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College newspaper compromises its editorial amid student backlash

by Brianna Bush - Executive Editor
Tue, Nov 19th 2019 09:00 pm
College publication The Daily Northwestern and its staff served an apology to the college's students following an editorial coverage of a campus protest.
College publication The Daily Northwestern and its staff served an apology to the college's students following an editorial coverage of a campus protest.

Causing a heated debate across the journalism community, The Daily Northwestern — Northwestern University’s student newspaper (Medill School) — published an apologetic editorial for covering multiple protests on campus. 

“On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event,” The Daily stated. “The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.” 

The Daily reporters found that the photographs and live tweets it posted received backlash and negative comments from students who had participated in the protests, finding them “retraumatizing and invasive.” 

According to The Washington Post, many professional journalists found the apology to be a “mistake.” Many believe it is a journalist’s job to cover a story to its fullest extent and that shouldn’t cause harm to others. 

Many professional journalists took to platforms like Twitter to voice their opinions on the matter, especially when it came to The Daily’s apology for merely contacting a source to go on record. 

“There’s a lot to comment on in this Daily Northwestern editorial,” Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt tweeted. “but apologizing for contacting people to ask if they’re willing to be interviewed? Regretting that you photographed protesters protesting in public?” 

Even Dean Charles Whitaker believed the reporters of The Daily had every right to report on the matter. 

“Let me be perfectly clear: the coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism,” Witaker said in a letter published on Northwestern’s website. “It is naïve, not to mention wrongheaded, to declare, as many of our student activists have, that The Daily staff and other student journalists had somehow violated the personal space of the protestors by reporting on the proceedings, which were conducted in the open and were designed, ostensibly, to garner attention.” 

Journalists are criticized and placed under a microscope when it comes to hard coverage of events like a protest and many face scrutiny when they ask a victim to relive a traumatic time in their lives. It is unfortunate but it is a field where writers and reporters are not required to make someone happy — they are required to report the facts as they appear and keep readers informed. If that means making a hard decision, then young journalism students should be prepared to do so or start looking for a different field. 

The Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Troy Closson thought about how the coverage of the protest would affect its relationship with the student body. 

“Something we thought about a lot this week is how challenging it is to be student journalists who are reporting about other students,” Closson told The Washington Post. “We’re thinking about what our role looks like specifically as student journalists who have to cover this, but at the same time we have to go to class with those students tomorrow.” 

People responded poorly in response to his statement and the editorial that was released. Many of the comments on The Daily’s website were appalled by what it had done. 

One comment called the editorial “a cover-up story,” while one comment thought the editorial was a satire piece. One even called out the protesters and the journalist in their comment. 

“Good grief,” Micheal Griffin wrote on the Facebook comment section. “I don't know who I'm more embarrassed for. The ‘protesters’ who are afraid to risk ‘getting in trouble’ for protesting or the ‘journalists’ who are apologizing for doing their jobs.” 

There were also those who supported the student journalists in the choices they made, posting comments of understanding. Some people posted comments telling others to “give the young people a break.” 

There were many flaws in how The Daily Northwestern handled the situation in the public eye, but steps are being taken to get the organization back on track. One can only hope other organizations have learned from The Daily and different routes will be taken in the future. 

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