After a tumultous year covering one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the editor in chief of Princeton University’s student newspaper was surprised that he had to defend his staff from their peers, and not the Ivy League school’s administration.
Outgoing editor in chief Marcelo Rochabrun, a Princeton senior, wrote a now-viral Letter from the Editor in The Daily Princetonian this week bashing his fellow students for their ongoing criticism of the paper’s coverage. In a recent interview with Business Insider, he said there was no one story that prompted his viral farewell column.
“It was basically just a reflection on the past year, not a reaction to anything in particular,” Rochabrun told Business Insider.
Rochabrun wrote in his column that Princetonian staffers faced retaliation from other students. Those students questioned why the newspaper — in their view — only seemed to report on news that negatively portrayed the school.
His column highlights one particularly telling comment on a Princetonian story, where a student wrote, “It’s amazing to see student publications more concerned with disgracing their student body than actually publishing thought provoking news.”
The editor in chief told Business Insider that he was motivated to write his Letter from the Editor after hearing about his staff members facing real-life consequences — such as, he wrote, being banned from parties or being threatened with “bodily harm” — while he recieved no such retaliation.
“It makes sense, the bylines are always the staff members,” he said. “No one complained to me.”
However, Rochabrun said, as editor in chief he was ultimately accountable for The Princetonian’s reporting. “I was the one responsible, and if they were mad, they could be mad at me,” he told Business Insider.
Since publishing his column criticising Princeton’s student body, Rochabrun said he has gotten some feedback from students taking issue with what they believe is a mischaracterization of their views.
“I’ve got some students saying that I’m out of touch for writing that, that I don’t understand what the students think,” he said.
Other students, though, have written to Rochabrun to offer their support, he said, as have many professional journalists across the country.
The student journalist said he isn’t sure why there was so much attention on his university during his tenure as editor in chief. “It’s hard to put it in context when you’re only there for a year,” he said.
However, he said, a lot of it could be attributed to their coverage of sexual assault and Title IX, the federal law that ensures gender equality in education. The Department of Education announced in November that Princeton had been found in violation of federal Title IX policies for sexual assault reporting.
“I think anyone who would have had the stories we had could have gone national this year,” he said.
For Rochabrun, the Princetonian’s coverage of mental health on campus stood out this year. Those stories were “taken very well by the student body,” he said, although he did receive some unhappy phone calls from campus administrators.
Last semester, The Princetonian reported on a lawsuit facing the university from a student who alleges he was forced to withdraw after attempting suicide. The student newspaper published a series of previously confidential letters between the student and the school, which were included in the lawsuit.
More contentious among the student body, according to Rochabrun, was the paper’s coverage of a sex-photo scandal at the Tiger Inn eating club and its reports on various student arrests.
Rochabrun reiterated that he doesn’t see any difference between The Princetonian, with its student reporters, and an outside publication that might be covering the school.
“Journalists are journalists, one group just happens to attend that university,” he said. “They should have the same level of creditability and scrutiny.”
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