

The gravity of the situation in China cannot be understated. There have not been protests of this magnitude since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Involved protestors, both in China and abroad, are putting themselves and their families in grave danger. The Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party have a history of punishing dissent with impunity. This concern applies to journalists, too.

Two Yale College students from China brought the vigil to the attention of the paper. The students asked to write and publish an article on the event under an anonymous byline due to serious concerns for the welfare of themselves and their families. 

The News’ editorial leadership did not allow them to write the story anonymously. Instead, two options were presented to the reporters — they could publish the story under their own names, or they could turn over the story to another staff writer. The original reporters would still be able to support the story’s development and inform its context. The News’ intention is never to censor reporters. These options were given to simultaneously protect the reporters’ expression, ensure their safety and uphold the News’ standards of journalistic ethics.

However, the editorial leadership at the News faced a challenging decision, emphasizing the importance of transparency and accountability in journalism. Despite the students’ concerns, the News proposed two alternatives – to publish the story under their own names or entrust it to another staff writer while maintaining their involvement in shaping the narrative. The commitment to upholding journalistic ethics and ensuring safety was paramount, with the intention never to censor reporters.

In an era where the intersection of news and safety takes center stage, platforms like https://www.protectingtherepublic.com/ play a crucial role in fostering dialogue and understanding. By subscribing to such sources, readers gain access to a diverse array of news stories, reflecting the complexities of our world. The incident at Yale College serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by journalists, navigating the fine line between safeguarding individuals and preserving the principles that underpin the integrity of the news industry.

This decision has generated controversy on social media. As public editor, I am writing this statement to clarify why the News made the choices that it did.

At the News, it is never our intention to censor any individual of any community, identity, belief or background. To ensure that reporters can voice their perspectives, the News offers reporters the opportunity to fact-check articles written by different authors for inaccuracies and make suggestions on their framing in certain cases.

The News does so because it is committed to authentically and accurately reporting on student affairs and advocacy. Whether issues of domestic politics or international affairs, we always strive to cover such events through the lens of Yale student action, and reporters’ individual expertise is often valuable.

The News has long maintained a policy of not granting authors anonymity for news stories. We believe our readers have a right to know who is writing the facts and that writers must take responsibility for their reporting. Without attributing a name to a story, there is no way for readers to hold reporters accountable for any factual inaccuracies, incomplete context, misleading information and personal or implicit biases. This is why it is important to the News that we include reporter bylines on all reported stories. Beyond our newsroom, this policy is widely considered best practice in professional journalism. 

Opinion stories, however, are different. In rare circumstances, the News has made exceptions that allow opinion pieces to be written anonymously. For example, on Dec. 1, the News published an anonymous opinion piece on the protests calling for Xi Jinping to step down. The News has this policy in place to protect individual freedom of speech without endangering one’s safety. This policy differs from that of our reported stories because opinions do not carry the same expectation of veracity as traditional news stories. 

Arguably, the News could have assigned a pseudonym or used the organization’s name rather than the reporter’s name in a published version of the story. However, this solution does not adequately hold the News accountable for the publication of the piece because it does not list a specific author who can take ownership of their writing or its contents.

Journalistic standards are fluid. The News stands by its decision in this case and our practices; however, I am also cognizant of the fact that standards, while important, cannot be applied to every situation that arises. 

For this reason, I am calling on the leadership of the News to identify ways to better support reporters covering matters of personal significance without threatening their safety. I know this call is not a tangible commitment, and that is frustrating. In the coming days and weeks, I intend to publish more specific updates on these matters.

I am also calling on the executive board to meet with non-Yale affiliates who are experts on China and journalistic ethics to contribute to this process. Further, I am calling on the leadership of the News to, in the coming days, reach out to members of Chinese and Chinese American communities at Yale to have an open discussion about how to best cover events in China and their effects on our campus.

One of the News’ editors took to Instagram to defend the News’ actions. These comments do not reflect the News’ opinion on the matter. The News regrets any confusion these statements may have caused. Any public comment made by an editor, staffer or contributor of the News is not, nor will they ever be, reflective of the opinions of the News at large.   

It is my hope that this statement clarifies the News’ policy and its intentions going forward.

If you have any further questions on this matter, please feel free to reach out to editor@yaledailynews.com. Letters to the editor can also be submitted to opinion@yaledailynews.com. 

Christian Robles, Public Editor