The Santa Clara
February 16, 2017
There has been a longstanding, explicit understanding between the university administration and The Santa Clara regarding editorial control over the content in this publication.
We are an autonomous, independent, student-run news organization with minimal oversight from staff and faculty. While this relationship is atypical for a chartered student organization, it is paramount to our journalistic integrity. A healthy distance must be maintained between The Santa Clara and the university administration, who we regularly cover in our reporting.
However, for the first time in many years that understanding was not honored.
On Feb. 2, The Santa Clara published an article titled, “A Closer Look at the $100 Million Sobrato Gift,” which reported on alumnus John Sobrato’s recent donation for a new STEM facility on campus.
The Santa Clara was invited to attend the press conference regarding the donation announcement and the reporter received consent to record. Two university officials as well as other media outlets were present, including KCBS Radio and “The Santa Clara Weekly.”
On Feb. 9, The Santa Clara was instructed to remove the story from our website, not because of inaccurate reporting, but rather over concerns the university had about certain comments and follow-up coverage included in the article. The story was published in print and online for one week before university officials contacted The Santa Clara with their request.
This came as a surprise to editors at The Santa Clara as just days earlier, on Feb. 8, the university retweeted the article from its official Twitter account. At the time the article was retweeted, it was unaltered and contained the comments in question and the follow-up coverage.
After extensive discussion, the editors of The Santa Clara decided to comply with the request of our publisher. In the online version of the article, the comments and follow-up coverage were removed.
The Santa Clara then inserted an editor’s note at the top of the article that reads as follows:
“This is not the original version of this article, first published on Feb. 2. The original version contained additional comments and follow-up coverage. The comments and follow-up coverage were removed at the request of our publisher, Santa Clara University. We were and will remain strongly, vehemently opposed to removing sections of the original article. We found the request to be in violation of our commitment to journalistic ethics, and did so only to comply with our publisher’s request.”
As journalists, we are committed to serving the public interest. We make an effort to report on issues that are of great importance to the campus community. We understand and respect the responsibility of finding, interpreting and disseminating information about university happenings.
While we value the university’s funding and support, we value our editorial independence just as highly. For without it, we would not live up to the standards of a respectable and trustworthy news organization.
We believe that this act of censorship sets a dangerous precedent for the future of journalistic integrity on this campus if the university can so easily control the content we publish, regardless of its nature. Allowing the administration to have unfiltered editorial control over our publication is a slippery slope.
At a time in which the administration has been criticized for lack of transparency and its inability to communicate with students about pressing campus issues in a timely manner, we have renewed our commitment to serving the public interest. Pressuring our staff to remove sections of the article in question runs contrary to that commitment.
Further, we believe the issue at hand is more far-reaching.
Upper level administrators and university counsel prioritized their own interests at the expense of honoring the values of free speech and journalistic principles. In a situation with competing interests, The Santa Clara’s autonomy was compromised in order to appease the administration.
For those university officials with decision-making power in this situation, making The Santa Clara remove the section of the article in question is an easy fix. But that fix, while seemingly beneficial to all parties involved, comes at the cost of our credibility and editorial sovereignty.
We are extremely concerned that the administration will attempt to censor additional coverage in the future, compromising the integrity of our publication.
The university has its own team of writers and social media accounts which produce content aimed at protecting and cultivating the public perception of the school. Although these tools are standard for any university entity, the student newspaper is not one of these outlets.
We are not a talking piece for the administration. Rather, we approach issues with a critical eye and the mission of holding the powerful accountable. Our loyalty is to our readers and our readers only
We at The Santa Clara strive to produce content that is accurate, objective, balanced and fair. We are not in the business of editorializing our news pages nor do we aim to cast individuals in an unfavorable light without good reason and appropriate context.
But we are also not in the business of arbitrarily protecting reputations or controlling public perception. We present the facts as we find them and allow our readers to develop their own informed opinions.
As the financial backer of a news organization, it is well within the prerogative of a publisher to request the retraction of a story. However, we believe this particular action by the administration was blatant censorship and it is well within our prerogative to oppose the decision.
In journalism classes taught at Santa Clara, freedom of the press is emphasized as one of the cornerstones of democracy. We implore the administration to respect the values being taught on our campus.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Santa Clara Editorial Board.