FreepOUT: Covering Silber

By Lauren Dezenski, Online Editor

Eight hours. That’s how long it took for The Daily Free Press Fall ’12 E-Board to rummage through our office archives on Thursday in a frantic effort to piece together full coverage for former Boston University President John Silber’s death.

It’s no stretch to say the E-board members can recount his or her location when they found out Silber died.

It was shocking, but didn’t come as much of a surprise, either.

“He was 86, had a life well lived and his death wasn’t unexpected,” said Managing Editor Sydney Shea.

Those who could flocked to the newsroom for much of the day Thursday. Many, including Campus Editor Emily Overholt, Social Media Editor Sofiya Mahdi and Associate Campus Editors Chris Lisinski and Amy Gorel were in the office from before noon until 8 p.m.

“This happened on our watch,” Shea said. “It fell on us [The Daily Free Press] to portray him as truthfully as possible.”

Lisinski and Gorel worked for much of the day on a piece on Silber’s legacy.

“We dug through archives and interviews and learned as we went, doing coverage that as students, we wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” Lisinski said. “We were then able to take what we learned and transmit it to our reader base as much as possible.”

Though many news outlets posted Silber’s obituary within a few hours of the announcement, The FreeP held back, not posting our copy until around 2 p.m.

“We don’t always get it [the story] first, and that’s something that we have to work on,” Editor-in-Chief Steph Solis said.

Much of the pace of coverage had to do with the student body in mind. It now fell upon us to inform thousands of students about someone we barely knew ourselves, yet led a huge transformation that brought BU to its current state as one of the top research schools in the country. We sought stories that had a deeper analytical look, ultimately taking longer to develop given the reams of newsprint archives in the office.

The keyboard function “control-find” was sorely missed, to say the least.

Ultimately, the stories’ research quality took precedence over churning them out at break-neck pace, and we stand behind that decision.

“Our job is to educate the student body,” Solis said. “What I think we did was respond from the present state. And in the present state, we as a paper and as a student body have moved on [from the harsh sentiments toward Silber of previous decades].”

In the past, Silber was known for his antagonistic role with not only students and staff, but also The FreeP. We were also known to give it right back to him, too. Nowhere was this clearer than in the archives.

“I think having the opportunity to look back on the archives [ … ] adds character in ways that no obit or sound bite can provide,” Solis said.

If Silber and The FreeP’s relationship is worth noting, so too is the fact that as a staff,  “We didn’t have extreme opinions of him,” Shea said. “We didn’t have an agenda behind this.”

As Boston University students, Silber is essentially a historical figure, and at The FreeP, our work included seeking to comprehend him. We determined understanding Silber’s relationships ultimately leant itself to the coverage as a whole, as well as our efforts to correctly portray him.

“He was a man that operated at both ends of what most people would consider right and wrong,” Lisinski said. “He [Silber] brought a lot to BU and did a lot for the future of the university—faculty and future students, but at the same time, he upset a lot of people and alienated a lot of people.

“I think when looking at him [Silber], you have to take both aspects into consideration. No person is black and white and you can’t look at anything simply. I think he’s a fantastic piece of evidence that you can be right and wrong at the same time.”

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