Criticism and an Offer of Help

Inside Higher Ed raises an interesting question. If a student paper learns that sensitive information in an unprotected computer file, and then writes a story about it, how should the administration react after learning the paper still has a copy of that protected information? Here’s what happened at Western Oregon University:

In a letter sent to university officials late last week, the College
Media Advisers Board of Directors condemned the university’s response
to a student newspaper article published in September. The story revealed
that sensitive information about student applicants, including their
Social Security numbers and grade point averages, had been left
unprotected from public view.

In response to the article, university officials rifled through the
newsroom in search of a copy of the computer file containing the
sensitive student information. The paper’s adviser also lost her job
amid the furor, and a student was disciplined for copying the file and
violating university policies designed to protect private information.

The board, which represents student newspaper advisers, denounced
the university’s “lack of understanding of basic journalism principles
and ethics.” But in detailing its dissatisfaction with the university’s
actions, the board also offered help.

The university punished the student reporter for making a copy of the file that the university was responsible for protecting, which sounds like shooting the messenger. Was it necessary to copy the entire file in order to write the story?  Hm… I might have taken a few screenshots — just enough to back up the story. The interim adviser blames the fired adviser:

“Her firing was entirely justified,” said Yehnert, an English professor. “She was a terrible media adviser all the way around.”