UF Journalism School Dean: ‘Our Obligation As Journalists’ To Cover Spencer

Diane McFarlin, dean of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. (Photo courtesy to WUFT News)

White nationalist Richard Spencer from the National Policy Institute will be speaking on the University of Florida’s campus on Oct. 19.

This week, WUFT News published interviews with Spencer about his views and with Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, about why Spencer has a right to speak on campus.

Diane McFarlin, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at UF, discussed the role that journalism education plays in this critical conversation.

Why is covering Richard Spencer or his beliefs newsworthy?

McFarlin: Richard Spencer is controversial because of what he espouses and because his appearances have tended to be highly disruptive to communities. Our obligation as journalists is to provide information and knowledge that will empower the communities we serve to grapple with the situation.

Simply ignoring it won’t make it go away. This is happening. Local citizens need to understand why and how.

Why should the CJC, its newsroom or media properties be a “platform” for extreme views?

Knowledge is power. The more we understand the forces at play in our world, the more we are empowered to deal with those forces most effectively.

It diminishes the shock value when people can read or hear objectionable speech without encountering it in an emotional setting. It also helps people process what is inexplicable to them and affirm their own beliefs in ways that can be constructive.

Why is it important for student journalists to cover controversial topics and figures?

These real-world experiences are formative for young journalists, who are learning by doing. Our student journalists are preparing themselves for careers that will be focused on equipping citizens to make informed decisions.

In our Innovation News Center, the newsroom for WUFT.org, students receive guidance and support from professional journalists who have extensive experience in the field. We don’t teach our students to emulate the national news shows that have become arenas for shrill debate. Unfortunately, that is the image so many people have of the media these days.

What we teach is a more thoughtful approach that tries to get at the truth — what people need to know in order to be responsible citizens and lead productive lives.

What is our mission as the College or Journalism and Communications? Why is a free press essential?

Our mission is to inform the public in a fair and impartial way through our public media, while educating the next generation of professional journalists. The watchdog role of local media can be unpopular at times, but the illumination they provide is essential to healthy communities and a highly functioning democracy.

About WUFT News

Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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  1. Would WUFT Media do a Q & A with an Islamic extremist? Hard to imagine it. But someone how a White supremacist deserves to be heard out? I can’t believe the lack of moral decision making being shown by WUFT. I am aghast and ashamed.

  2. Attention is oxygen for extremists and you just gave this guy’s cause a lungful. You did no one–not the community or the student journalist–any good by interviewing Spencer.

    UF felt they had no choice but to provide this philosophical equivalent of a shock jock a platform. You had a choice and decided to broadcast his beliefs all but unchallenged.

  3. Ryan Chastain-Gross

    As I have said to WUFT several times already, their “amateur hour” coverage of Dick Spencer makes me ashamed to work for, and have a degree from, the University of Florida. I have never seen such poor journalism right in my community. I have changed my radio settings to never listen to WUFT again, and I will make sure that my family, friends and colleagues do not support WUFT in any form. This apology reinforced my decision. Shame on you, Dean McFarlin. You are setting a horrible example for your students.

  4. Respectfully, this was a bad decision. The public has tons of access to his views thanks to the internet and tech companies trying to be impartial in their hosting of racism and hatred. Major universities weren’t interviewing champions of racism for how many decades, but we have to start now? No, we don’t.

  5. You sent in a rookie to do a professionals job. The coverage was grossly incompetent. I trust you’ll be posting a counterpoint interview or article to rectify this poor excuse for “journalism?” Shame on the management for not planning this better and taking it more seriously.

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