On Nov. 5, a public event featuring Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions occurred on Northwestern University’s campus. The arrival of Sessions was not welcomed by many students at NU, which led to students protesting the event.
Troy Closson, the editor-in-chief of Northwestern University’s newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, sent out two writers and a photographer to cover the event. The protest and event alone would have made decent news for The Daily, but the formal apology Closson issued five days later went viral.
The Daily had honorable intentions by issuing the apology letter, but it could potentially be a setback for all student journalists.
Closson’s apology letter states, “One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive.”
A rule of journalism is there is no expectation of privacy in public. NU may be a private school, but the campus hosted a public event where anyone was welcomed to attend. The reporters had every right to photograph students protesting.
If the protest was “traumatizing” for students, they should have not participated. No one was forced to attend or protest the event. The reasoning behind the fear of being identified is made perfectly clear later in the letter.
“We also wanted to explain our choice to remove the name of a protester initially quoted in our article on the protest. Any information The Daily provides about the protest can be used against the participating students — while some universities grant amnesty to student protesters, Northwestern does not,” Closson said.
I believe this apology letter is a disservice to the reporters who covered the event. What Closson failed to remember is the duty of an editor-in-chief to his or her reporters. If journalistic mistakes are made, constructive criticism can be given to better the writer; however, this was not the case.
The students covering the protest did their job successfully by covering the event, getting interviews and taking photographs. Their credibility as reporters has been compromised by their editor giving into the student demands.
As for the unidentified student, I do sympathize with that student’s fear of disciplinary action from NU. However, only the student is to blame for such circumstances.
By choosing to protest and giving consent to be interviewed by reporters, The Daily should have kept the student on record.
From a journalistic aspect, The Daily had every right to publish the student’s name without needing to apologize or explain.
On Nov. 12, The New York Times shared several quotes from professional journalists who were quick to discuss the apology letter.
The Times quoted Glenn Kessler, a columnist for The Washington Post, who tweeted “How is it possible that a newspaper at what is allegedly a top journalism school would apologize for the basics of reporting? This is a travesty and an embarrassment.”
If these are the journalism standards set by The Daily, what will stop NU students from wanting more photographs removed from articles? How will the editors decide if a name should be removed or not? Will students from other colleges demand the same thing from their school papers?
These actions give away the power of the press and put journalists at the mercy of their sources.
If the benefit of students is what The Daily wants to achieve, an apology is not the answer. Instead, educate the NU students on what journalists are allowed and not allowed to do. Writing an educational letter could benefit the entire student population. Students may be more cautious before they jump into another protest.
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