The Presidential Transition Story & How I See Reactions to the Ayala Story

An illustration of Student Body President Abe Cohen and SBP-Elect Tiffany Weimar. The original image featured Cohen handing off a partially-sculted clay owl, but was changed when it seemed a lot of people didn't "get" the owl. (Illustration by Adam Sheetz)

An earlier image featured Student Body President Abe Cohen handing off a partially-sculted clay owl to President-elect Tiffany Weimar, but was changed to this when it seemed a lot of people didn't "get" the owl. (Illustration by Adam Sheetz)

The cover story this week is mine again, though it’s just a Q&A — it fell out that way when the Ayala thing came up. This story otherwise would’ve run last week.

Not much to add to it, except there will be more questions in the online version than were in the print version, because of space constraints. As it is, I cut out about half and it still ended up running across two spreads in the issue, with the second spread being almost exclusively text. So, if you’re really interested or if you find it more readable online, I’d certainly recommend you take that route.

On a somewhat related note, the stress week dunk tank thing I mentioned yesterday fell through. There’s a couple kind of funny notes about this. For one, the initial e-mail (mirrored identically in the only MyFAU announcement about it) sent to people in SG and student agencies about the event didn’t mention the location, and nobody noticed until I had to specifically ask for it. It was also mentioned at the Boca House meeting last week, but I don’t know if it’s been promoted actively anywhere outside of SG.

I guess in that sense — if nobody knows about or expects it — it can’t be much of a let down that it was cancelled. (“For the immediate future, due to the rain,” by the way.) But in another sense, it ties into my line of questioning in the Q&A this week. It leaves me wondering how events are going to be planned and promoted in the future. I hope there will be contingency plans for rain, and promotions will let students know where to go: especially when it costs student money.

I also mentioned that I wanted to revisit the Ayala story for a bit. So let me talk about that. If I’d had the time and we had more issues to print this semester, I would’ve written this as a more polished column. Coulda shoulda woulda, this is what I’ve got, and it’s a bit of a read, so click to continue if you care.

♦♦♦

I’ve had a wide range of reactions from people, and I’d like to discuss some of what I think are the best and worst. I’ve been thinking about it for most of the week, and I’ve come to some conclusions — about why some reactions are better than others — that I think are worth sharing.

I’ll start with the strongest reaction, which is neither the best nor the worst, in my opinion. And to be explicit, this is my opinion.

Last Thursday around 3:30 p.m., I was sitting in the UP office working on wrapping up this week’s Q&A. Four women forcefully threw the door open and marched in. They didn’t introduce themselves; I didn’t ask. Not that I really had a chance to.

They asked if I was the writer of the Ayala story, and I said yes. Then one of the four gave me a heated lecture on everything I did wrong with the story and the blog and life in general, asking lots of pointed (if misguided) questions. The other three chimed in with a line or so each somewhere in the conversation.

All that’s fine, really — as a journalist, I have to be able to handle tough, adversarial interviews as well as give them. Of course, I don’t curse and shout at the people I’m interviewing, or cut them off, or assume things about them. Allowing for the probability that they were passionate on a sore subject, though, I stayed calm, didn’t get offended or defensive, and tried to give rational answers to their questions and ask some of my own, trying to help her see the contradictions and errors in her heated assertions.

Let me give you an example of some of those exchanges. There’s a lot here, but it’s worth going through a fraction of it, because she’s obviously not the only one who feels this way.

The girl asserted that the story was entirely my opinion. I asked if she could please point out specifically in the story where she saw my opinion. She instead reasserted that it was all opinion, not pointing out anything specific until about 15 minutes later when she misread the subhead to me, saying I’d written that Ayala was “well-known but not well-liked.” I asked her to reread it, and she found that it actually said “known widely but not well.” She still found that opinionated. I explained how I felt my reporting justified the phrase.

Then she decided that the story was entertainment, trashy tabloid stuff. I said it was straight news, presented objectively. There are a couple phrases in the story where, when I reflect on it, I find the tone maybe a little too breezy and light for the subject matter; but these certainly were not meant to amuse, and she didn’t cite any of them anyway. She then said my blog was opinion and shitty. I said: it’s a blog. Different format. But still not opinion, in relation to Ayala. (This is the reason I explicitly marked this as my opinion, above.)

She said this was a private matter, and I responded that it’s public record and a public issue. Then she said I just reprinted whatever I could get, acknowledging that the police report is, in fact, public. I agreed and said that’s one of the functions of a newspaper: to report what people could find out, but aren’t likely to — either because they don’t know where to look, how to handle the system, or don’t have the time to.

She then said that I ruined this kid’s reputation and took a side. I said I tried to get both sides as best I could, and it’s not up to me if Ayala wasn’t willing to talk. I made the effort, and as one professional journalist said of the story, that’s more than most newspapers do in similar situations.

She then argued that we weren’t a newspaper at all, that no newspaper would do this until the investigation was closed. I said no, newspapers do this all the time; they report charges, and they report throughout investigations, and they report the conclusion. A mere glance at prominent stories on the front pages of The Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post right this second proves the point which she wouldn’t accept.

Ironically, she also said she’s graduating this semester with a degree in journalism and that this hurts her reputation and FAU’s as well. I said that I wasn’t responsible to FAU’s reputation (We have Media Relations for that, and they do a fine job, except in filling my public record requests) but to presenting news to students. This isn’t, as I think she and others may interpret it, to say that I don’t care about FAU’s reputation, or that I aim to make FAU look bad. No: I aim to be forthright. Sometimes that hurts, but it’s not wrong.

She demanded a retraction of the story. I said there wasn’t an error that called for retraction or apology,  but I believe in doing so when there is. Other people have said the UP deserves “repurcussions” for this story, and I say: why?

I don’t think I need to go on about this example — she said a lot of other things, but I’m not trying to give a blow by blow, or garner sympathy, or make her look dumb. The point is a lot of people reacted to the story this way, and this is what I would say to those people. I’ll pitch to you the same thing I pitched to her: if you feel strongly about this, write a letter to the editor. We’ll publish it. If you want to speak with my editor or adviser, I’ll give you their contact info too. No problem. That’s the best thing you could do, and something healthy: it creates a conversation, instead of easy (that is, quick and poor) moral judgments.

Now, I said this wasn’t the worst reaction I got. What’s worse? To me, some of the earliest comments about the story on this blog. It’s not a problem unique to us; it’s something you see on any news site that allows comments. You get a bunch of people who already have their minds made up about everything in life and the comments section is their little soapbox.

Opinions are fine, but everyone has one of those. Reason is much more valuable, to yourself and the community. You might recall I was the first one to say “don’t judge too quickly, don’t call him a sex offender — he’s not been convicted of this” in response to the earliest comments which said things like Ayala is a scumbag, guilty until proven innocent, and getting the least of what he deserves. I don’t like seeing that stuff; it personally disgusts me. I’m not going to censor it, but I consider it poor judgment.

To me, that kind of stuff reflects on FAU’s reputation more than my writing. It says more about the way many people see situations and deal with them than one writer’s presentation of facts. And believe me, a lot of people outside FAU read this blog last week. It got a ton of traffic, it was Googled, it was linked through The Palm Beach Post, it was discussed in other newsrooms.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t many insightful comments worth reading and discussing; there were, and I appreciate them. I’m not trying to generalize and make quick judgments, because that’s entirely the problem.

I tried to present this story as a complex issue, worthy of discussion, questioning, and debate. That’s what good journalism does — it presents the specific events of the times with enough interest and clarity for people to be informed, frankly debate issues, and make better decisions that benefit everyone. It uses the specific instance as an opportunity to better the general welfare.

Ideally. I’m an amateur, and I don’t claim to accomplish this, but I reach for it as best I know how.

That leads me to the best reaction I’ve personally gotten out of the story. It happened this afternoon, actually. This was the last day of the Public Speaking class I teach, and I had a student come up to me after class and tell me she thought the story was good and that she’d seen a lot of people reading it.

A lot of people told me that, and that’s not what makes it a good reaction. What I’m proud of is what she told me next: that she’d brought it up to a lot of people, talked about it face-to-face.

And not in a gossipy, “Oh my God, did you hear?” kind of way; not as if this was a real-life episode of CSI or some other crime drama that our culture is so sadly enamored of; but in a way that made her realize how complicated and serious an issue it was, even though she’d come to some personal conclusions about Ayala and the girl.

To me, that’s the right way to use a newspaper, the right way to engage any story. Even the most devastating and “negative” news coverage is valuable when people handle it responsibly and learn from it.  That’s really cool. And it’s a really hard thing to accomplish when people see that very kind of coverage as trashy, exploitable voyeurism.

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9 Responses to “The Presidential Transition Story & How I See Reactions to the Ayala Story”

  1. You and your yellow SG journalism, Brandon. I just don’t know if they’ll you’ll ever learn…

  2. Who did the artwork for this week’s edition of the UP? It looks like Ralph Steadman’s work. He is the artist made famous for his artwork that accompanied Hunter S. Thompson stories.

    Tiffany: “Did you see what Dr. Brown just did to us man?!”

    Abe: “Dr. Brown didn’t do it, you did. That was our cocaine! You pig! You fuckin’ pig-swine-whore!”

    Tiffany: “(Pointing a cocked 357 revolver) You had better be careful. There are lots of iguanas out here in Boca, and they’ll pick your bones clean by morning.”

    Abe: “You fucking whore!”

    Tiffany: “Here’s you half of the sunshine acid. Eat it.”

    Abe: “How long do I have?”

    Tiffany: “Traveling at top speed I’d say you have about an hour before you turn into a god-damned-big-eyed-feather-flappin’ owl”

  3. Dan,

    The artist is our illustrator Adam Sheetz, who, indeed, is influenced by Thompson and Steadman. Good call, though I guess it is a pretty distinctive style.

  4. I have to say that you’re an idiot Karla. There has been no yellow journalism. Provide instances so that I can see what you are talking about so that I can either be enlightened by your thoughts. Otherwise I will continue thinking that you are an idiot.

    Brandon didn’t ruin Chris’s life or reputation – he did. It is one of the main functions of the media to report the news about anyone – especially people in government positions. (Yes its just student government, but its still one of the functions) Chris should be embarrassed for what he has done, but I think that Brandon has reported this in an objective manner. He gave Chris and anyone in Chris’ corner the opportunity to step forward and say anything that gives his side. They haven’t. The only thing we see is a couple of his supporters on the fringes of these message boards throwing jabs at the reporter. I think you’re focusing on the wrong person.

  5. Supporter! Says:

    SGA, PLEASE HELP! FAU desperately needs a NEW Student Union!

    The current one is FAR too small. It’s displaced from the heart of campus (the Breezeway) and serves the elderly and outsiders far more often than students (it’s a Community Center NOT a Student Union!). We are losing out in the arms race for excellent students who are more impressed with the Student Unions of competing universities (UCF, USF, UF, FSU)

    We have the support of the administration. President Brogan even specifically made a point in his Crest Of The Wave 2017 speech to extensively remodel or replace the current Student Union. The University Architect is already talking about renovating the SO building to become a new Student Union.

    SGA can help by getting on that train and riding it hard so we have a new Student Union in 2-3 years rather than 5-10 years! Fall 2012 should be the goal.

    A new Student Union at FAU should boast (in no particular order):

    1) Meeting rooms for student organizations of different sizes, with built-in A/V equipment, whiteboards, easels. Clubs should be able to show movies, hang up posters and banners, display artwork and have options of smaller rooms for small group sessions (i.e. to host E-board meetings).

    2) An impressive sit-down restaurant with a 20-50 beer menu at the bar (UCF has an on-campus restaurant with 50 beer menu, we need to do the same). UF has a Chili’s Too (off-shoot of Chili’s) and we should follow their lead by adding one to our campus.

    3) An extensive game room with board games, dominoes, pool tables, air hockey, foosball, poker/blackjack tables, video game systems on projection screens and popular arcade games like Dance Dance Revolution, Rollercoaster simulator, arcade basketball, etc.

    4) A bowling alley with 8-10 lanes for students, which can also go on to host socials and theme nights like 80’s night. UF has a bowling alley and the bowling alley here in Boca is projected to close down in the next 2-3 years.

    5) Significantly expanded space for campus media including the University Press (including rows of cubicles with computers), OWLTV (which should have a dedicated, professional TV News set) and OwlRadio.

    6) Hotel rooms for prospective students (and their parents), guest speakers, Program Board-solicited bands and alumni, especially during football season. Tired students who have a 2-4 hour break between class but do not want to drive home between classes (i.e. if they live way out in Coral Springs) could even rent the rooms by the hour to get some sleep inbetween classes.

    7) A dedicated space for campus event advertisements for Greek Life and club events ONLY. Apartments for rent, motorcycles for sale, College Night at so-and-so… those should all be FORBIDDEN from this space. The space must be closely monitored by someone, perhaps an Information Booth employee in the lobby. Also in this space will be a list of clubs with their contact info clearly marked out and space for clubs to put their brochures. This concept can be executed in the Breezeway until the new Student Union is built to improve marketing of student organizations.

    8) 24-hour study room space with coffee vending machines could be considered. There is already sufficient study room space on-campus and other needs (i.e. game room) should take precedence over services that are already duplicated elsewhere on campus. It is included here as formality since the suggestion is inevitably going to be volleyed forward.

    9) Student Services including Student Government, Greek Life, Orientation, etc. In addition, there needs to be a service where students can print up shirts, banners, posters, stickers and other promotional products.

    10) Retail services including video rental, tanning salon, “Campus Cuts” hair-cutting salon, Greek Life store, Dippin Dots (as a kiosk/cart — we could get this RIGHT NOW for the Student Union, in fact), etc

    Imagine the SO building adorned with FAU colors and each of the pillars on the west side brandishing an awesome GO OWLS banner off the side.

    Please help, SGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Push for this or it won’t be a priority!

  6. An SG member Says:

    I believe you’ve covered all that should be included in the new Student Union, its very well thought out and justified. I personally would love to see a new SU in the next 2-3, however i doubt that its a possibility considering the budget cuts the schools facing in the coming year and possibly longer.

    I also feel as if the New stadium and innovation village will take precedence over a new SU for 2 reasons, first because its already planned out for the most part, i believe ive even seen an artists rendition. and second because we have SU already, and lack a stadium (and etc.). once this is done, id bet a semesters tuition the SU is the next project, putting it about 5 years+ away unfortunately.

    That doesn’t mean you cant try however. I would suggest getting in touch with a House Representative (go up to the SG offices and ask around for one, you’ll either be introduced to one if ones around or leave them a message in their mailbox). once in touch with them, tell them what you want (which is what you wrote up top) and ask them to help you write a resolution to be brought in front of the assembly. if you found a good Rep. and he/she likes your idea they’ll be more than happy to help you write it and sponsor it. in effect you want this resolution to say that “the students of FAU want a new SU, they also want it within this alloted time ____. please look into making this happen”. if the house passes it then its on its way up the chain of command and the right people will see it. if you cant find a Rep or dont hear back from one come to the next meeting and tell them your idea, your allowed to speak at the assembly if you’d like.

    I hope this helped and good luck.

  7. Wondering Says:

    Plan on blogging during the summer, Brandon? There’s been no activity for two weeks.

  8. so what happened with Ayala. I heard his hearing was a couple days ago? any updates?

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