Letter to the editor evolves into Twitter storm on Stater editorial policies


Wayne Stater staff

The Social Media storm that descended upon the campus newspaper started with a letter to the editor. Photo courtesy of The Stater

Kaitlynn Breeden, Editor-in-Chief

The first paper of this semester came out on Sept. 8 and we have a brand new editorial staff. Due to everyone being new and learning the programs we use, there was a mistake made with page 6. An old pdf of that page was run by accident, and it had a satire opinion article I wrote on Pete Ricketts. Blake Aspen, Student Senate president, must have seen this misprint or read the original print including that article. He was upset about it and emailed the Wayne Stater on Sept. 10 with a letter to the editor.
I want to start with my two opinion columns about Pete Ricketts. Opinion columns are not news. It is an opinion column, which I have never considered to be news whatsoever, because they are not. I also consider them to be different than editorials, which try to persuade. While a satire may bring some information to light, they are mostly meant to be taken as a joke. Aspen, obviously, did not take it the way it was intended to be read.
Aspen mentioned in his letter to the editor that, “When Wayne Stater editors, and more specifically, the editor in chief, openly asks readers who do not align with the writer’s perspective to ‘sit this one out,’ it causes grave concern. This shows that you’re not even attempting to compel or persuade individuals who might disagree with you.” I am not trying to persuade anyone with my opinion columns, that is not my goal when writing them. The only goal I have when writing my opinion columns is to make the reader laugh. That is honestly it. They are meant to be taken as a joke. We have noticed that satire is sometimes hard to recognize and hope to find ways to point it out.
Aspen also mentions that the Wayne Stater hasn’t covered any GOP figures and mentions his distaste for my opinion columns about Pete Ricketts, and another editor’s editorial about Vice President Kamala Harris. On Feb. 24 Reagan Connelly, a past writer, wrote an opinion column on Rush Limbaugh. On March 17 Elizabeth Hjelm wrote an editorial article about Women’s History Month, which featured South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem. I have no problem with students writing editorials or opinion columns about conservative opinions and issues. I never said that I would refuse to do so. Aspen assumed from my lack of acknowledgement to his email, that this refusal was an attack against conservative thinkers. That is far from how I feel, and if the letter he sent in wasn’t a personal attack on myself and other editors, I would’ve published it weeks ago.
I apologize to him for not responding in a timely manner, and that’s something I should have done. However, I chose not to because I didn’t know what I could say without fueling the fire more. Aspen proposed a remedy for our paper to “diversify your editorial board by adding, and I know this word is scary, a conservative to it. Invite someone who is willing to challenge you and push some boundaries.” When students are interested in writing for the paper, they either take the Journalism Workshop class, or they email Liz Viall directly to express their interest in writing. We gladly invite students to submit editorials to our paper, but it rarely happens. We’ve never been the biggest group, and I can’t force people to come join the paper.
To be honest, I don’t know our staff’s political party identifications, and I don’t care. But someone may have conservative views, because they sent Aspen a screenshot of our private group messages. This is disappointing to me because this could lead to staff members not expressing what they really think during meetings anymore, due to not wanting someone to leak information about them. Having trust in your group of staff members is crucial, because you need to be able to share information without feeling uneasy about who is listening in the room. We all have our own opinions, and there has never been a problem with that. If someone wants to come and write, they are more than welcome. Come join us. We love journalism and would love more writers. In addition, I am not scoping out writers based on whether they agree with my viewpoints or not. For the last two years we have asked Student Senate vice presidents and presidents (as well as some organizations) to send in editorials or columns. We have never gotten any responses from members of the senate regarding our offer (to clarify, this invitation had not yet been made this school year).
I am open to submissions from Student Senate members or any student in general, but I have multiple reasons for not printing this specific letter. None of my reasons for dismissing this letter are in regard with the paper staff not wishing to represent different views. If the letter was written expressing different views without being an attack on the paper and the staff, it would have been published. This letter to the editor was not welcome because it was a direct attack on the newspaper itself. I would willingly accept any letter or editorial from Student Senate members, if it concerned issues and focused on facts and figures, rather than personal attacks on staff members.
There’s a screenshot of my group chat with my editors where we briefly talked about my situation with Aspen and his emails. In the conversation I sent a screenshot of Aspen’s second email to me, letting them know the situation was continuing. Laura Spieler, arts and entertainment editor of the Stater, said, “Aww guys he wants his letter published in our paper!” Her message was a joke, but it is true that Aspen wants his letter in the paper. I then responded to Laura and said, “I’m gonna respond to his email and try to not be a bitch and explain why I’m not publishing it.” In other words, I was at the time trying to word an email reply to him that did not sound rude. I didn’t get to send that email.
On Aspen’s Instagram post, his caption says, “Thanks to Whistleblowers at the Wayne Stater, I’ve obtained evidence of an editorial board that mocks and insults any conservative or right-of-center publication within the paper. This kind of mockery is wrong, but par for the course from college students who are trapped in their own echo chamber.” He also made a – comment about the use of the phrase “our paper” from Laura. As a fact, it is our paper. Every decision that happens from what content goes on what page, to the story assignments, photo assignments, to the font choice on every page, is cleared by me. I make every final decision with the advice from Liz, and I run this paper with my five editors. It is very much our paper, as I spend hours each day preparing content and ideas for others for the upcoming paper, and the time all seven of us spend working on the paper every Tuesday.
The paper exists because it is an organization of Wayne State College, but the administration cannot tell us what we can and can’t run. Based on the Wayne Stater Handbook section about letters to the editor it says, “They may be used to criticize, but letters containing personal attacks shall not be published. Final judgement falls on the opinion editor, editor in chief, and advisor.” This specific letter was an attack on the newspaper, tearing every published word from me apart, twisting them, and then using them to propagate a reality that I am not familiar with. The situation has now turned into an attack on my entire staff and the paper itself. The decision to not publish Aspen’s letter to the editor is backed by our opinion editor, Zaynab Kouatli and the paper adviser, Liz Viall. According to the paper’s handbook, that is all I need.
A line from Aspen’s Instagram caption says that our private group chat messages briefly mentioning him is mockery, yet he sees nothing wrong with bashing the newspaper and the staff repeatedly for not getting his letter published. He and his friends have been mocking myself and Laura on Twitter calling us both gross things. He posted similar items on Instagram, at the end of that post he said, “I look forward to meeting with members of the administration to seek a remedy.” Aspen does not want a remedy; he wants his personal attack on my character and assumptions about my beliefs printed in the paper.
If you take a step outside of the political lines and just observe this situation as a timeline of events, I considered his first email an attack on both myself and the staff writers. I didn’t respond which may have frustrated him. He then posted it on Facebook. Then he sent me the second email, which I didn’t respond to, and then one of my editors sent him the screenshot. He then posted that screenshot on Instagram, Twitter, and wherever else may have posted it. It seems to me that he views our refusal to publish his letter to be worse than one of his friends calling Laura and I “estrogen-soaked rags” on Twitter. I should have responded to Aspen’s email, despite my fear of making him mad no matter what I said to him. But does a lack of response to an email really call for continued social media attacks on student journalists?
I don’t believe that Aspen views his writings and actions as personal attacks, which is worrisome. Journalists deal with personal attacks and hate mail more than you would believe. I’ve gotten a handful of hate messages and letters; his is not the first and probably won’t be the last. As student journalists, we will not condone this.
Despite the hate mail I have received on my satire opinion columns about Pete Ricketts, I’ve also gotten good feedback. John Chaney emailed the Wayne Stater on April 26 and said, “Speaking only for myself I appreciated your insight in your very thoughtful article. Thank you for speaking out! You have demonstrated the type of critical thinking that we strive for in the State Colleges! You inspire me to work all the harder as a State College Trustee! Best wishes for success in your career.” Anyone reading this may also hate my Pete Ricketts articles and maybe just me in general, but not everyone has the same opinion.
Aspen wants me to allow conservative editorials, which again I have no problem with, and I will do so. I will do so if he can also allow me to write my own editorials and columns expressing my opinions without continued harassment. Why should this be a one-sided solution? If Aspen can agree to disagree and move on from this situation, that is all that needs to happen here. I have no problem if Aspen would like to write an editorial about Student Senate or anything he would be interested in covering. But I am not enabling targeted harassment directed at my staff and the manipulation of my words in his pursuit to discredit myself and The Wayne Stater.
Any student, staff, or faculty member can submit editorials to the Wayne Stater. It’s always been an open invitation, but few arrive that are actual editorials rather than confused manifestos. We have no problem with students writing editorials covering conservative ideas, but we have no students at this time that have shown interest in doing so.
We are student journalists. We will make mistakes. A few were made here, but we will do better. However, we cannot publish this letter (which has already been published elsewhere) in the Stater nor stay silent in the face of harassment. We sincerely hope that the WSC administration and community understands how we came to this decision.