News reporters, at times, can face harsh criticism, said Joey Stipek, online editor of the University of Oklahoma Daily student newspaper. He gave the example of speaking with an upset father after publishing a link to his daughter’s autopsy report.
Stipek and Laney Ellisor, OU Daily editor-in-chief, spoke to a journalism class on campus Oct. 25 about the highs and lows of their journalism careers, and the importance of working in student media.
Stipek, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a former OCCC student. Before moving to Oklahoma to attend OCCC, he managed a business in the food industry in Times Square. While attending OCCC, Stipek held many positions, including that of editor, at the college’s newspaper, the Pioneer. He is now studying journalism at OU.
Ellisor, a 22-year-old professional writing major at OU, is originally from Broken Bow, Okla. She began her work at the OU Daily as a reporter and moved up the ranks to become editor-in-chief in August.
Ellisor told of one of her most exciting moments while working in student media when she described recently meeting her childhood role model, Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent. Another exciting experience for her was seeing her byline in print, as she did first in the OU Daily.
During his speech, Stipek told of what he described to be a highly controversial publication, Casey Cooke’s autopsy report.
A senior at OU, Cooke died on campus in early summer after a fall from the fire escape of a campus building. The autopsy report gave details of her injuries and established that she had been drinking alcohol before the fall.
The OU Daily published a link to the report during the first week of the fall semester, and the first month of Ellisor’s tenure as the editor-in-chief.
Stipek told the class after a link to Cooke’s autopsy report was published, he spoke with Cooke’s father, who was deeply distraught.
“He was in tears,” Stipek said. He said he received letters from Cooke’s peers, who also were upset over the publication.
Ellisor told students they will find there is plenty of criticism in a journalist’s career, and that some of that criticism should be allowed to “roll off your back.” She said all criticism should be taken with the utmost respect and considered seriously.
In the rush to report the outcome of the autopsy report, the OU Daily staff may have acted too quickly, Ellisor said.
Stipek and Ellisor explained that when handling controversial issues, it is best to examine the topic in a two-part manner. First, ask yourself if it will add to the story and secondly, if one can justify including it. Ellisor said planning is the key to managing controversy.
She cited an example from the spring semester when the OU Daily staff decided to run a front-page editorial advocating for a housing issue supported by gays and lesbians on campus. The editorial was accompanied by news articles and information graphics to provide context and background for the argument.
Stipek and Ellisor encouraged journalism students to take part in their school’s student media programs, as they have reaped benefits in terms of lessons learned and experience gained.
They also noted that student media experience can lead to concrete rewards, such as scholarships and professional internships.