Fumbling a Fumble
Issue   |   Wed, 11/30/2011 - 03:46

In our issue before break, we published an article entitled “Missing AAS Budgets Raise Questions.” We’d originally planned for an article that took a closer look at the changes in AAS finances, in order to examine if and how spending changed from year to year. That article, however, proved difficult to write, as much of the data we needed was not available online, nor was it readily available offline, despite the AAS’ efforts to make them available on relatively short notice. Specifically, most of the AAS budgets for each semester after the fall of 2007 were unavailable before a request by The Student — meaning that the AAS had failed to disclose summaries of its financial matters across several years’-worth of elections.

That of course did not imply that the data did not exist, nor that they were shoddily-kept. But this dearth of data was curious. The lack of the data charting the financial history of the College’s student government was in and of itself a worthwhile topic for an article, so our focus shifted there. As the article detailed, despite having a budget in excess of $800,000, there was little in the way of a transparent checks and balances for the AAS.

That the AAS was not completely transparent with its record-keeping — combined with the fact that the available data was difficult to understand, equally difficult to crunch and ultimately did not add up in the cases we examined — raised a number of questions that were brought up in the article. All of them, I think, are fair questions worth answering. We simply posed those questions, however, rather than asking for answers. Had we asked, perhaps the answers we would have received would not have been satisfying or maybe the responses would have satisfactorily answered all of our questions. In either case, it was only fair to ask nonetheless.

That said, all of the data provided in the article was correct, and the all the questions well-placed, I firmly believe. But in trying to hold the AAS accountable, we tripped up.

I haven’t heard of a college newspaper with a public editor on staff; the absence of the journalistic equivalent of a reader’s public defender, however, should not impede the accountability that must be the defining hallmark of every newspaper, ours included. Holding institutions, individuals and society at large accountable is part of what journalists aim to do, but the accountability of any institution should be self-motivated and self-focused. Our article was grounded in those beliefs, but too many implications seeped into the space where there should have been answers to the questions we posed.
Those questions and more will be answered in a follow-up article next week.