On Tuesday afternoon, The Collegian caused quite a stir when we published a breaking news story on our website in which Associated Students, Inc. President Pedro Ramirez admitted that he was an undocumented immigrant.
That story, and the subsequent news story that was published Wednesday on the front page of The Collegian, has since reached a local, national and even international audience. Our story has been covered by ABC 30, KMJ radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and MSNBC, among many others. Last night, there were segments on this story on CNN and Fox News.
Most gave us credit for the scoop, with the notable exception being The Fresno Bee, which conspicuously only gave credit to other “media outlets.”
Our decision to publish Ramirez’s status was not easy. On Nov. 12, The Collegian received an anonymous tip via e-mail. Our news editor passed the tip on to reporter Ana Mendoza, who further investigated the matter.
ASI Vice President of Finance Cesar Sanchez confirmed Mendoza’s questions regarding the tip upon Ramirez’s request. Only then did The Collegian question Ramirez about his status, which he confirmed in an interview with Mendoza on Tuesday morning.
After receiving this information, Mendoza, Andrew Veihmeyer, The Collegian’s news editor, Tony Petersen, the editor-in-chief, and Reaz Mahmood, the paper’s editorial adviser, met to deliberate on the ethics of such a story.
Make no mistake, The Collegian’s staff knew this was a big scoop, though at the time we did not know exactly how big. But we also knew that this is a very sensitive issue in the area and wanted to treat the subject with as much care as possible.
The Collegian’s goal in releasing this information was not to defame Ramirez or his character. The student body at Fresno State democratically elected him as ASI president; he has shown himself to be an exemplary student and has taken a public stand against the California State University system’s continual fee and tuition hikes.
At every point of deliberating whether to disclose this information, we kept in mind the dignity of Ramirez.
Then why did we break this news? One, Ramirez is a public figure on campus, the most prominent student at Fresno State. The Collegian, serving as the watchdog of this university, found this information consequential enough to disclose to the wider campus community.
Two, this was the best way for Ramirez to disclose this sensitive information. If a bigger media outlet had broken the story, there’s no telling how it would be told. By revealing his status to The Collegian, Ramirez ensured that he would receive fair and objective treatment by this newspaper.
Though the ensuing story has taken on a life of its own, this newspaper’s coverage of the event has been perhaps the fairest treatment Ramirez has received in the public forum.
The rapidity with which this story spread has led to many views and comments to The Collegian’s website, resulting in the biggest three-day period in this newspaper’s history. Some of the comments, however, given the polarizing nature of the immigration issue, have been incendiary and potentially libelous. The Collegian, though it holds no legal responsibility for the comments, certainly does not tolerate this type of discourse among our online community. The Collegian has removed those comments deemed irresponsible.
The news of Ramirez’s status could not have come at a more consequential time. The DREAM Act is on the legislative agenda for the lame-duck Congress, and on Monday, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided to retain in-state tuition costs for undocumented students who live in the state.
Today, students and community members will rally on campus to support the DREAM Act in an event that is the culmination of an intense week for Ramirez that brought him into the national spotlight.
The Collegian is proud of the work it has done and stands by its decisions. We have considered every ethical aspect of the issue and come to the conclusion that The Collegian’s treatment of this subject has been fair, objective, ethical and accurate.
As journalists, these are the principles we aim for, and they were accomplished.