Letter from the editor: Covering controversial topics when you’re a people pleaser
By Quanecia Fraser —
“Quanecia, you’re too nice,” are four words that followed me throughout my childhood and adolescent years.
In middle and high school, people always said this not only because I normally wasn’t mean to my classmates, but also because I wasn’t really the type of person to speak up or stand up for myself. And, when people would tell me I’m too nice, it would really bother me because I felt like that wasn’t true. I didn’t think I was too nice, I just felt like it was more important for me to refrain from saying what I wanted to say.
I didn’t like conflict. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to be the student who complained about people bullying her. I also didn’t want to hurt another person’s feelings, or make them feel bad about themselves. So, I chose to do everything in my power to be as nice as I could to everyone.
However, when I look back on my days in middle and high school, I realize that my classmates were right. I was too nice. I let people push me around and silence me from saying what I really wanted or needed to say.
That started to change at the end of my senior year of high school. I became less concerned with how others felt about me, and more concerned with how I felt about myself and what my passions are.
I am now a 19-year-old college sophomore and I find myself speaking up and having much more confidence than ever before. But, from time to time, I still find myself wanting to make sure that other people are pleased with me and what I do.
And I have to admit that sometimes, this conflicts with my job as a student journalist.
When I started working for Texan News, I remember thinking to myself “Okay, when you sign up for a beat, pick a topic you’re interested in but nothing too controversial.”
However, “Operation Nothing Too Controversial” went out the window once I started finding story ideas.
For starters, the year was 2016. The presidential election was near, various movements and ideals started to gain attention, and race relations continued to be a contentious issue. Also, simply put, situations occur that people get upset about.
In society, controversy is unavoidable. As a journalist, my perspective is this: why ignore the unavoidable when you can bring attention to it.
There are always issues in society that need to be addressed even if people don’t feel comfortable doing so. I don’t necessarily always feel comfortable when interviewing people about controversial issues, but I strongly believe that it is my job as a journalist to bring awareness to the public when events, occurrences or trends of any sort are brought to my attention.
In the November 15, 2016 issue of the Texan News newspaper when I was managing editor, my article “Tarleton VP says there’s a need for a hate speech policy” was published.
The article featured a tweet by a student that was in response to a silent Black Lives Matter protest held at Tarleton. The tweet read, “Black lives matter protest on campus?? I sure hope they don’t try to block off Washington. #TeamNoBrakes” with emoji characters. Dr. Laura Boren, vice president of Student Life, said that the tweet was an example of why the university should have a policy on hate speech.
When the article was published, the backlash came. I knew it would come, but I definitely was not mentally prepared. On social media, several people suggested that the tweet was not hate speech while others said that they agreed with what was said in the tweet.
Then, there were comments that implied that I was not a true, or ethical journalist. Those were the comments that I struggled with mentally.
I value myself as a journalist, and I do everything in my power to go beyond mediocre standards of reporting. I found myself thinking the ‘what if’s’: What if these people are right? What if what they’re saying is true? What if I’m really not a good journalist?
But once again, as I often have to do in situations like this, I took a step back.
I had to ask myself different kind of questions: Why did I write this article? Are the facts in my article correct? Is the criticism I’m receiving coming from a genuine place? Did I do what I was supposed to do as a journalist? Did I follow the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics?
I answered these questions, and took those answers into consideration.
I remembered that meeting and exceeding my expectations as a competent journalist in an ethical manner, and bringing attention to important issues is much more important than whether others approve my work or not.
In the words of the Henry Anatole Grunwald, an Austrian-born novelist, journalist and former editor of Time Magazine,
“Journalism can never be silent: That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”