Northwestern University’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, came under attack recently after reporting on and then apologizing for a story covering a speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions on-campus in Evanston, Illinois. The student-run newspaper sent reporters to cover and photograph the students who protested the event. The student journalists photographed students being shoved by officers, using social media and a campus directory to track down protestors and get their side of the story.
After students reportedly faced backlash for their decision to protest Sessions’ speech as covered by The Daily Northwestern, the newspaper ran a nine-paragraph apology for the way the team depicted and reported on the event.
“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,” the paper wrote in an apology signed by the eight-person editorial staff. They expressed regret for publishing photos that some students found “retraumatizing and invasive” and the methods by which they contacted students through the Northwestern’s directory. The apology issued by the newspaper spurred a nationwide debate about journalism. Journalists responding to the case at Northwestern argue that photographers capturing images of people in public places and reporters reaching out for interviews is part of the job involved with good reporting. Many believe that the students in question had nothing for which to apologize, while others stand by the fact that the student reporters were correct to apologize for the wrongful actions they had taken in reporting.
In a series of tweets, Northwestern senior Troy Closson, editor in chief of The Daily, addressed the recent criticism. “We aren’t unclear about our rights as a newspaper to cover student protest, but also understand the need to do so with empathy,” he tweeted.
He went on to address his ethnicity in conjunction with his leadership role. Closson mentioned that he is learning how to navigate his role as one of only a few African American editors in chief in The Daily’s 138 years as an active publication. “Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity — and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of color, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate,” he wrote. “And our statement and the areas it fell short were largely a result of that — of how challenging it can be for marginalized students to navigate situations like those this past week while balancing our identities, roles as student journalists and positions as students at NU.”
The Daily Northwestern went on to remove the name of a protestor from its coverage because it could “be used against the participating students” and the paper did not “want to play a role in any disciplinary action” that could be taken against the demonstrators. The editors of the paper also announced that they will no longer fully report on campus events if the reporting runs the risk of making marginalized students feel unsafe or upset.
“Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions. We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups,” the paper’s leaders wrote. “Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups.”