Staff Editorial: Why The Echo Continues to Cover Borderline

The Echo Staff

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This week’s content includes coverage of the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Borderline Bar & Grill. We hope this coverage honors the 12 victims, respects the 248 survivors and is informative for the rest of the community.

On Thursday, Oct. 31, one of our reporters received an email from Karin Grennan, the media relations manager at California Lutheran University. In it, Grennan said the university requested that The Echo not cover on-campus events scheduled for Nov. 6-8 related to the anniversary.

“We want all the survivors to be able to participate without feeling like they are being watched. We also ask that the Echo not publish the times and locations of these events in advance because we are trying to keep that information from outside media,” Grennan said.

In this editorial, our staff wants to take a moment to explain why we proceeded with covering the “Boots in the Park” event on Nov. 8, and why in general we recognize the tragic events of last year in this issue.

Our staff has been with Borderline since the beginning. On Nov. 7, 2018, our former Editor in Chief Dakota Allen and former News Editor Olivia Schouten were at the scene of the shooting, before the whereabouts of the shooter were even known. The staff put out an issue on Nov. 13, just five days later, filled with stories that reflected the community’s grief.

We have been there from when the pain was raw to the roots of healing, from the memorial procession for Sgt. Ron Helus to the revival of Borderline nights at The Canyon club in Agoura Hills. We have proven our capacity to handle events of this gravity— even winning a first place California College Media Association award for Best Breaking News Story for our coverage.

As part of the affected community itself, we know these stories better than any other news organization. Therefore, when we received the email from Grennan, we were taken aback to say the least.

We deliberately made the decision to cover Boots in the Park on Nov. 8 rather than the Nov. 6 vigil or Nov. 7 “Collection of Reflections” because it was a public event happening in the center of campus, an event featuring “food trucks, line dancing, and giveaways!” as opposed to the more solemn nature of the other events.

We also were careful in how we approached coverage, assigning a single reporter who has covered Borderline-related stories before to the event. We are not like the news vans that pulled up to the Healing Garden dedication or the gathering at the Borderline parking lot Thursday evening, shoving cameras in survivors’ faces then driving away once the clip was complete. Our staff considered how to minimize intrusion and told our reporter to be sensitive in how she approached survivors, to let them know she was there only if they wanted to talk.

Despite this, Grennan approached our reporter at Boots in the Park and told her that she had requested The Echo not cover the event. This escalated into a phone call between University President Chris Kimball and The Echo’s adviser Kirstie Hettinga, an associate professor of communication, in which he told her we would have to “live with” the decision to cover the event when he believed it was against the wishes of the survivors.

Our staff knows that all survivors have different needs and are comfortable with media coverage to different degrees. But the university’s suggestion that we were directly contradicting the wishes of survivors did not sit well with our own Photo Editor Gabby Flores, a survivor of Borderline, who was not consulted about the decision to keep media away and questioned which survivors the university spoke to.

Additionally, if it was the university’s intention to restrict access to these events, they didn’t do a very good job of it. All three on-campus events were advertised on The Hub student event calendar on Cal Lutheran’s website and widely publicized on social media, which can be accessed by any news organization. The flier shared stated “Open to all students, faculty, and staff!” Nowhere did it say “closed to the media.” The Los Angeles Times even mentioned the Boots in the Park event in an article published Nov. 6.

We made the decision to proceed with covering Boots in the Park against the wishes of Cal Lutheran administration not only because we had the right to as students on our own campus, but because we think it’s important to recognize the ongoing effects of last year’s tragedy on our community.

While it may seem strange to “honor” the anniversary of something so horrific, we believe it is important to keep telling the stories of the aftermath, because it weighs on the minds of everyone around us. Particularly because last year’s fires shifted focus away from Borderline, the anniversary provides a unique opportunity to remember the victims and continue forward in healing.

The Echo takes no joy in covering tragedy, but we have a duty and a privileged perspective to do so. If you have feedback about our coverage, we encourage you to contact us at [email protected]

This article was updated on Nov. 13 following response from Grennan. The phrasing of Grennan’s comments to our reporter at Boots in the Park has been changed from “and told her she could not proceed with coverage” to “and told her that she had requested The Echo not cover the event.”