The public domain is a peculiar thing. The concept itself stems from the idea that some things are not owned by anyone, and therefore belong to everyone for free and fair use. It is this principal that newspapers, for example, use to justify publishing the names of individuals involved in activities pertaining to the "public interest." Yet who determines what's in the public interest is left wholly in the hands of the very organizations that seek to gain from abusing the privilege. In this case, that means newspapers.

Sadly, The Bowdoin Orient recently joined an undesirable group of news outlets that compromise their ethics for the sake of sensationalism. This paper's decision to publish the name of a student involved in an alcohol-related incident has been met by frustration among many of the students. Let us be clear in saying that the Orient did not err by running a story that epitomized a growing alcohol abuse problem on campus. The decision to publish the name of the student involved, however, is where the Orient runs out of excuses.

Many will argue that violators of society's social code, as well as Bowdoin's, deserve to be exposed. Such a position establishes a dangerous precedent, however. Let's say, for example, that in a discussion about drug use on campus with a friend who happens to be a proctor, you mention that you know people who use recreational drugs and some of them do so in their dorm. Would you tell the proctor those students' names if he or she asked? Technically your friend has violated the rules of the College, and by the "criminals deserve it" position, the proctor, or whoever else, should know about it. Some people do talk openly about other people's business, but typically when done by an individual it's considered gossip.

When done by a newspaper, it seems such conduct is considered responsible journalism. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact remains that whether or not you choose to gossip—and honestly most of us do—such behavior is wholly irresponsible and unacceptable from a newspaper that seeks to maintain a reputation for quality journalism. The Orient argues, of course, that it was in the public interest for students to know the name of the student involved. The logic behind such a claim is as faulty as the original decision to publish the student's name.

One need only to look back a few issues to the feature story the Orient ran on Adderall use at Bowdoin to see how the paper has a very selective way of applying its journalistic standards. Throughout the article, student users of Adderall who participated in the story were given false names to protect their identity. The decision to do so protected the students from criminal prosecution, punishment by the College and maintained their privacy. In exchange, the Orient was able to run a well-written news story that received significant attention. When it comes to getting a story, it's clear that students' privacy is of significant concern.

When using a student's name helps add intensity to an article, however, a student's privacy doesn't matter much. The Orient claims that because the student was charged with a crime, his name was already in the public domain, and thus his violation of the Social Code warranted the publication of his name in the campus weekly. The reality is, however, that the Orient does not exist to enforce the policies of the College and should not be deciding which students will be shamed and which won't. If the Orient decides students should be shamed, then fine; but it should at least have the integrity to include the names of every single student who violates the Social Code at Bowdoin. Each and every appearance before the deans and the Judicial Board, and any incident with Security should be published, along with an account of the incident. I don't support this approach either, but at the very least it would bring some consistency to the logic of the Orient's policy.

The Orient would counter that it doesn't publish the names of students in most incidents because it doesn't "feel" that the necessary follow-up is newsworthy to the community. Is learning whether the student in this recent incident gets suspended or what the terms of probation will be of value to the Bowdoin community? How is the follow-up to this story any more pertinent to the community? The Orient will, however, continue a story that people can't pass up, largely because it has to do with "Bowdoin's own," a term that the Orient scoffed at. But even the editors cannot argue that the fact that the story deals with a Bowdoin student gives the article legs. I am not being cynical in saying that it will encourage increased readership. Many students freely and openly acknowledge that they read the Orient only for the Security Report. It seems the current news team has decided the best way to improve the paper's following is to make one of its issues one giant Security Report.

The paper has apparently received so many complaints about its faulty decision that it had to run an editorial explaining its policy. The editors claimed that, "ultimately, the decision to print a name is a judgment call." In truth, it was a judgment call, except for it was the wrong one.

Jose Cespedes is a member of the Class of 2012.