[X]Press Under Duress
Israel Coalition airs grievances over Palestine story.
October 16, 2003 3:34 PM
The deadline is 5 p.m.
Lailie Ibrahim’s story came in at 4 p.m.
On Wednesday, Sept.3, when [X]Press newspaper’s staff members and editors alike were rushing to make last-minute changes, one loaded word slipped through unscathed: "martyrs."
That word caught the attention of three members of the Israel Coalition: Rebecca Greenberg, Shanie Kletter and Paul Ratner.
On Sept. 4, the issue hit the stands. Ibrahim’s story, "A summer of intensity in Palestine," follows three women who journey to the Middle East to teach art, drama and music to children. The word in question appears on page nine, "… the trio traveled to Nablus where the NGOs set them up with a support group called ‘Women to Women,’ a group of about 30 women family members of martyrs in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Kletter read the story the day it came out.
The Coalition waited almost a month before contacting Editor-in-Chief Liz Harrelson with their grievance. "We thought there would be a correction or letter to the editor, or a story on the other side. We gave it some time," Kletter said.
On Oct.8 the three met with the entire [X]press newspaper staff, including adviser Austin Long-Scott, to discuss their objection to the word and other concerns about the lack of coverage of the Israel Coalition.
The main problem they had with the word was that there was no explanation of its meaning. The three believe that most readers think the word describes someone who dies for a good cause and is elevated to sainthood.
"We didn’t think it was appropriate journalism that it was being reported that way," said Greenberg, a 20-year-old psychology major.
Justin Thompson, the arts and entertainment editor, pointed out that the word describes someone who dies for a cause--not necessarily a good cause.
The story, along with its loaded word, made it to print despite Ibrahim’s early uncertainties.
"It was a sensitive thing that Lailie didn’t want to write about because she is Palestinian," said Christine Yee, news editor.
"We did talk about the sensitivity of some of the words," said Ibrahim, 23. Another option was the phrase "suicide bomber," which Ibrahim was also reluctant to use.
"Either word we could have used would have upset someone," she said.
Ibrahim said the use of the word stemmed from the three women she interviewed in the story. "All of them used it," she said.
Yee admitted the word should have been in quotation marks.
"I actually avoided the use of the word ‘martyr’ in the caption," said photo editor Martin Jimenez.
Jimenez felt uneasy about the word from the start.
Not all staff members regretted the use of a loaded word. LeAnn Floyd, 24, believes that removing loaded words from stories would be taking away writers’ tools.
"Just because a word is loaded, does that mean we can’t use it?" she said.
The Israel Coalition trio also questioned the use of the word "Palestine" referring to its own nation. Though the West Bank area was mentioned in the story, the three would have liked Ibrahim to be a bit more specific about certain regions, including Gaza.
"How many people know that West Bank is Palestine?" Thompson asked.
"It just needed a little clarification," said Kletter, a biology major. According to Greenberg, Kletter and Ratner, referring to Palestine as a nation implies that Israel is dominating another country. Though a conflict is evident, Greenberg said Israel is acting within its own boundaries.
"This issue with the newspaper has been going on for years," said Greenberg, who’s been at SF State for three years. Kletter said the newspaper has printed biased articles in the past.
"The newspaper is our campus media," said Ratner, a BECA major, "When the newspaper is loud about Palestine, it quiets the Jewish community."
Despite feeling quieted at times, Kletter felt their messages were received loud and clear.
"I thought it seemed like they were getting a little defensive," Kletter said, reflecting on the meeting. "For the most part we were well heard."
"We appreciated being heard by the entire staff, not just the editors," Greenberg added. The three realized that communication is a two-way street. Greenberg gladly accepted when Reinalyn Ramos, life editor, handed her a list of contact names and numbers for [X]Press staff members.
Despite the controversy, Ibrahim stands by her story.
"I thought it was a good story," she said, "I’m glad, as a journalist, that I got to do the story. I’m sorry they objected."
"I thought the meeting was productive," Ibrahim continued. When writing stories in the future, Ibrahim said she’d keep this meeting in mind.
The [X]press newspaper staff and the members of the Israel Coalition parted ways, agreeing that the meeting was a necessary and positive experience.
"I though it was a very good discussion," said Vince Laus, managing editor. "This is all a learning experience for everyone."
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