Since news broke that the Daily Tar Heel and seven other media organizations have filed suit for the release of several records related to the investigations of our football team, readers have responded en masse.
Many of you have decided the DTH editors need to rein in their ego, quit resume-building and repent for their betrayal of UNC.
“Let the administration handle affairs that they should,” one reader wrote to the editor last month. “Go away.”
Let’s get a few things straight.
- The DTH is not beholden to the University or the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in any way, financially or otherwise. The paper has been financially independent from UNC since 1993. Its offices are housed off campus (when they were in the Student Union, the DTH paid rent like any other tenant).
- The students on the editorial board who wrote that head coach Butch Davis should be let go are not the students reporting on the investigations into the football team. One group does not direct the other. Ever.
- The DTH is not alone. The paper is joined by The (Raleigh) News & Observer as a co-lead plaintiff and six other media organizations, including the Associated Press.
- The DTH is a “big boy” newspaper. It is the most-circulated paper in Orange County, frequently wins awards for its coverage of higher education over bigger, professional papers, and plays by all the same rules as the state and national dailies. This does not mean the paper always gets it right, but it does mean that the paper operates in the same sphere as the professional papers also involved in this suit. We must give it at least that much respect.
The emotions here are understandably complex. Many of us are students. Most of us love our University. And most of us desperately want our football team to kick ass.
DTH reporters are privy to those emotions, too. They aren’t trying to kick the football team while it’s down, or sue for “a cookie before dinner,” as one online reader commented. And it’s certainly possible that very little newsworthy information might come out of this lawsuit.
But what’s at stake here is more important than the documents the DTH and others are suing for.
What’s at stake is the free flow of information from an institution that, technically, belongs to you.
What’s at stake is the legal right to demand that a body funded by taxpayer dollars release information that also, technically, belongs to you.
What’s at stake here is reversing the long trend of administrators extending the bounds of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy act (FERPA) to information they have no right to protect.
Transparency is the medium of accountability. And the less we, the public, push to find out what we already should have been told, the more freedom of information starts to look like a “special favor” rather than the norm.
And as the paper that covers UNC the most and best, the DTH has every right — and I would say obligation — to fight for information that is legally ours. You never want to rely on favors, especially when you’re asking questions some would rather pretend they didn’t hear.
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