Ortiz: Improving Greek Life Coverage

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

I am frustrated by The Daily Northwestern’s lack of intimate Greek coverage. This article represents my thoughts alone, driven by my knowledge as a rank-and-file member of Omega Delta Phi, and the third and former president of the modern republic of the Multicultural Greek Council.

When discussing Greek life reporting with student journalists at NU, I hear this refrain over and over: “It’s hard to cultivate Greek sources! They don’t talk to us!” I believe this is because most NU reporters — in The Daily and beyond — seek to cover Greek chapters like they are the ’90s Chicago Bulls, when in reality the reporters are starting Lauri Markkanen.

From what I’ve seen over the past three years, many reporters are only interested in covering the birth, the death and the tabloid controversy of chapters — until recently, rarely the mundane activities and joy. I’ve seen reporters slobber like bloodhounds as they fiend to connect supposed Greek life downfalls to the Abolish Greek Life movement. These actions make members of Greek life distrust reporters. 

I believe NU publications should dedicate a minimum of three reporters to cover daily Greek life operations — one to cover the Interfraternity Council, one to cover the Panhellenic Association and one to cover both the Multicultural Greek Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. One part-time beat reporter is insufficient to cover 33 Greek chapters, and right now, our publications set Greek life coverage in total to fail.

Using my newspaper as an example, how can The Daily make lasting connections with any Greek chapter if we barely have one person covering all four councils? What message does that send to Greek life students and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life about our intentions? I know that our newsrooms are often understaffed, and the available staff often dislike covering Greek life, but I still think we should strive for a high quality of Greek coverage.

In no other arena do I believe a newsroom would allow the fundamental mistakes I’ve seen in Greek life coverage. In no other arena do I believe The Daily would allow reporters and editors to claim 2,000 people — 1/4 of the student body — supposedly attended the anti-Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon rally despite attendants and internal sources I’ve spoken with claiming the number was impossibly high. In no other arena would reporters cover a community that makes up a significant portion of the student population with such spotty analysis.

A prime mistake is the persistent desire to refer to IFC and PHA as “Greek life” writ large when reporters can and should be more specific. For instance, when a journalist reports on any chapter’s wrongdoing, and they refer to this wrongdoing as a “Greek life” matter, then all four councils feel the pain. And for what? Because a journalist does not take the care to be specific, innocent people pay the price. 

For example, I am shocked no one followed up on the anti-AEPi and SAE rally in September. I would have liked to see coverage exploring why Abolish Greek Life in general seemed to lose steam over the past two years, especially since October 2021. I would also have liked to see an explainer about what exactly happened in both houses the nights of the alleged druggings, because I feel like we don’t know the entire stories. I especially want to know this because I’ve seen both SAE and AEPi have public events in spring 2022 — SAE at the Organization Fair and at Deering Meadow, and AEPi selling hot dogs by The Rock — and I was surprised at the lack of negative attention either fraternity received. Why was that?

Lastly, let me lay out two next steps I encourage for a newsroom serious about informing the public about Greek life.

First, I would encourage pairing a reporter unfamiliar with Greek life with someone more familiar with Greek structures, while keeping the coverage unbiased via a strong editorial chain. From my experience, having an unaffiliated reporter try to cover a Greek story is often like having a toddler try to take organic chemistry — it’s a complete mismatch destined for failure.  I believe we need Greek life sherpas to assist in reporting in some way, from being a middle manager for sources to administering interviews, if we want to tell the entire truth about Greek life operations. The Daily has strong editorial chains already, so I think this is viable.

Second, I think any newsroom with a vested interest in quality Greek reporting should better support reporters emotionally and financially to reduce turnover in Greek life beat reporters and maintain continuity. On a philosophical level, it is hard for any source to trust any reporter when the reporter changes every quarter. Entrust one, preferably two, reporters with the Greek life beat and have them report on any worthy story. With a strong track record and increasing trust, we can build the relationships to report on the whole story.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fifth-year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.