By Najib Aminy
When New York University Junior Alana Taylor wrote an opinionated article about her journalism class and the current digital revolution, she hoped that it would spark dialogue and propose solutions among her readers. Little did she know that her article would light a fire to a controversial debate of media ethics and create waves in the giant ocean of the blogosphere. The article, posted on a PBS Web blog, MediaShift, was aimed at presenting Taylor’s perspective of being an NYU journalism student amidst a new digital wave.
Titled “Old Thinking Permeates Major Journalism School,” Taylor reported on her thoughts of the NYU Journalism department citing her journalism class, “Reporting for Generation Y,” in its approach to changing with the times. For example, in the fourth annual “State of the Blogosphere,” conducted by Technorati, the report states that in a 2008 study, 184 million people worldwide have started their own blog while 346 million worldwide read these blogs. With the apparent shift to the Internet, less people are getting their news from newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts. More and more people are looking to the “series of tubes” for answers.
Fully aware of this fact, Taylor’s piece is centralized on the importance of the new shift to digital media, and questions the NYU Journalism Department’s hesitation to teach on this new-age revolution. However when Taylor’s professor, Mary Quigley, read the article and confronted Taylor about it, a second story was written by Taylor’s editor, Mark Glaser, that sparked even more controversy. According to Taylor, in a private meeting Quigley said, “we could agree for you to no longer write about this class.” Quigley then addressed the classroom of sixteen students letting them know about Taylor’s article, emphasizing that students were not to report about the class. With the foundation of journalism based upon the freedoms of speech and the press, Quigley’s response to prohibit a student from writing about her class has sparked controversy.
“She told me I violated the students rights, their personal privacy, that I was wrong on many ethical levels, and about how I should’ve sought permission,” Taylor said in response to what Quigley had. In New York State the only law pertaining to personal privacy matters are among the consolidated laws which states: “the right of privacy of a person, firm or corporation that uses for advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade, the name, portrait or picture of any living person without having first obtained the written consent of such person, or if a minor of his or her parent or guardian, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Some critics claim that Taylor failed to conform to the NYU Journalism Code of Ethics which states, “the vast majority of time, journalists should make clear to the people they are interviewing that they are journalists. State your name and affiliation up front.” By not informing Professor Quigley or her fellow students, some see Taylor as the one at fault for failing to follow procedure as well as the rules of her own institution. PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler, wrote in an editorial that Taylor was unique from other bloggers because she was hired, though not for money, by MediaShift, which would make it an obligation for her to inform her professor of the story. “This was a journalism student in a journalism department who did this without either telling the teacher what she was doing or who she was doing it for, without asking permission of the teacher or other classmates (one classmate is quoted anonymously, also not a great journalistic habit to get in to), without checking content or asking for the teacher’s views of the author’s critical assessments, and without, of course, identifying her national connection to PBS,” said Getler.
In response to Taylor’s article, Stony Brook’s Dean of the School of Journalism, Howard Schneider, said that the only problem he would have with blogging or reporting about any class is if it results in students worrying about what they say in class, due to a possibility of it being published, whether online or in print. “My concern is in anything that tends to limit freedom of expression in the classroom or which would be detrimental to the educational purpose of the university.”
In preserving the freedom of the classroom, Professor Quigley may have stepped over some boundaries, possibly posing a threat to the freedoms upon which journalism is based. Director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of NYU, Brooke Kroeger, said in the MediaShift article, titled, “NYU Professor Stifles Blogging, Twittering by Journalism Student,” that it was up to the professors to allow or restrict students from writing about what occurred in class. In an email response, Kroeger said, “We leave a great deal in matters of the classroom to the discretion of individual professors. There are, of course, some common understandings, but professors are generally free to decide such matters.”
After reading Taylor’s article and the response article, Ethel Sorokin, of the Center for the First Amendment Rights, said she was in agreement with Taylor. “I didn’t see how discussing the teachers classroom approach was in any way demeaning or an invasion of privacy—[blogging is] an educational issue that all should be interested in.” Sorokin added that she does support the teacher as well, saying, “I’m with the student, but my feet and body are with the teacher, so both have to be open—in good First Amendment style—to the views of the other to achieve the ultimate best result which may be mostly blogging in the future.” Schneider, who said he has met Quigley before, was a little baffled by her response. “I am a little confused myself as to what her objections are. It appeared to me that at one point she felt this could be disruptive to the class. So it was not a response about whether this was negative about her or the class, and she was trying to stop people from saying bad things,” said the former Newsday Editor.
When asked about Taylor’s article, Quigley emailed, responding that she could not comment other than to clarify her policy on reporting about her class. “I don’t allow live blogging, texting, e-mailing, or twittering during class. It is distractingto both me and the students, especially in a class with students seated around a seminar table. Once a student steps outside of the classroom he is free to make any and all comments in whatever forum he chooses,” Quigley said. However, Taylor says she never wrote any bit of her article in Quigley’s class. Confused about it herself, Taylor viewed Quigley’s response as a reversal of what she had said earlier and possibly softening her stance from before.
While talking to Taylor on her own take of the situation, she noted that with the exception of a few handful of reporters, no one has yet to interview her for comment. Taylor was not expecting the huge amount of feedback her article had received, noting that everyone who had commented had a strong opinion. Taylor’s response to breaking journalistic ethic codes was that she had not intended on writing her thoughts of the NYU journalism department as an exposé. Rather, as she put it, “A Day in the Life of Alana Taylor” type of story that would provide readers an inside look at a student attending a top-tier journalism institution. Taylor, who wrote her article after the first day of class, says that the mood of the classroom has returned to normalcy, and both she and Professor Quigley have agreed to move on as if the article were never written in the first place. Taylor said she felt like there was bit of sensationalism when it came to naming the headlines of her article as well as the follow-up story, but when asked if she would do it again, she quickly replied yes.
Taylor’s intention of promoting the importance of blogging was, in her eyes, successful. “Regardless of whether people agreed or not, the article was posted on a web blog, in which discussion resulted, which proves that blogs are effective.”
Asked if fellow NYU students recognize her from the article that she has written, Taylor replied, “No, I usually wear a hat.”