I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have woken up in the past year to dozens of emails telling me that The Daily Pennsylvanian did something shameful or wrong.
2023 was a difficult and challenging year for the world. Wars, conflicts, and tensions around the globe and country resounded loudly and clearly in the Penn community, and the DP is no exception. Being a facilitator of campus discourse, we at the DP witnessed history-making elections, communities in pain, and protests across the political spectrum.
With one breaking news story after another, the DP saw its readership soar to an extent not seen since the days following the 9/11 attacks. Working at a student newspaper is often a unique experience in these times, and no one necessarily prepares you for the intensity, frequency, and unprecedented nature of the news cycle — all on top of our regular academic responsibilities. Similarly, no one prepares you for the backlash, attacks, and threats that have become all too normalized in the life of any journalist today. Despite this reality, every time an email titled “Shame on the DP” arrived in my mailbox, I took it as an opportunity to reflect on the question “What exactly is our role in the Penn community?”
The climate of our era is certainly not insular, and events on the other side of the world can be achingly close to home for some of us. While having a front-row seat to events of the day and seeing everything up close is a privilege for those of us at the DP, it presents its own burdens as well. Putting our personal stakes aside, whether we have one or not, and informing our community of the snowballing news cycle is challenging. The unrelenting news has rarely afforded any of us a moment to grieve and process, and unconstructive criticism has hardly aided that effort.
Our responsibility, as the press in our community, is not to take sides. This editorial does a wonderful job of clarifying our process, ethics, and community guidelines. We are here to collect the facts and present them; we are here to incorporate all sides of the conversation no matter the issue. We are here to give a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard; and, we are here to provide some sense of clarity in what can feel like a convoluted atmosphere. Of course we denounce hate, and we uphold our long-established editorial policies with contemporary perspectives from all walks of life.
Certainly, there will be moments when we fall short. We, as student journalists, are also learning along the way by talking to all of you, our readership, whether through an interview or a complaint email. We seek feedback, support, and contributions which address the DP’s shortcomings or fill in gaps in our coverage.
However, it is never okay to harass and threaten our student journalists to create a desired narrative. At a time when factual information and media literacy is needed more than ever, coercion and harassment will only dwindle the amount of people who are willing to make a tremendous commitment to this profession. Threats to student journalists, or journalists in general, destabilizes the institution of the press and indeed an important pillar of any worthwhile democracy.
I am proud of our journalists who, despite immense hostility, have carried on with their work with grit. Our journalists go out of their way to inform our readers and seek the truth, often risking their own safety. Though working at the DP can feel like being at the eye of the tornado that is public discourse, we also deeply understand our commitment to inform our communities, at Penn and beyond, and the consequences that come along. We service our community through reporting and writing, we only ask that the essence of this job be respected and recognized.
Now, you may be thinking, what does a 22-year-old know about professional journalism? What does he know about resolving political and social conflict? Or about centuries of conflict and history? The answer is I don’t, and I think it is presumptuous for any of us to claim that we do. While I cannot possibly speak for everyone my age, as a college student who needs to become much more well-read on geopolitics, I am still constructing my own worldview.
My knowledge, or the lack thereof, presented its own kind of opportunity: a chance to read as many news articles, listen to as many voices, and take in as many different viewpoints as possible. What I’ve loved the most about being a student journalist is attending election events of different parties, protests of different points of view, and discourses of different ideologies and backgrounds. It is inherent in our trade that we must talk to people with different perspectives constantly. This serves to enrich my own, by adding perspective to my own previously held beliefs. At a time when it seems everyone is compelled to be for or against something, I cherish those conversations which allow me to take a step back and engage in civil discourse with a learning mindset.
Working at the DP, I am compelled to read up on the historical context of current events to inform my perspective, because I know my literacy will have consequences in how well I can do my job. The journalist in me forced myself to read everything from start to finish before coming to a conclusion so as to maximize my learning. Especially at a time when public discourse is accelerating, it is essential that we take the time to become more well-read and educated instead of rushing to take sides.
Many of today’s issues are close to home for our community members, so we should expect nothing less than emotions and passion. Though it is easy to assign labels and jump to conclusions about each other, it is much harder to, as the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” At the DP, we always seek to be a forum where people from all sides can engage in said civil conversations, though I will be the first to admit that we don’t always perfectly achieve this goal. We are hardly foolproof at maintaining all civil, societal conversations and resolving social issues, and we welcome constructive feedback from all in our community. We seek to understand through our reporting, and we can only ask for the same in return.
My perspective is hardly flawless, and just like other student journalists, I am evolving to become more well-read through consuming media and engaging conversations across the spectrum. We can all do better at staying humble, becoming more educated, and participating in a wider variety of civil discourse. As members of the press as well as of our community, the DP’s commitment in driving those conversations is unwavering for as long as Penn stands.
JESSE ZHANG is a Wharton senior studying business economics and public policy and marketing from Shenzhen, China. He is the president of the 139th Board of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. His email is email@example.com.