Opinion editorial

The Past, Present, and Future: What we do at The Tech

A reflection by MIT student journalists amidst trying times

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The Tech logo superimposed on a series of images from various pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli political actions across this Spring semester.

Our most recent editorial was written in April 2021. It presented the majority opinion of the Volume 140 Editorial Board regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements heading into the Fall 2022 semester.

In the past three years, much has changed: we installed a new president and watched as our Institute propelled itself into the future through the creation of new academic majors, construction of new facilities, and the inception of countless initiatives.

In the past eight months especially, we have witnessed heightened national interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict following the October 7 Hamas-led attacks on the State of Israel and the ensuing events that have come in response to the ongoing carnage and senseless loss of life. 

In the United States, this furor has been most strongly felt on college campuses. MIT is no exception.

What has followed is heightened scrutiny of the way newspapers handle reporting surrounding the impact of the war, dissatisfaction with the decisions made by governmental and administrative forces, and ever-increasing polarization between factions that comprise members of our community that we cherish so dearly.

This editorial centers on MIT and seeks to give insight into how The Tech approaches campus affairs and more importantly, the role of media in mediating discourse during times of conflict.


Our campus

The end of the Spring semester saw our campus retreat into the summer after one of the most pivotal periods for universities nationwide in decades. Members of our community found themselves planted strongly on one side or the other in a fierce worldwide debate on the fate of the Gaza strip: so strongly that each side censured the other publicly via various forums.

Social media sites such as Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, have become forums for polarized perspectives on the war; students have verbally attacked and doxxed one another in posts and videos that have shown unique, unfiltered glimpses into the campus community. 

Media organizations, from The Boston Globe to The New York Times, have closely communicated with spokespeople from both protest movements and regularly solicit interviews from student representatives. Many of these interviews largely involve charged statements regarding their personal views on the war, calls to action directed towards community members, and criticisms of the opposition.

Some have taken their cause to our elected officials: in recent months, delegations of Jewish and Israeli students have met with influential politicians—from House representatives in Washington to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet in Jerusalem—to decry antisemitic rhetoric on campus while pro-Palestinian protestors have stormed administrative spaces and city governmental offices such as the Massachusetts State House or Boston City Hall in protests and marches. Vocal public sentiment has notably led the Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville City Councils to pass ceasefire resolutions.

Scores of protestors and counter-protestors—each composed of a mix of students, faculty, alumni, and so-called “outside agitators”—have taken place on the campus nearly every week for the past several months.

Ceasefire resolutions made their way into the ballot boxes of the Undergraduate Association (UA) and the Graduate Student Union (GSU), where students of both organizations voted in a majority to adopt the resolutions as official platforms.

The MIT administration issued interim suspensions to dozens of students in connection to a high-profile protest on May 6. Ultimately, responses were strong but mixed: many voiced dissatisfaction with this act, but some nonetheless regarded it as necessary.

All sides regard each other’s actions unfavorably—the establishment of the Kresge Oval encampment by the campus pro-Palestinian movement, its dismantlement by the administration, the student suspensions, and their eventual uplifting have been met with criticism. Some perceive inaction as a mark of complicity, others perceive it as abetting hateful rhetoric.

No one wins amidst division. 

Firstly, we call upon the MIT community to reflect on this past semester and acknowledge the ever-changing circumstances that have led us to this point. We call upon the community to grasp the nuances and complexities of an issue that has affected many of us so dearly. We call upon the community to truly understand what it means to be a witness to the present times: to indiscriminately reject the humanity of the “other side” is to impede our ability as a community to cultivate a culture of tolerance and understanding. 

In the spirit of accountability and reflection: from here, we then analyze The Tech’s actions throughout this past academic year.


Our first steps

At the beginning of this conflict, The Tech felt it was best practice to mitigate coverage of the conflict. Not because we lacked interest but because, frankly, we weren’t ready to handle it. Doing so would have been an insurmountable task that our staff couldn't bear in a year of dwindling finances and shrinking personnel. After many, often heated, discussions within the senior leadership of The Tech, we observed how reporting was conducted by other student newspapers and the consequences it had at the time on their own. 

Much of our reporting at the time was based on official statements from senior MIT administrators. Such accounts paint only a vignette, not a comprehensive portrait, of the larger, overarching truth surrounding the events on campus. On-the-ground coverage and true engagement with the various student groups and communities involved was lacking.

Our first article on campus responses following the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel was published on November 10, about the high-profile Lobby 7 protest—the article largely centered on a video address and corresponding community email from President Kornbluth. The second and third articles, published November 30 and December 14, respectively, reported the December 5 hearing held by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce in which Kornbluth was summoned to testify. These and the articles following, again, stemmed second-hand from official press releases and vetted statements: they lacked student perspectives and direct reporting. In a face-to-face interview with President Kornbluth in January, little attention was paid to an evolving campus conflict but to some standard questions about efforts towards campus unity and the Institute’s “vibrant” partnerships in the Middle East.

Our foremost priority in the Fall semester was safety: we were not willing to risk the safety of our journalists, most of whom had not in themselves been engaged in the conflict at any scale for many reasons. From the eyes of The Tech’s senior leadership, it was unreasonable to compel the student volunteers who made up our reporting staff to interject themselves into a volatile situation coupled with deeply personal hostilities across the MIT community. Too much was uncertain then. 

We did a disservice to the community when we backed away from this conflict. Simply put, we could have done better.


What changed

As the Fall semester drew to a close along with our 143rd Volume, we realized that it was our duty to tell the stories that truly matter in the wake of events that could not possibly be characterized as tangential to our existence as members of the Institute. 

Our first significant piece centered on the student groups engaged in these campus divisions. Although still heavily reliant on official Institute accounts, it reported on the suspension of the Coalition Against Apartheid, published just weeks into the Spring semester.

As the conflict continued and events on campus escalated, The Tech had to reevaluate its responsibility in objective, unbiased reporting; it was unsuitable for us to continue standing by. We had to hold ourselves to a higher standard. To dwell in the status quo would be an act of deprivation, an act of depriving the community of a critical resource: information. As universities across the nation became microcosms of a wider national rift, we had to live up to our charge of chronicling the Institute's history. We looked to the past, our own even, during years of anti-war protests spanning the duration of the Vietnam War. We looked to the present: scores of student journalists across the country have put themselves at great risk in taking up their duties. And we thereby looked to our future.

We sat down again and reconsidered our plans. We thoroughly reevaluated the policies that led us to this point. More discussions followed regarding staff safety, conflicts of interest, fair and truthful representation of events, and many other concerns pertaining to the work we were to take on.

From there, we heightened our coverage with reporting focusing on campus protests and focused our efforts on establishing connections with student groups that represented the diverse, and often conflicting, perspectives on the war. In the following weeks, we took a critical lens to every new campus protest and counterprotest, administrative response, and broader nationwide events. Our reporting on the conflict was deferred to seasoned reporters—the news editors and the executive committee—those who would be best equipped to handle the nuance and perspective required for such pieces. Although this meant that we weren’t able to cover every single event, we felt it managed to prioritize staff safety and perpetuate an ethos of quality over quantity.

By the end of the semester, The Tech was able to develop a system for rapidly mobilizing a reporting team, albeit small—on-the-ground reporters, photographers, and desk editors—in response to specific developing situations. For the entirety of May, our entire news staff was on high alert as teams were sent out for reporting at any time of day. From the rapid establishment of the Kresge Oval encampment to its abrupt early-morning dismantlement, during a point of extreme pressure on the community in which hundreds bore witness to protestors physically tearing down barricades amidst retaliatory action by the administration, and as closed-door meetings revealed deep divisions among faculty in the wake of disciplinary action to involved students, The Tech doubled down on efforts to provide critical reporting.


The now

As summer sets in, The Tech is continuing its efforts to maintain the momentum that has carried us through the past months.

Although major events are to lessen in magnitude and frequency given a reduced on-campus population, we will continue to follow up with the various communities involved in this conflict and ensure that their perspectives continue to be represented. We will continue to pay attention to any further steps by the administration. And we will continue to serve as a bastion of accountability.

While we celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes, the developments of this year have shown us that there remains work to be done. Better-defined policies and procedures that our staff can be trained on will allow for more consistent and rigorous content output. Another area, as has been for years now, is staffing shortages: limited bodies, time, and resources means that not everything that happens gets written. Sometimes, that manifests as delayed or dropped articles within the content pipeline as we reallocate and reassign hours before publication. And most importantly, building and maintaining bridges with the many members of the MIT community is paramount to our duty as student journalists.

The lessons this year have taught us go far beyond what has happened on our campus, and they will inform our approach to journalism for years to come. We don't work within confined bounds; in fact, we are compelled to investigate their sources, understand the facts surrounding them, and see beyond what can be seen.


What really happened

At this point, we’ve provided a general overview of what The Tech has done and where it is headed. Still, we would be remiss in not detailing the specific predicaments we have faced in the past year.

Even before our article at the start of the Israel-Hamas war was published, The Tech has been accused of bias. These criticisms have come from all sides of the conflict. Pro-Palestinian voices scrutinized our initial efforts at coverage and found fault with our reporting of administrative action in the past months while pro-Israeli voices criticized our publication of numerous pro-Palestinian opinion pieces. In each new issue filled with diverse perspectives—both from our news desk and the guest opinions that come to us—we have been accused of silencing voices (both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli). Increasing animosity and aversion to our reporting have led to numerous potential interviewees withdrawing from coverage and adversely impacting our reporting work. Such difficulties culminate in content that only exacerbates complaints from such parties.

We’ve moved through the semester under some of the most intense scrutiny, both within the walls of our office and out of it, that the organization has seen in years, if not decades. The microscope of perception that has brought college campuses into an relentless and unforgiving light has magnified our voices and our words. The process of telling stories, from our initial reporting to publication, face exceedingly close attention. All this comes amidst a growing nationwide distrust of the media industry bleeding into our relationship with the community.

On the ground, our reporters have faced harassment and intimidation by protestors and counter-protestors, administrators, and law enforcement. Our executive committee has been inundated with complaints about our reporting, our staff have been reported to administrators in attempts to stymie our mission, and our newspaper has been vilified as a one-sided machine by both sides. As always, we affirm our commitment to the entire MIT community.

Like every other student and professional newspaper in this country, The Tech has become its own player in the campus climate, one that is under fire from all angles.

The Tech does not purport to stand by any frame of reference when engaging with campus tensions. Our staff, a diverse group of students from across the MIT community, holds a wide range of views; consequently, we absolutely do not, as an organization, endorse a perspective on this war.


This We Believe

The Tech does not endorse a perspective on this war, but we do take a stance on the actions of the Institute’s administration: this administration is silencing those who seek to deliver the truths of the community, namely, the press. 

The administration has silenced the media: we’ve watched media correspondents’ removal from campus as they peacefully and lawfully carried out their duties. Our on-the-ground news teams have observed first-hand that professional reporters, camera crews, and photojournalists have been escorted away by administrators and officers during times of heightened action. We saw the dismissal of Al Jazeera reporting teams from campus grounds—which led to the May 1 pro-Palestinian protest and the establishment of a temporary second encampment on 84 Mass Ave.

Our student reporters, who have just cause to set foot on campus grounds, have similarly been intimidated by several uniformed officers. We have been compelled to exit an area where we have a definitive right to reside. These were targeted efforts; our on-the-ground reporters have been specifically singled out for our reporting work. Our reporters have been photographed (and likely cataloged in some fashion) by both uniformed and non-uniformed officers during points of tension on campus; we have been met with hostility by the entities that lead this Institute. When we analyze the significance of photography of students becoming evidence in hearings brought against suspended students, it begs the question of what intentions the administration had in taking ours.

These actions constitute one word: repression. 

Do these actions truly champion the values of this Institute: excellence and curiosity, openness and respect, belonging and community?


To you, the reader

Above all, The Tech’s actions are centered around a commitment to accountability. When a shared space is taken up by a myriad of overlapping, conflicting voices, all vying for their perspective in a deeply politicized, nuanced, and multidimensional affair, our duty as an organization is to filter through these voices in search of a larger truth. When we can’t determine such an overarching truth, we narrow our efforts to faithfully represent each one within the context of a larger narrative.

We want to share everyone’s perspective. That requires engagements between us and the many parts of the MIT community being made in good faith.

We ask our community to meet us with a mutual commitment to accountability. We encourage you to communicate your voice authentically with the press. Represent yourself faithfully in interviews and discussions with reporters and seek out active collaboration with the journalists on the ground. Our work is at its best when we have unfettered access to the perspectives of the communities that we hope to portray, and this work is most accurate when a group’s actions match their sentiments. Regularly create official statements and press releases that clearly delineate your position as an organization and allow for perusal by journalists and the wider community. And lastly, have faith in a reporter’s ability to find the facts and portray your perspective appropriately. Trust us to tell your story.

We have been through this ourselves: reporting requires taking risks and likewise our parties featured may face potential consequences. Not everyone will be positively impacted by a story, and we acknowledge that. Our work is always in search of the truth, and that truth is not always perfect. We strive to honestly and faithfully represent each perspective.

The situation becomes greatly complexified when considering the media industry as a player in the same game as everyone else: we are compelled to conduct our work in the face of very real danger.

For journalists on the ground in the US and elsewhere, the word “press” has become a target. Student and professional journalists alike all across the nation have not only been harassed and beaten but jailed and arrested during their reporting. 

To date, over 100 journalists have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war (some reports list this as 108, and others as high as 122.) Many more have been injured and arrested. Foreign correspondents who are often in the line of fire, more so than any other representative of the media industry, have been charged with the ultimate burden of communicating scenes of carnage to the rest of the world.

To be a journalist in this age is to consign oneself to an industry that is straining under the weight of scrutiny and public distrust.

Finally, we call on the various coalitions in our community, representing the dissenting voices of the conflict, to re-engage respectfully with one another and with the press.

A newspaper’s marker as “good” or “bad” should not be based on how well their reporting aligns with one’s personal beliefs, nor should it be based on how favorably one’s chosen groups are represented in reporting. Every group must recognize the merit of a critical lens—if anything, equal reporting of both strengths and faults can offer an opportunity to improve and acknowledge to the community one’s past mistakes. Seek out content that may center more around the uncomfortable and analyze it with an open mind. Reflect on how the world around you has been shaped by this ongoing conflict.

To our community: trust us. Trust that our efforts lie in a devotion to the public good. Trust the many other parts of the media industry that are working day and night to faithfully represent the countless voices that have risen up in the wake of global upheaval.

Our work matters.


Editorials are the official opinion of The Tech. They are written by the Editorial Board, which consists of Publishers Jyotsna Nair and Ellie Montemayor, Editor-in-Chief Alex Tang, Managing Editor Kate Lu, Executive Editor Vivian Hir, and Opinion Editor Srinidhi Narayanan.