The Daily Tar Heel didn’t out Will Thomason.
In the past 24 hours, some have refuted that fact. What those responders didn’t know was that before the story was published, Thomason was already out to the people who mattered — his friends and family.
Those who took issue with our decision also wouldn’t have had a full understanding of the story if the line, “Thomason, who is gay, …” weren’t included in a story about his beliefs on homosexuality and their direct correlation to his ouster from Psalm 100.
The DTH didn’t take that line lightly. The decision to come out can be a difficult one, and we know that broadcasting one’s sexual orientation atop the front page isn’t always appropriate.
It was in this instance — but not without a few questions first.
Would the DTH essentially be outing someone who might not want or feel comfortable with such attention or exposure?
Would it appear to readers that the DTH was attacking a group simply for the religious beliefs it holds? Would readers assume we were just substantiating UNC’s liberal stereotype?
Was Thomason’s removal from his a cappella group an isolated situation, or did it represent a larger campus issue?
Would we fail in our job to hold the University to account if we didn’t run the story?
The editors and I discussed these questions and more at length. We weighed the DTH’s mission to inform campus and hold the University accountable without doing undue harm.
We ultimately decided we needed to run the story for many reasons.
First, we were able to talk to all parties involved. Both Thomason and Blake Templeton, the group’s general director, agreed to on-the-record interviews. We didn’t need to rely on anonymous sources, which would have harmed the story’s credibility.
We refined our wording to make the article as accurate as possible while remaining sensitive to all parties involved. That involved consultation with all sources from every side to make sure the issue was portrayed accurately.
Second, we ran the story because of the real dilemma it presents: Thomason’s removal shined a light on a University policy that is far from clear.
We saw Psalm 100’s case. Its right to control membership based on adherence to the group’s constitution has some grounding, according to the rules in place. Meanwhile, one could make a case for the group’s interpretation of that rule as a contradiction of the University’s non-discrimination policy.
The story went to print and addressed the policy’s blurriness. But it was ripe for follow-ups.
When does a decision like this cross the line? Is there a line at all?
Who gets to decide?
It might take a while to get answers, as the University treads lightly in its response.
Until then, I’ll only make a few promises. We’ll report both sides, we’ll reserve judgment (outside this page) and we won’t turn down the heat on getting the answers you deserve.
We didn’t when we asked Will.
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