An Open Letter to President Pelton from a former Washington Post photographer

By Daniel Sircar, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mr. Pelton,

My name is Daniel Sircar, and I’m a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve also been a photojournalist for The Washington Post and The Daily Tar Heel, and I run a non-profit blog “Why Journalism?” discussing the importance and philosophical underpinnings of the journalistic profession.

Simply put, Mr. Pelton, I am disappointed, dismayed, and wary of Emerson College’s decision to become the first school in Boston to have its student government control the fees of the student newspaper. Here’s the problem: if public officials have the power to silence or wield influence over the journalists reporting on them, then you can kiss objective or helpful journalism goodbye.

Nearly every journalist I’ve met got into this profession because we’re reckless idealists; we think that by boldly telling the truth we can make this world a better place; we live and breathe by axioms like “journalism is the 4th branch of government” and “journalism exists to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” We really believe in the necessity of what we do.

I’ll leave you with a short story. In 2010, two Los Angeles Times reporters uncovered that city manager Robert Rizzo in the sleepy town of Bell, California was giving himself a salary of $787,637 out of public money, nearly twice the income of the President of the United States of America. It was by chance that the LA Times ventured out to Bell to check up on their finances, since the local newspaper didn’t have enough resources to conduct this kind of investigation.

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An empowered and unfettered local press is crucial to the fabric of democracy. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by upholding this kind of unprecedented measure.

Sincerely,

Daniel K. Sircar
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
dsircar@unc.edu