The SF State community experienced an especially trying past week. The surprising announcement and sudden cancellation of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s speech Thursday stirred controversy and invoked emotional response among multitudes of individuals and organizations — reactions rippled out from our campus and into the international realm.
Given the fallout from Barkat’s speech in April 2016, we as Xpress staff immediately realized the responsibility we would bear in reporting this story thoroughly, accurately, fairly and with the highest level of sensitivity to the various people and groups that were personally impacted by these events.
Although we strive to approach reporting with a solid understanding of history and facts that provide context, we know our research will never match the knowledge of those who live with the consequences of these events as a matter of life experience. In short, we may tell the stories, but our experts are directly involved sources and the public we serve reap the benefits.
With this in mind, we set out to gather pertinent information, and more importantly speak with people who represent the myriad of perspectives revolving around this very complicated and personal conflict. We contacted several organizations, professors, students, administration and Barkat’s office.
We are acutely aware of the dissatisfaction some feel with Xpress staff and past stories, and in particular, the long-standing boycott the General Union of Palestinian Students has implemented against the campus news outlet.
We will not belittle their frustration with condescension or excuses, but equally, we cannot speak for the actions of the previous staff as we were not here to attest to what did or did not occur. Ethically and respectfully reporting the most important aspects of every story is what matters most to our current staff.
In our view, the big picture is nowhere near complete without the voices of organizations like GUPS. We are not fulfilling our responsibility as journalists if we fail to exhaust all resources and make that happen, and so we do just that.
As was expected and somewhat understandable, our repeated efforts to communicate with GUPS were met with strong resistance. Despite perseverance, the organization held to their boycott, and declined to comment on issues surrounding Barkat’s scheduled visitation and cancellation, but did agree to provide a statement explaining their prohibition against communication with Xpress staff.
Thankful for any dialogue, we agreed to wait for their statement for inclusion in the article we ran on April 5. Unfortunately, we never received their statement and were forced to publish the story without it. However, we were made aware GUPS did prepare a letter to the editor, but chose to distribute it at a protest Thursday.
In response to points of contention expressed in the letter, we contacted the group again to address their frustrations and attempt to mend the challenged relationship. The phone conversation with one member of GUPS Thursday allowed us to discuss some of their grievances from a more personal level and provided us an opportunity to explain our intentions that may have been misconstrued.
Overall, the exchange was respectful and productive and we were left feeling hopeful that a future meeting may be arranged so we can gain a more broad understanding of the organization’s perspective and develop solutions to the communications breakdown. We welcome that opportunity wholeheartedly. In the meanwhile, we will use this forum to respond to issues brought forward in their statement.
The history of Xpress “misrepresenting actions and statements by Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims” is a charge we take seriously.
We cannot confirm or deny interactions between GUPS and Xpress staff prior to this semester — each term ushers in a completely new staff of reporters, photojournalists, editors and editor-in-chief. The boycott has remained a constant through several teams of journalists responsible for running the Golden Gate Xpress. Although I’m sure each semester’s staff approaches this challenge with the desire to bridge the divide, it is obvious the goal has not been realized.
What we can say with absolute certainty is that we harbor an unyielding priority this semester to report every angle for every news story we tell, paying respect to our sources, avoiding assumptions and remaining as objective as possible. We’ve had varying levels of success, but we are determined to get it right. It is this determination that brings us back to GUPS repeatedly — if we don’t keep trying, we’re not doing our job. We will continue to try.
Included in their letter was a specific account of a reporter’s request “for a list of undocumented students,” which GUPS interpreted as compromising student safety and hawkishness. Without context it is understandable how they could come to that conclusion. But as was explained in our limited conversation Thursday, ensuring student safety, especially in these times, is a priority in our newsroom. We have published several articles this semester that allowed sources to remain anonymous, a practice most common when we’ve reported on recent changes to immigration laws.
We would never publish the names of undocumented individuals or publicly disclose private facts of any private individuals. If a reporter did ask for a list of names, it was merely with the intention of relaying the impact of certain policies from the perspective of those most affected. We would never publish identifying information without consent, will always respect a source’s wish to remain anonymous and will never provide source details to administration or authorities. Journalists are legally empowered to protect our sources, and we firmly exercise that right at all cost.
It is clear these letters do not address all grievances or clear up all misconceptions, but we are willing to address issues when challenged and appreciate the opportunity to do so. We understand writing letters alone cannot replace the value of direct communication, but we hope this marks the beginning of a journey toward greater understanding at the end of the line.