The editorial board of the Bottom Line, a student-run newspaper at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has released a statement clarifying — and nearly recanting — a much-commented-upon op-ed regarding the paper’s coverage of Friday night’s Isla Vista killings. That op-ed, which was signed by executive content editor emeritus Hannah Davey, signaled that the newspaper had held off on covering the rampage of Elliot Rodger in order “to minimize the emotional harm for our reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists.” It was titled “Why We Have Not Yet Published Anything on the Isla Vista Shooting” and published on Sunday. The next day, the Bottom Line published a piece on the violence, though its coverage has been far lighter than coverage by its student-run competitor, the Daily Nexus.

Various commentators, including the Erik Wemple Blog, found fault with a media outlet taking a pass on a huge news story right in its front yard.

And so did some members of the Bottom Line’s own staff. In a statement sent to the Erik Wemple Blog early this morning by Executive Managing Editor Cheyenne Johnson, the paper’s editorial board addresses “inaccuracies” in the op-ed. Though minimizing harm to staffers was a consideration in the decision to go light on the story, “it was not the main factor,” says the statement. The real reason, it suggests, is that the group “decided it would be best to gather all the necessary facts to report on such a grave and tragic incident, rather than rush to publication and print misinformation.”

That, of course, is a stretch, considering that solid facts about Rodger’s misdeeds were available all weekend. In perhaps the most stunning line of the statement, the paper’s editorial board appears to view publishing articles as an imposition: “Our primary audience is UCSB and Isla Vista, who were rocked by a tragic event and have experienced a severe loss. We did not think it journalistically ethical to harass our community in its time of grief and shock, and decided to hold off premature publication of an article so that we did not hurt anyone through misinformation.”

Right there: Proof that journalistic ethics can be summoned to justify just about anything.

There were also procedural problems with the op-ed, according to the editorial board: It was “written by a previous Executive Content Editor, and was approved to be posted by a few members of our current editorial board, but without consultation with our advisor and the majority of the editorial board.” And here’s an indication of just how divided is the Bottom Line these days: “In a mentally and emotionally compromised state, the editors directly involved in the publication of the Op-Ed misjudged the situation.”

Full Statement

As The Bottom Line Editorial Board, we would like to address the inaccuracies in a recent Op-
Ed, clarify our editorial process, and reaffirm our views on the recent coverage.

The Op-Ed that TBL published on May 25, 2014, “Op-Ed: Why We Have Not Yet Published
Anything on the Isla Vista Shooting,” was written by a previous Executive Content Editor, and
was approved to be posted by a few members of our current editorial board, but without
consultation with our advisor and the majority of the editorial board. In a mentally and
emotionally compromised state, the editors directly involved in the publication of the Op-Ed
misjudged the situation. Even though said piece is an Op-Ed, we effectively allowed someone
who is not currently involved with TBL to speak for us and define our coverage of the Isla Vista
tragedy.

The Op-Ed states that “we 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.” Although minimizing harm to our staff and
community contributed to our decision, it was not the main factor. We decided it would be best to
gather all the necessary facts to report on such a grave and tragic incident, rather than rush to
publication and print misinformation. This does not mean that our reporters and photographers
refused to or chose not to cover the events of May 23. Our staff has been reporting, interviewing,
and photographing since Friday night in preparation for an online story published Monday and
our regular print issue on Wednesday. Additionally, we have been covering the incident through
our Twitter account, providing accurate live updates of the events.

We pride ourselves on factual and accurate reporting, not sensationalism and fear-mongering.
We, as a news organization, do not want to contribute to the panic by exploiting the grief of our
fellow community members. We serve our community first, and we took the steps that we thought were necessary to best serve that community. Our primary audience is UCSB and Isla Vista, who were rocked by a tragic event and have experienced a severe loss. We did not think it journalistically ethical to harass our community in its time of grief and shock, and decided to hold off premature publication of an article so that we did not hurt anyone through
misinformation.

Sincerely,

The 2013-2014 Bottom Line Editorial Board

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.