Editorial: Emerson Today’s shrinking awareness of journalistic integrity

At issue: Updates on Emerson Today

Our Take: New content introduces more conflicts of interest

Recent modifications to Emerson Today, an outlet run by the college’s Marketing Communication Department, have only created more issues with how Emerson communicates information to students.

Last week, Emerson Today introduced a customizable subscription feature for students, families, faculty, and alumni. Individuals can opt to receive daily newsletters including college-related announcements or weekly newsletters for other content categories such as News and Stories, In the Press, School of the Arts, School of Communication, and the Institute of Liberal Arts.

It’s understandable that the outlet would want to disseminate announcements via email to its readership. But Emerson Today sending out a weekly newsletter with news stories only further distorts its identification as both a college-funded advertisement and a “news” publication. If Emerson Today continues to emulate the structure of a news outlet, its identification as a college-sponsored public relations outlet becomes more obscured and, as a result, more easily misguiding to its readership.

Emerson Today’s publication of an opinion piece this week poses yet another problem. While the site is supposed to be a single stop for campus news, events, and press releases, its close relationship with the college administration forces us to question the piece’s authenticity. The student-written op-ed pushes others to vote in SGA elections—a noble effort to garner student engagement for an organization that mandates funding for student activities and aids the way the college operates.

But much of what Emerson Today publishes as news already harbors a biased point of view and comes across as opinion. Publishing an “opinion” piece just further complicates what they stand for. And even more importantly, if Emerson faculty supervises content published by the outlet, is it the appropriate place for op-eds, especially if they are student-written?

At the Beacon, editors revise opinion articles specifically for clarity and grammar—how can we ensure that Emerson Today editors are doing the same when part of the site’s purpose lies in public relations and advertising for the college? How are we to trust the credibility of future opinion pieces Emerson Today may publish?

Last semester, the Beacon’s editorial board addressed how the publication merely reflects voices supported by the college. The editorial also highlighted its potential to mislead individuals on whether they’re associated with the college or not. In its first year of existence, the site has evolved into writing that is continuously blurring the lines between journalism and public relations.

On Emerson Today’s website, administrators state the outlet is “the college’s first news and information microsite, which will become the official home for campus announcements, news, and the latest information about Emerson.” But the manner in which the publication crosses the line of journalistic integrity is unavoidable.

College Factual named Emerson as the No. 1 journalism school in 2019. But writers for Emerson Today conduct email interviews, an unethical practice that funnels a filtered perspective, and are paid directly by the college. So is Emerson Today truly the kind of journalism the college wants to promote?

Students, faculty, and others would benefit from making the Beacon and other student publications their primary source for the information featured in Emerson Today. We try to provide all sides of the story, not just the narrow institutional perspective Emerson Today distributes that disregards dissenting viewpoints.

And if you are going to voice your opinions on the college and the student experience, do it somewhere with a clear cut identity as a news source, where your words won’t be revised by the same system you may be critiquing.

Emerson College does have an objective publication for college news, features, events, and opinions—it’s The Berkeley Beacon. After all, a communications school should know the difference between journalism and public relations.

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