A collection of staff members from The Oracle have spent the past two weeks investigating the growing controversy surrounding New Paltz Accountability’s (NPA) decision to oust two people who were part of their organization, including a founding member, on the basis of political ideologies. We interviewed six parties — including survivors, community members, NPA members, community leaders and the two people whose ties to NPA were cut. We also gave NPA, a club which is currently not recognized by SUNY New Paltz, the opportunity to respond to every single specific statement made against them.
We have been made aware of a document published by New Paltz Accountability which included screenshots of every part of our hour long interview with them that we did not include. The aforementioned interviews yielded hours of recordings, transcripts and screenshots for our staff to review, and decisions had to be made to determine what was and wasn’t necessary to include in order to best get this information to the public. It was never our intention to “spin” the story a certain way or craft any singular narrative, however we apologize if this came across in any way as purposeful.
In terms of NPA’s statement alleging inaccuracies and biases ridden within the article, we will say that we occasionally will choose efficient and accessible language over technical jargon. For instance, NPA pointed out that technically one person we described as a member was not actually a member; instead, they were an ongoing participant who attended multiple meetings and was a speaker at their public event. We apologize for any harm that discrepancy has caused, but we believed at the time of publishing that there isn’t a major difference between those two descriptions.
Further, regarding bias, everyone involved in the publication of The Oracle takes the fact checking and editing process extremely seriously. Due to the sensitive nature of the article published last week, we had each member of our staff (who come from all different backgrounds and identities) read the piece — along with the interview transcripts — to not only check for factuality, but also for hidden biases that may have encroached into the reporting.
Many of the allegations regarding The Oracle surrounded our purported use of information that was off the record. We take accountability for the use of this off the record quote, and regret its inclusion in the final article; We apologize to all parties involved for this quote reaching publication. As journalists, we are constantly learning and growing, and that means that mistakes will occasionally be made on a public forum. We are dedicated to educating ourselves further on this matter, and commit to further training on media ethics, specifically on the topic of off the record conversations.
It is also stated that we lied about one of our sources saying NPA refused to be trained on trauma-informed language or attend workshops; we did not. We were simply relaying a claim made by a source, and included NPA’s denial of that claim in the final article. This is a personal matter that The Oracle has no involvement in; it is not our responsibility to make a decision regarding who is telling the truth, it was simply our responsibility to report both perspectives, which we did.
We also would be remiss if not to respond to the assertion that The Oracle is not a community of trauma-informed journalists. Each week we have workshops about different technical and ethical journalism skills, and our editor-in-chief, Amayah Spence, has been trained in trauma response and counseling, setting an overarching atmosphere and expectation of ethical responsibility to not only the rights but mental wellbeing of our members and sources. We will continue training on these topics.
In their statement, NPA wrote, “Questioning anyone on whether they have been sexually assaulted or not is an unacceptable form of journalism and is extremely triggering … The Oracle itself clearly lacked sensitivity on the topic and disrespected our members.”
We would like to make it clear that it was never our intention to question anyone on their status as a survivor of sexual assault. As evidenced in the transcript of the interview shared by NPA, our question was posed from an outside perspective that claimed NPA did not have any survivors in their organization; we were simply offering them the opportunity to comment on or refute that claim. We immediately respected their wish to not address the question.
To refer to instances like those as making us “bad journalists” and “completely biased and full of inaccuracies” is a stretch of the imagination. We also do not want these allegations to become a distraction straying from the main point of the article: does a survivor’s beliefs make them unfit to be part of NPA’s organization?
One clarification that must be made regarding last week’s article, is that The Oracle was at no point taking a stance on Zionism. For the purposes of the article, we remained open-minded and sensitive to the fact that Zionism takes many different forms for many different Jewish and non-Jewish People, including cultural, social, political and religious.
The original article was not about Zionism, and neither is this statement. The crux of the issue was and continues to be the objective, agreed upon truth of the matter: that a student was kicked out of a club on the grounds of their personal ideologies.
Let us be clear: NPA had every right to respond to the article. However, their Instagram posts on social media caused active and ongoing harm, spreading untrue information and then posting private, personal social media information of several members. This is an inherent call to action, welcoming NPA’s followers to invade our personal cyber spaces.
We welcome and encourage responses and disagreements which is why our university emails are in our bylines. We also welcome public responses and disagreements in the form of statements, even on Instagram, which is why The Oracle has its own instagram account, @newpaltzoracle. As we value the safety and privacy of our members, we encourage letters to the editor, private emails and public statements. We simply request that any public statement address our publication as a whole, as opposed to the personal social media accounts of our writers.
In sum, The Oracle is committed to ethically sound and compassion-based journalism. Those values absolutely informed last week’s piece. For our aforementioned oversights, we sincerely apologize and are committed to growing and evolving from any and all mistakes we have made. These mistakes do not define us as a publication, nor are they indicative of the skill level of our staff and contributors; we are confident that the future of our reporting will continue to prove this to be true.