LFTE: Why we covered the blackface photo the way we did

Forrest Czarnecki and Austin Fleskes

As the editorial leaders of The Collegian, we wanted to let the community know one thing: we hear you. We hear your criticisms, and we want to explain how our coverage of the blackface photo and its impact was shaped, and we also want to acknowledge and improve upon our mistakes. 

To start, we want to address the people that we offended. During our time covering this incident, it was never our intention to make anyone feel offended, isolated or ignored. 


However, we realize our intention was not as important as the fact that members of our community felt ignored, and we apologize. Our goal as a student-run and student-serving publication is to give voices to our community, not to isolate them. We have learned from this experience. 

We want to explain to you, the students and community of Colorado State University, why we covered this incident the way we did. We want to explain what was going on behind the scenes and what was happening in our newsroom. We are doing this to uphold one of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethical principles: be accountable and transparent. 

When the story went viral and President Joyce McConnell’s first email was sent out, we missed the element of timeliness to simply write a brief on what happened. We did not write the brief because we felt the issue deserved more than just a few hundred words. 

However, we realize that we should have been quicker to acknowledge this incident and make it clear that we were paying attention, even if this meant writing a brief and then following up with more in-depth coverage. We failed to be timely, and we recognize that this negatively impacted our community.

As the leaders of the editorial board at The Collegian, along with other content leaders at Rocky Mountain Student Media, such as CTV and KCSU, we made the decision to do more in-depth reporting on the event than we ever have before. We strove to go beyond merely writing a brief acknowledging the incident, followed by a brief recapping McConnell’s email⁠ — a formula that we have seen used in coverage of past racially motivated incidents. 

A public plan for in-depth coverage was not present in the first couple of days after the image was posted, which we realize implied that we did not care about the event. This is the opposite of how we felt. 

We saw this as an opportunity to tell the story in a comprehensive and impactful manner, which is how Rocky Mountain Student Media decided to cover it. As a publication, we wanted to get the stories of everyone involved. 

Reporting on a story this sensitive and important requires us to check out every little detail, from the exact time the image was posted to the names and quotes of those who spoke at the Associated Students of CSU senate session and everything in between. 

We wanted to tell the story from all sides; this included the many students and communities who were directly impacted by the photo as well as our interview with Leana Kaplan, the first student identified in the image.

In terms of when we published our content, that was also a process that required a great deal of planning, but also provided us with some lessons. While pursuing the story of the community impact as well as Kaplan’s story at the same time, we should have let the people who were impacted respond first: a mistake we will learn from.


Wanting to get all angles of the story is the reason we took a full week to look at the situation and report on it with our partners at CTV and KCSU. 

This coverage took more time than we wanted, but we feel our in-depth coverage reflects the importance and illustrates the impacts of this event. 

This is why we did what we did. At the end of the day, we pushed ourselves to have the best coverage possible ⁠— an intimate look at the issue that people will remember and learn from: not just this year, but for years to come.

As our news director, Ravyn Cullor, said to us during our coverage, “The most powerful thing we can do is tell the stories that need to be told.” 

As an editorial team and as members of The Collegian, we have heard your criticisms, your critiques and your comments on how to fix our coverage. We will take these lessons and improve our coverage in the future. One of The Collegian’s purposes is to serve as a learning lab for students, and this experience proved to us that there is always more to learn. We are ready to prove those lessons to you. 

This story is one that rocked every corner of campus, even down to our newsroom. Covering it with care, dedication and meticulous detail is vital to both our publication as well as you, the community of CSU. 

If you would like to reach out with comments on how to improve coverage in the future, please feel free to email comments@rockymountainstudentmedia.com


Forrest Czarnecki, editor-in-chief, and Austin Fleskes, managing editor

Forrest Czarnecki and Austin Fleskes can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.