Updated Oct. 27, 1:45 p.m.
After complaints from readers about Bwog’s coverage of last week’s University Senate rules town hall—and the subsequent resignation of three editorial staff members—the blog is meeting with student leaders and drafting a set of standards, its editors said.
As part of this outreach, Bwog hosted an open forum on Sunday night—described in a post as an opportunity for “any student who wishes to contribute to the redefining of Bwog.”
Only three non-Bwog students showed up at the forum: a Spectator reporter and photographer, and a Lion reporter. Editors said that, despite the low turnout, they are still actively meeting with leaders of student groups to discuss last week’s post and the blog’s work in general.
This new effort, however, comes after a series of internal changes and turmoil at Bwog over the last year.
A haphazard process
The day after the University Senate’s rules town hall meeting, Bwog editors received an anonymous tip about a Google Doc used to coordinate questions among student activists—to which members of the senate’s Rules Committee contributed, violating senate confidentiality rules.
According to Bwog’s former Barnard Bearoness Lauren Beltrone, BC ’17, Bwog’s editorial board decided to publish a post about the document with a full copy of the Google Doc, after a few exchanges over email.
“There wasn’t a conversation before the decision was made. People weren’t questioning anything,” Beltrone said. “It was just sort of, ‘Should we run this?’ ‘OK, we’ll run this.’”
As editors read the increasingly critical comments on the post, they redacted some—and then all—of the names mentioned in the Google Doc, she said.
That evening, Beltrone resigned in an email to the Bwog staff.
“The way in which we decided to post the article was really haphazard and didn’t really reflect a process that maybe should have been thought about,” she said. “There wasn’t as much of a deliberation as there should’ve been. No one really weighed the pros and cons—it just sort of happened.”
Beltrone, who had attended the town hall meeting out of personal interest, said she resigned partly because she was not comfortable with a post that could have implicated students trying to defend student speech.
“It baffles me that the same organization which broke Anna Bahr’s critical piece on sexual assault last year can ignore the rights of student activists,” she said in her resignation email.
Former daily editor Garrett Donnelly, CC ’18 and a Spectator news beat chief, said he resigned the day after Beltrone sent her email. Donnelly said that another daily editor, Libby Kandel, CC ’18, also left within days.
Donnelly said that “complications regarding internal discussions about the posting of a certain article” led him to step down.
Kandel declined to comment for this article.
On Tuesday—four days after the town hall post was published—Bwog’s editorial board issued an apology about the post. At Sunday’s open forum, Editor-in-Chief Julia Goodman, CC ’16, said that the article was posted because of miscommunication among editors, and “not due to any sort of malicious intent.”
Moving forward, Goodman said that Bwog editors will be creating a series of standards for the blog’s staffers and readers alike, and establishing a protocol for complicated situations.
“Once it’s kind of codified in whatever way it might be, this will serve as something that readers of Bwog can look at and understand so that they’re not blindsided,” Bwog’s publisher Jake Hershman, GS/JTS ’16, said.
While the standards have yet to be drafted, Hershman said they may include a section on how to respond to requests for redactions, a section defining how Bwog “uses information it has received,” and a section on how Bwog posts that information.
“In the past, it’s been a very case-by-case basis—and I think that will continue to be true to some extent. It’s impossible to look at those cases in a general way,” Goodman said. “But I think having a set of standards that Bwog writers and editors can refer to will be helpful for us in the future.”
To begin drafting these standards, Bwog’s editorial board has been both soliciting and receiving feedback from student leaders and representatives from student groups that have expressed concern over the site’s past posts, Hershman said, adding that the meetings so far have been positive.
“It’s started by addressing the role that Bwog has played in the coverage of events in the past, talking about how we could maybe do that better and the way that was handled, and gotten a lot of their specific feedback about the kind of things and the role that they want to see Bwog playing in the larger Columbia community,” Hershman said.
Goodman declined to specify which posts had been discussed and which student groups editors were meeting with. She estimated that the blog has reached out to between 10 and 15 groups in total.
“The point of these meetings and the point of this event tonight is so that our readers know that the Columbia community is our first and most primary concern and who we as Bwog exist to serve,” Hershman said on Sunday night.
In addition to individual meetings and the open forum, Bwog has also received about five to 10 emails from readers regarding the article on the rules town hall, Goodman said.
Straying from the past
In early September, Bwog came under fire after refusing to redact a photo of a Students for Justice in Palestine protester after the protester said the photo posed a risk to their safety.
The editors’ handling of the incident led former features editor Alexander Pines, CC ’16, to resign from his position on the editorial board, IvyGate reported at the time.
Former co-editors-in-chief Sarah Faith Thompson, CC ’16, and Maud Rozee, BC ’15, stepped down from their roles in a note to readers six days later, citing the time commitment their roles required.
“While we are extremely proud of the work they have accomplished over the past year, Maud and Sarah Faith no longer feel that they can dedicate the amount of time that this position requires,” the note said.
Last spring, editors also published a note titled “A Statement On Conflict Of Interest” after lists of alleged rapists posted around campus included a Bwog staff member, announcing that the staff member had been asked to resign.
A former member of the Bwog editorial staff, who asked to remain anonymous because of their current relationship with editors, said that the editorial board’s response to the rules town hall incident shows that the site is straying from its roots.
“Decisions about what to post have not been driven by a desire to appease anybody,” the staffer said about the blog’s history. “This isn’t really in keeping with that history.”
In a Twitter post last Monday, former Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Svokos, CC ’14, said, “I would've published the entire tip and doc on @bwog. Can anyone give me a reasoned argument why not to?”
The anonymous former staffer also criticized Bwog’s open forum, saying the blog was pandering too much to its audience.
“When you think about yourself as a journalistic institution, you’re not selling a service to somebody—you don’t need to market yourself,” the staffer said. “The language they’re using is the language you’d use to market a product, where they want to get in touch with their customers.”
Beltrone echoed this sentiment.
“Bwog hasn’t really been itself lately,” she said.