An Apology, and Why It

I owe our readers a difficult column this week, both to disclose an embarrassing incident and to apologize for it.

While we produced our annual April Fools’ Day edition the evening of March 28, members of our staff brought beer into our office, despite the violation of campus policy and the fact that several of the editorial and design staff present were underage.

As a result, we were visited later that night by members of MSU’s police department, who required our underage staffers to submit to a breathalyzer test and leave the premises.

To be clear: Many of those present chose not to drink — myself included, given my responsibility for conducting the final review of content before publication. The majority of those who did partake did so in a responsible manner, consuming moderate quantities of alcohol as they completed their work. None of our staff members were cited and we were able to complete the edition's production on schedule.

None of that excuses the situation, or my personal responsibility for it. In a work environment funded by student dollars to provide a service to our community, we should have had the good judgment to keep alcohol out. As the individual ultimately responsible for our staff’s conduct, I should have had the good judgment to take action to remove it. I regret that failure in leadership.

The incident is an unfair reflection on the dedication and character of our staff, particularly the absent members who had no part in it. That breach of trust is inexcusable — I and the Exponent’s other leaders can only hope we are forgiven by our fellows in time. On a broader scale, we have compromised our credibility in a way that damages our ability to serve our readership. We owe our public better.

It is tempting to rationalize our actions by citing the recklessness of youth or our campus’s culture, tempting to trivialize the situation with a “students will be students” excuse. However, to do so perpetuates those wrongs.

Ultimately, unlike so much of our student life, the work we do here at the Exponent isn’t reducible to an abstract learning experience. We’re one of the primary news organizations in Bozeman — the primary organization within the scope of our university. Given that role, we have real power and real responsibility.

As a student-driven community news organization, it falls to us to report on serious, often-controversial issues — from sexual assaults to administrative missteps to misconduct by other student groups. Our readers rely on our judgment as we decide what topics to cover and how to approach them — and what to argue when we choose to make them subjects of commentary.

In accepting those duties, we must maintain that trust by holding ourselves to high standards — carrying ourselves not as feckless students but as young professionals bearing the weight of our obligation to those we serve. On our better days, we live up to that ideal. The Wednesday before last, we did not.

The disclosure this piece represents — one product of extensive discussion within our staff in the incident’s aftermath — is an attempt to move forward from that failure. In putting this critical coverage of our actions to print, we hope to begin re-earning the right to expect similar openness and accountability in those we cover. I can only hope those reading are satisfied.

As always, I can be reached with any concerns or questions at editor@exponent.montana.edu.

Correction:

A profile on the Fencing Club in the March 22 edition incorrectly indicated that the cost of joining was free. The club asks student members who consistently attend meetings to pay $50 per semester in dues to fund equipment upkeep and some tournament expenses.