Open Letter to the Lawrence Community

To the Lawrence Community,

Since The Lawrentian published its last update on the charges against Thomas Skoog, there has been a great deal of discussion. Much of this is focused on the choice to publish such graphic material with equally vivid descriptions. Some readers have cited concerns over journalistic ethics and integrity, calling for a justification of its publication at all.

This debate is completely valid and should be continued for a long time to come. Our community has rarely, if ever, dealt with any similar situation. As such, each of us plays a vital role in determining methods of processing and working through this unprecedented dialogue. This letter is intended to provide context for our reasoning behind publishing, while contributing to  the important conversation about both this specific case and, more broadly, journalistic ethics.

This is also our first time engaging in such an issue as journalists. Knowing that this would present unique challenges, we have been consulting a multitude of sources, including those working on the case, other professionals, fellow students and administrators. We have known that a great deal of what we publish could cause cause controversy and may be met with valid critique. We also recognize that, as part-time student journalists, we are susceptible to making mistakes along the way. If and when that does occur, we apologize to our readership.

Even between the two individuals drafting this letter, we hold starkly different beliefs and are continuing to debate the ethical dilemma involved in publishing graphic material. After receiving the criminal complaint that contained this information, we struggled to understand and deal with our emotional and journalistic responses. Ultimately, it became clear that we should not keep this information out of the public eye, despite its graphic nature.

Some readers have stated that information could have been provided in a more general way, without giving explicit details. Many of these critiques are paired with a single resounding question: what is to be gained from publishing this information?

A great deal of confusion surrounds the case that is so deeply affecting our campus. In a recent interview with a campus administrator, we were able to confirm that some of the discussion points on social media and in communal dialogue are based on misconceptions and false assumptions. The charges against Skoog are shocking and the likely effects are detrimental, but the graphic details we presented leave no room for misinterpretation.

When we avoid discussing the violent nature of sexual assault, harassment and abuse, we often do so for our own comfort and that of our community. Many of us wish that we did not know the information detailed in our last update. However, we stand by our decision to inform the community as we did. The comfort of not knowing obstructs our ability to engage in meaningful conversation.

This is about more than comfort, though; it is about mental health and trauma. The details are more than graphic, they are horrific. They could definitely be triggering for any victim of sexual abuse, as made clear by the trigger warning atop the article. Beyond that, these details are traumatic for any reader; they certainly were for us. The facts related to this case are, by nature, difficult to confront, but they must be confronted.

For that reason, we have edited the article to include a link, accompanied by another warning, to the graphic details previously included. We sincerely regret any disturbance that could have been caused by the explicit nature of the original article.

Lastly, we would like to reassert that, as a matter of federal law, all suspects in a criminal case are innocent until proven guilty. By publishing facts stated in public record, we are not opposing or confronting that law in any way. We are not attempting to create hatred or publicize our articles as click-bait. We intend to keep our readership informed of the case as it continues to unfold.

 

Sincerely,

Zach Ben-Amots, outgoing editor-in-chief

Amaan Khan, outgoing copy chief

 

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On Thursday, March 24, the article referenced in this letter was further altered to remove the link to the photographs’ descriptions.

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