Publishing an article like the one on the cover of this week’s issue is never something an editor wants to do. In fact, it’s with great displeasure that we do so. But, there is no doubt in our minds that it was something we had to do.
As editors, each time we publish an issue we view it as essentially performing a service to the community our paper was created for—the students and community members of Trent University.
In our view, part of that service is to responsibly report on matters of the public interest, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to do so.
This is a right that has been challenged and upheld by numerous court decisions in Canada. The most recent and most relevant is Grant v. Torstar, a case before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2009.
The court decided that responsibly reporting on matters of the public interest means getting everyone’s side of a story, and covering the story without malicious intent. It, of course, must be a matter of public interest in the first place.
In our view, the story on the cover is a matter of public interest primarily because it centres on the president of Trent’s largest student association, Braden Freer.
Furthermore, the conversation concerns two topics which Arthur has reported on in the recent past: the rescindment of the TCSA’s Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions policy against Israeli Apartheid, and defederation from the Canadian Federation of Students.
It also concerns a conservative takeover, jokingly or not, of a student union, a topic which is well-precedented in other publications.
Regardless of its precedence, the TCSA is holding an election in less than a month, and students have the right to know about anything that might impact that election. In this case, it seems that it will not, and that is reflected in the article.
It was only after our reporter Jack Smye demonstrated, beyond any doubt in our minds, that he was conducting the story responsibly and without malice, that we agreed it would be published. Smye contacted each party involved in the leaked conversation, and gave them both follow-up interviews when he received answers that didn’t match up or caused further allegations.
A question that will no doubt arise is how can we justify reporting on what was a private conversation.
In our view, the conversation ceased to be private when screenshots of it were uploaded onto a publicly-accessible, anonymous file sharing website. While anyone can read them now, that itself does not merit coverage. It’s because of their relevance to the public interest, as I argue above, that we conducted this story.
Furthermore, no one at Arthur took those screenshots, nor did anyone here seek them out. These documents were given to us anonymously. No misconduct was done on our part in receiving them.
We carefully weighed the story’s interest to the public against all other factors, and it was our conclusion that to not cover the story for reasons of personal discomfort would be to fail in our role as editors.
We believe doing so is for the public good. It is in Trent students’ best interest to know the details of that conversation.