On Sunday, the Bottom Line, a newspaper at the University of California at Santa Barbara, produced a most notable op-ed. It came about two days after Elliot Rodger carried out a killing spree that netted six victims and left 13 others injured.
Through the initial stages of the tragedy, the Bottom Line didn’t publish any reports, and it felt obliged to explain itself. So it did, in the words of Hannah Davey, executive content editor emeritus of the Bottom Line:
[W]e have decided to not immediately publish an article on the recent tragedy in our community of Isla Vista to minimize the emotional harm for our reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists. Before we are journalists, we are Gauchos and feel we need our time to mourn, process and recover from this senseless violence.
The Bottom Line is a “student-run weekly newspaper sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of California.” As noted in this post, The Daily Nexus, an independent, student-run paper, has been right on top of the horrific developments. Its aggressiveness on the story even won it a piece in the Los Angeles Times. Editor Marissa Wenzke from the Daily Nexus is quoted at length about covering the story, and, yes, she concedes that there is emotion involved: “The most disgusting thing is we didn’t realize the gravity of this,” Wenzke told the Los Angeles Times. “Then we go to the press conference at the sheriff’s office about 2 in the morning and are sitting there when they tell us seven had died. I got emotional. I couldn’t believe it. Until then, it had been ‘possible fatalities.’”
Instead of disqualifying the Daily Nexus from covering the killings, however, the emotional ties appear to propel the newspaper. At this point, the paper’s homepage is focusing on nothing but the violence, with multiple pieces about every aspect of the story. The Bottom Line, by contrast, features stories on fossil fuels, the legal codes of student groups, queer identity and substance abuse, among other topics.
The newspaper did ultimately publish a roundup story yesterday on the killings, by Isla Vista beat reporter Giuseppe Ricapito. He also live-tweeted the rampage on Friday night.
The op-ed from Davey notes that the decision to bag publishing on a gigantic story came after “extensive discussions among our Editorial Staff, advisor and alumni…” In those extensive discussions, these folks presumably engaged in philosophical exchanges on mourning and recovery, when a better focus would have been: How fast can we generate updates on this rampage?
In addition to its insistence on irrelevance, the Bottom Line is adding an element of unaccountability. When we asked for an interview on the Bottom Line’s approach to the story, we received this reply from Cheyenne Johnson, the paper’s executive managing editor:
Thank you for your interest in the The Bottom Line, and I’m glad to hear you read our op-ed. We as an organization have decided not to comment on the issue and to let what is said in the op-ed stand for itself.
Thank you again for your interest and please feel free to contact us with any questions not relating to this event.