Staff Editorial: We need to establish a journalistic code of ethics

Two weeks ago, a shocking and disturbing event occurred when senior Thomas Skoog was arrested for five counts of child pornography. Soon after, The Lawrentian published an online report of the accusations including several graphic descriptions of the images in question, which were taken from a police report published by the Appleton Police Department. The article was met with outrage from readers on and off campus, and many valid critiques were made concerning the unnecessary inclusion of these descriptions. The authors subsequently published an open letter apologizing for the error, and the article has been altered twice; the descriptions now removed completely.

As a small, student-run paper, The Lawrentian does not have access to the resources and guidance that professional newspapers and journalism schools have. Our writers and editors are still learning this trade, and none of us have dealt with a scandal of this nature or gravity before.

The decision to include this information was made by members of the outgoing 2015-16 editorial board, with the intention of releasing complete and straightforward coverage of a topic that many believe the administration has not adequately addressed. However, the information published was not only potentially triggering for readers, it also disregarded the privacy of the victims. We, the 2016-17 editorial board, recognize the gravity of the mistake that was made and are dedicated to making sure nothing like this happens again.

Despite these mistakes, we believe that The Lawrentian staff is and has been committed to holding the paper to a high standard of journalistic integrity, and we are determined to ensure that this kind of offense is avoided at all costs in future Lawrentian publications. One of the important measures we plan to institute is a journalistic code of ethics. This will be a unified policy to inform future writers and editors of the standards and restrictions for content of a  sensitive, graphic, and harmful nature. We are in contact with staff at The Post-Crescent and Lawrence University’s communications department for guidance in creating the most professional, thorough and conscientious code of ethics possible.

This code and a resolution to verify and consult with several sources before releasing sensitive material will lead to greater transparency and accountability in all future Lawrentian publications, a goal that our campus is fighting for in all settings now more than ever before.

We will continue to cover Skoog’s case as it unfolds.


UPDATE: In the original publication of this article, the names of the former editorial board members who authored the articles on Skoog’s case were included. We have since removed their names from the article.