Editorial: A free press challenged at DePaul
May 29, 2018
The playwright and author Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” DePaul is, in a sense, a nation in its own right, albeit a smaller one of about 28,000. And we, the students who collectively comprise The DePaulia, are speaking to you when we illuminate what is often misbehavior on the part of the university.
The investigative stories that we have written this year are of the utmost importance for the nation of DePaul. As patrons of this university and citizens of its community, it is critical to read beyond what Newsline, the public relations department’s “news” publication, injects into your email accounts.
At The DePaulia, we try our best to bring to light the stories that DePaul doesn’t often want students, staff and alumni to know about. But on almost every serious story we’ve reported on, we faced the towering roadblock that is the DePaul University Office of Public Relations and Communications.
We don’t back down when public relations officials flex their muscles. We pester them until they inevitably give us a “decline to comment” or a brief, vague statement.
In the course of our pursuit of the truth, DePaul stands in our way at every juncture. It took more than seven months for us to be granted an interview with the new president of our university, and even then there was still a public relations official in the room.
When we recently reported on racist and insensitive tweets written by Director of University Events Jen Kramer, public relations officials gave us no more information than a written apology from Kramer. She wasn’t media-shy – she had been interviewed the week before for a story about graduation snafus, but when we approached her days later about her tweets, we were met with a response from public relations.
We wanted to know what employee at DePaul was responsible for hiring her in 2016, since a rudimentary Google search would have returned a 2015 article about the tweets.
In other words, we were seeking accountability. Instead, we got a statement saying: “DePaul does not comment on personnel matters.” For an institution that touts its diversity and inclusivity as attractants, the university should want to hold accountable the person responsible for hiring her when her nasty views were so public. They should want to investigate their hiring practices to make sure that they don’t continue to hire people who spout racist views, if not on principle alone, then so as not to offend the diverse student body they brag about in marketing materials.
Instead, they do their best to sweep the latest controversy under the rug by providing a cloudy, blameless statement. They think that students and staff will forget about their misbehavior, which could be dangerous for them. They underestimate the student body.
The Athletic Department also contributes to the overall opacity of the institution. It took our sports reporter weeks to get a sit-down with walk-on basketball player Pantelis Xidias for a fun feature story about his wacky antics.
In a recent story about safety on campus in the wake of an increase in crime in Lincoln Park, we requested an interview with Bob Wachowski, the director of public safety. Instead, we were told Wachowski would only answer written questions, a journalism no-no. But it was the only way that we could get any answers, so we had to take it. He flat-out ignored many of the questions. In our story about Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto’s potential conflict of interest with Wintrust Bank and the naming rights for Wintrust Arena, DePaul purposely and knowingly disseminated incorrect and inaccurate information to us when we gave them every opportunity to be forthcoming and transparent. One time, our sports editor was denied an interview with Lenti Ponsetto by an Athletic Department employee when he was less than 25 feet away from her.
Employees of the Office of Public Relations and Communications think they can bully our writers and editors, and then come complaining to the dean of the College of Communication when they can’t back us into a corner.
DePaul is a private university, which means they are not legally required to release the same information that public institutions are. But just because the law does not compel them towards transparency, it doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on that front.
DePaul should know that when they try to shut down our stories, it only invigorates us to dig deeper. They should know that when they decline to comment, it only makes us more curious and gives the perception that they are hiding something.
It seems like every time we send out an email, regardless of what it is about, we are met with a reply from a public relations official, wondering what we’re writing about. Not allowing us to talk to staff is undeniably a form of censorship, one that has harmful effects on the general well-being of the campus.
We will not apologize for the stories we write. We will not back down when DePaul attempts to roadblock our pursuit of the truth. And we will persist in being a thorn in the administration’s side for as long as they give us a reason to be.