OP-ED: UNB Student Newspaper’s Big Whoopsie

The Baron gets flacked for poor editorial judgement

LEAH SCHEITEL // COLUMNIST

Student newspapers are a learning ground for thousands of young journalists, but they are not without their hazards. This week, a student newspaper from the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick (UNB) made national headlines for what can objectively be called a lack of editorial judgment.

The Baron, a student-run publication funded mostly by student fees, decided to publish two stories featuring the voice of Matthew Thurlow, the leader of the National Socialist Canadian Labour Revival Party (NSCLRP) and a neo-nazi, for lack of a better description. The Baron published a Q&A with Thurlow as well as a 2,000-word opinion piece that he penned, which can be best described as anti-Semitic and anti-Indigenous hate speech.

The articles came after Thurlow and the NSCLRP took responsibility for splattering a slew of racist posters on the UNB’s Fredericton campus.

While the editorial decision to publish a racist rant in the name of “freedom of expression” is alarming on its own, the actions of the editor-in-chief, Anna De Luca (who has since been removed from the position) and the editorial team lacked responsibility, oversight and grace. When the news first broke about the articles on Jan. 25, and the wave of criticisms began to boil, de Luca released a statement explaining her stance and the principals she prioritized when she became EIC, just a month ago.

“In this age of extreme polarization, I saw gaining captainship of this publication as an opportunity to provide a diverse collection of contributors the ability speak their truth — Whatever that truth may be. I promised myself that I would never censor, never correct or challenge,” De Luca said her statement.

The Baron double-downed with a once-pinned Tweet defending their editorial decision. “By clutching our pearls in horror every time a neo-nazi speaks, we give an extraordinary amount of power to their words,” read the Tweet. “Action as thought they can withstand basic scrutiny, and only censorship will prevent their ideas from taking hold. Frankly, that’s dumb.”

By defending the publication’s actions, De Luca and editorial team have undermined their journalistic integrity, something that is crucial to hold at the helm of a paper, no matter how small. While they might operate under the philosophy that freedom of speech trumps all other duties and responsibilities a publication holds (such as not allowing a neo-nazi to spread unchallenged “facts” and racist opinions in their pages), their actions are horribly irresponsible. Journalists and reporters are meant to ask challenge and clarify the stories, not to muddle it by allowing everyone to “speak their truths”, however fucked up those truths are.

One Twitter user aptly commented, saying they were going to submit an article on how eating only dog food is the best way to lose weight because it’s gross so you won’t want to eat it. As they pointed out, under the principals De Luca used, The Baron would publish the article unchallenged and unfiltered, because it is somebody’s truth.

De Luca’s statement ended with her saying she invited critiques and concerns with open arms, which turned out to be a bit of fallacy. When professional journalists, such as Ishmael Daro – the Buzzfeed reporter who broke the story – asked The Baron to reconsider their editorial priorities, they tweeted back at him to “Get out, buttfeed.” There’s the lack of grace.

By using an “unfiltered” and “unchallenged” mantra, The Baron proved to have less journalistic integrity than TMZ, who at least makes feeble attempts to prove rumours before endorsing them through publication. Every student, whether a journalist or not, can learn from The Baron controversy – challenge what you’re told and remember your responsibilities. A student newspaper is a great platform to spread and share information, but that doesn’t mean the EIC gets to use it as a personal blog, publishing questionable things with ease and whimsy.

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