Advisor’s Note: ECHO clarifies role in Ferguson survey

The ECHO’s survey of student attitudes regarding Ferguson has gained a lot of attention. Stories in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and on Channel 5 used the survey as an introduction to discuss the student walkout that occurred on Dec. 4, almost as if to imply the two events were connected. They were not.

Looking at these stories and the comments, we see misinformation and misunderstandings and would like to clarify our position.

We did inadvertently use loaded language in one of the questions in the form of the word “murder,” and we regret having done that. It is not something we would condone, and when we cover surveys in the required journalism class, we discuss the negative impact of loaded language on the accuracy of the feedback. We did make this error, and we apologize. It is good to remember we are a student-driven publication, and even in the professional media, mistakes are occasionally made.
We also had a place for the participants to identify themselves. We do not usually do this, and we acknowledge that we should probably have put “optional” next to the name line.

That said, participation in all ECHO surveys for at least the last 22 years has always been voluntary. As a student organization, we have no more authority to force participation in a survey than the chess club would have to force students to participate in a tournament. Students do not receive grades for participation, nor is there a consequence for not participating.

We have made it part of our policy in light of this incident, however, to add the phrase that “Participation in all ECHO surveys is voluntary” to all of our surveys from now on to prevent this misunderstanding in the future.

One misunderstanding seems to be the scope of the survey. The ECHO never surveys the entire school; it would be impossible to do within our deadlines. We typically shoot for 140 surveys, or 10 percent of the students. We had actually finished distributing surveys and gotten about 100 back before being contacted by the administration.

We have been told some students felt targeted by the surveys. We regret they had that perception, but it should be known the ECHO only has a staff of 12, and only two or three students working on a particular story actually see any survey results, so participants need not worry about reprisals.

Finally, readers should be reminded the ECHO’s editorial policy states, “The ECHO is not a public relations vehicle for WGHS nor the Webster Groves School District.” Therefore, the 12 students and their advisor’s words and actions do not and could not speak for the entire 1,400 students, plus teachers and administrators. All we can do is hope to hear as many voices as possible and act as a forum for those voices to be heard.

We have submitted to the administration’s directive not to use the survey results and have destroyed all completed surveys in large part because of our use of the word “murder” and because of the misunderstanding as to its being voluntary by reason of our asking for student names.

We do believe asking for racial backgrounds of participants was appropriate because of the racial themes involved in reporting the Ferguson issue. We would like to treat this as a learning experience.
We appreciate our readers and the support we’ve received over the last few days.

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