Analysis: The Hermann-Star-Ledger Controversy
Comments by Rutgers AD Comments and Response by Press Get National Attention
Comments critical of the state’s largest newspaper made by Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann to a journalism class garnered national attention this month after they were reported in an independent school website, but some students in the class say the media took a badly contextualized quotation and blew it out of proportion.
Simon Galperin, the Rutgers journalism student who recorded and reported Hermann saying she hoped The Star-Ledger would go out of business, wrote and published the article on April 3 on Muckgers.com after the athletic director was a guest lecturer in a Media Ethics and Law class in February. The article was posted the same day the Ledger announced it would be laying off 167 staffers, including one third of the newspaper’s non-unionized employees. According to Galperin, the timing was a “total coincidence.”
Many media organizations, including The Star-Ledger, responded to the Muckgers story, after NJ.com picked up Galperin’s piece.
Star-Ledger sports columnist, Steve Politi, published a column that criticized Hermann’s comments. His column triggered a barrage of media coverage, including reports from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and CBS News. Many addressed a broad range of criticism not only of Hermann, but also of Galperin and Politi.
Galperin’s article covered a number of statements made by Hermann, including moves to unionize college football and comments on her sexual orientation. His article also quoted Hermann saying “I try to be compassionate with the media, believe it or not, because I recognize what their job is.”
“We wrote 2,000 words, The Ledger took 30 and then that’s where it took off,” said Galperin. “What I’m suggesting is that our reporting has been sensationalized.”
However, many students in the class question the way Galperin presented the information, including the quotation about The Star-Ledger.
In Galperin’s article, the statements leading up to Hermann’s quotations on the Ledger cited her comments on how she’s not perfect and that “there’s so many things that you can critique and criticize” about her. Following these statements, Galperin wrote, “That’s where her dislike of the Star-Ledger comes from,” which was then followed by a quoted from Hermann:
“That’d be great [if the Star-Ledger died]. I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer.” [Brackets included in the original story]
In an audio recording of the lecture, which lasted an hour and 17 minutes (class periods are one hour and 20 minutes), Hermann said “there’s so many things you can critique and criticize” about her were made in the first 15 minutes of her lecture, while the comments on the Ledger were made 57 minutes into the lecture. A student in the class, Ruby Liu, provided Raritan River Review with the audio.
A question asked by a student at the 55-minutes, 35-second mark of the tape initiated the critical comments made about the Ledger by Hermann. Based on the recording, the statements went as follows:
“What would you say is their [The Star-Ledger] motive behind constantly pulling down Rutgers athletics?”
“I think it’s to sell papers,” Hermann responded. “ I mean we live in a time where a couple things are going on. One, we’re just living in headline news, breaking news just 24/7, so which breaking headline is going to get your attention and as soon as it gets your attention and I’m going to, you know, I hit the button to read it, now they can monetize it. They’re able to go ‘look 350,000 people you know hit the digital on it or bought the paper.’ So every time we buy, every time we go to it, the Ledger or any other media can then go to their sponsors, Johnson or whatever, people who are buying ads on their paper and they can go ‘look we get 350,000 hits.’ So that’s what keeps them financially afloat, so if they’re not writing headlines and getting our attention they’re not selling ads and they die. I mean the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
Bruce Reynolds, the professor of the class, answered, “Yea, and they might die again next month.”
Hermann then responded, “That’d be great, so I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer.”
Politi said in an interview that Hermann could have answered the question a number of ways.
Bridget Thompson, another student in the class, said Gaperlin’s article was “difficult to piece together,” which she believed could have caused many to argue that his article was out of context.
“If he had done a transcript of the class, it would have been better because what Hermann said was A, B, C, D, but he presented it in the order of as if she said D, a little bit of B, A, and then took out C completely,” said Thompson.
“The biggest issue that most of us students in the class seem to have was that it wasn’t like she voluntary said ‘oh it would be great if The Star-Ledger were to go out of business.’ It was something we were discussing in the New York New Jersey market and how they’re very aggressive and sensational, and questions from the class started to get her into a place where she didn’t voluntary say I think everyone should be laid off from this job,” said Thompson.
However, Politi argues that it is the responsibility of a public figure, like Julie Hermann, to recognize that their comments could be inflammatory.
According to Thompson, Hermann made it very clear that her lecture was on the record and “nothing was off the table.” Nonetheless, a few students in the class felt Galperin’s article may not have been unethical, but that it was unfair.
“She was fair with everything she said and the writer wasn’t fair towards her,” said Liu.
Bruce Reynolds, professor of the Media Ethics and Law class, told The Daily Targum, that “there is a difference between being unethical and unprincipled, and Simon was unprincipled.”
Politi disagrees. He said that Galperin’s approach was “perfectly fine.”
There should be an expectation of what shes saying because shes saying it to young journalisst
“It’s a journalism class,” said Politi. “There should be an expectation of what she’s saying because she’s saying it to young journalist.”
Muckgers published an article in response to the “madness” that “ignited a hailstorm of media coverage and criticism regarding Rutgers’ newest Athletics Director.”
The piece presented the organization’s stance on the criticism made against Galperin and his article.
“If Hermann’s comments were twisted subtly out of context somewhere along the way, it didn’t start with Galperin’s reporting,”
Muckgers said Hermann’s appearance was an “on-the-record appearance,” and that “it’s a journalist’s job to communicate important and interesting information to the public,” and that “our reporting was conducted in the interest of the Rutgers community.”
Julie Hermann declined any comments, saying in an email “any comments, quotes or further narrative from me on this issue, only serves to lengthen the new cycle on it.”
Noting all the variations of interpretations made by the media, Thompson said “It was just a game of telephone.”
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