The Northerner’s recent coverage of an alleged rape has raised questions about legal and ethical practices of the paper. In the March 2 edition, it was reported that Michael Powell, a 20-year-old Northern Kentucky University student was charged and arrested with rape.
The Northerner covered this report of sexual assault because it led to an arrest, which had not happened on campus in more than a year. According to police Lt. Col. Jeff Martin, all but three sexual assaults reported to the NKU Police Department since August 2001 have been determined to be unfounded. The last time a sexual assault was reported on campus that led to an arrest was in January 2004. The third sexual-assault-related arrest happened in December 2001.
As journalists, we have a responsibility to inform our audience of newsworthy occurrences and issues that concern them. The majority of The Northerner staff is comprised of upper-classmen journalism majors who obtained positions as editors because of their knowledge of journalistic writing styles and ethics. Through the communication department at NKU, we are learning how to follow legal and ethical standards and strive for objectivity. Upon learning about and researching the incident, the editorial board discussed at length the appropriate steps to take when covering the alleged assault.
Students have questioned whether the article would have been handled the same way or covered at all if the accused had been a white student. The staff was not aware of the race of either student involved until we received Powell’s mug shot, at which time we had already made the decision to publish it.
The Northerner ran a similar article and layout when former Student Government Association President Chris Pace was charged with a felony in connection with the tampering of SGA public records. He also had not yet been tried in court. Although Pace’s mug shot was not available to us at the time of publication, we did use a headshot.
Although Powell’s complete address was not included in the article, the location of his residence was included because according to the police report the alleged assault occurred in Powell’s dorm room, thus making the location critical to the article. Both Powell and the alleged victim were contacted and given the chance to respond before the article was published.
Our coverage of this particular incident has also raised questions about objectivity and lack of diversity in the past. The Northerner makes great efforts to diversify its coverage, addressing issues representative of the entire NKU campus and community. However, with a core staff of 13 editors on a campus of about 14,000 students, it is not possible for us to be aware of every event and issue. We always have and continue to encourage all students to inform us of events and topics they feel NKU should know about.
Students with an interest in keeping the NKU community informed of pressing issues are also encouraged to apply to become a Northerner staff member. You do not have to be a journalism major or have any previous experience. Apply online at www.thenortherner.com or in person at our office in UC 203.
The Northerner stands behind its coverage of the arrest. We believe we handled the situation fairly and accurately. As we expressed at a meeting with concerned students March 3, we are always willing to hear students’ issues with the paper in an effort to provide full representation of the campus community.