The Daily Princetonian should have a weekly section for foreign dispatches.
While America was going nuts over Susan Patton’s letter published in The Daily Princetonian last week, I was interviewing refugees in northern Syria.
“ ‘My wife will die if she doesn’t have heart surgery in three or four days,’ Asad Mohamed lamented as he prepared tea in his UN refugee tent. But getting the operation first requires getting her out of war-torn Syria and into a Turkish hospital that would somehow be willing to treat her for free.”
So began my news dispatch from the edge of a devastating war. Shortly after the University’s largest student publication managed to get its website back online, the editors rejected this article, proposing that I might write an op-ed on my experience but couldn’t publish in the News section.
Among the reasons the editors at The Daily Princetonian cited for rejecting the story on Syrian refugees was that they couldn’t fact-check it. I responded with a perhaps inappropriately terse letter detailing the safest way they could enter Syria (meet trusted Free Syrian Army contacts after the minefield, speak with refugees unable to leave the waste-ridden camp, hope not to get kidnapped by rogue groups or bombed by the regime jets they’ll hear a few miles away) and check the facts.
The whole point of journalists (or, in my case, an aspiring journalist) crossing into a war zone is to function as a voice for a suffering, disenfranchised population. With kidnappings on the rise and dozens of journalists killed in the Syrian war, international media has begun to streamline its focus on the front lines and swelling jihadist support. But nobody is more innocent and less heard than Syria’s refugees. That’s why I went in. This wasn’t some sick adventure.
Still, The Daily Princetonian’s existing policies would allow me to write about myself and my experience in Syria, but not Asad Hoammed and the humanitarian crisis in the transit camp near A’zaz. I find that baffling, and I won’t do it.
Here’s a sampling of headlines in the News section of the ‘Prince’ at the moment:
“Big Sibs mentors visit charter school in Camden Former Borough,” “Township Halls renamed in contest” and “Terra Momo to operate eateries in Arts and Transit neighborhood.”
And here’s the headline of my submission:
“Syrians stuck between war and Turkish Border.”
It is entirely correct and appropriate that The Daily Princetonian focuses primarily on local goings-on, as most of its reporters are, of course, in Princeton. But, broadly speaking, I find Princeton undergraduates’ tendency to ignore the outside world troubling.
The later explanation offered for blocking the Syrian refugee article was that there’s an existing policy of only publishing news from within The Daily Princetonian’s pool of internally trained reporters. I am not one of them.
That’s a fair policy, and provides an absolutely necessary structure of accountability. However, it woefully ignores the extraordinary foreign reporting potential to be found in scores of students studying abroad each semester and perpetuates a disturbing bubble of insulation within Princeton’s zip code.
For this reason, I think, The Daily Princetonian ought to establish a weekly dispatch section from students abroad. Real news reporting, but also various adventures, ramblings, windows into cultures beyond the confines of campus. People grow up a lot when they’re not just worrying about “Love and Lust in the Bubble.”
Include a disclaimer that fact-checking is not always feasible and authors are responsible for all content and errors. But please — please — puncture the Bubble once a week.
Ben Taub ’14
Transit Camp, A’zaz, Syria
We agree with Ben Taub ’14 that students should follow current events and that staying abreast of news from around the world is vital. However, for a variety of reasons, The Daily Princetonian is not the proper forum for news reporting about international affairs that lack a connection to the University.
The mission of the ‘Prince’ is to cover news and uncover stories about this University and its students. This means that a large portion of news stories discuss occurrences on campus. In our capacity as a student newspaper, we regularly publish news stories about international events as they relate to Princeton, including interviews with international relations practitioners teaching here, profiles of alumni working in international politics and coverage of lectures on timely events.
But we do not have the capacity to set up a full-fledged foreign correspondence operation. News organizations that specialize in international reporting have the capability to offer contacts and resources, thoroughly fact-check and edit international stories and protect reporters and sources.
In order to ensure the accuracy and integrity of each story, the ‘Prince’ only publishes news articles written by its staff members with the assistance of editors. We cannot publish guest submissions of news articles because editors are not intimately familiar with how the piece was reported.
We continue to welcome guest columns and Letters to the Editor from non-staff members, including submissions that discuss students’ experiences abroad or aim to raise awareness on campus about a particular issue. In fact, the Opinion section has consistently published excellent columns about international events and experiences that occur far outside campus.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/10/32847/