“We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups.”
Northwestern University in Chicago is home to one of the most renowned journalism schools in the country, but it is not immune from campus protest culture and the madness that comes with it.
A recent campus speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions led to an absurd and explosive series of events.
Student activists protested the Sessions event, while the student newspaper covered the event in a story, which apparently included coverage of the protest. This outraged the activists who then turned their anger on the paper, which then apologized for practicing journalism.
Dawn Rhodes reports at the Chicago Tribune:
Daily Northwestern staffers apologized for recent coverage of Jeff Sessions visit. Then they drew the ire of other journalists.
The student journalists at the Daily Northwestern have come under fire twice in the past week.
First they were roundly criticized by fellow students angered by how the paper covered last week’s appearance by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an event that spurred tense protests at the Evanston campus.
Then, in an attempt to mend fences, the student editorial staff published a mea culpa on Sunday that has drawn the ire of journalists appalled that the students would apologize for what seemed to be basic journalistic practices.
Charles Whitaker, dean of Northwestern’s journalism school, said social media not only intensified the pressure the students felt about their work but bullied the editorial team at the student-led paper into apologizing.
Here’s an excerpt of the apology from the Daily Northwestern:
Addressing The Daily’s coverage of Sessions protests
Last week, The Daily was not the paper that Northwestern students deserve.
On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event. 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.
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. Those photos have since been taken down…
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. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups.
The reaction to all of this by Charles Whitaker, the dean of the journalism school, is right on mark:
Statement from Medill Dean Charles Whitaker
Journalism—when executed fairly, accurately and independently —allows a society to see itself in all its splendor and strife. It often is our only chronicle of the people and events that shape and govern our existence. Conversely, when done poorly or unfairly, journalism can most certainly scar individuals and communities. Indeed, there is no shortage of instances in which journalists have parachuted into settings, particularly those occupied by vulnerable or marginalized people, and provided accounts that were devoid of any sense of cultural competency.
But 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. The Daily Northwestern is an independent, student-run publication. As the dean of Medill, where many of these young journalists are trained, I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the “sin” of doing journalism…
I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared. I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would affect a measure of community healing.
I might offer, however, that their well-intentioned gesture sends a chilling message about journalism and its role in society.
Greg Gutfeld and the rest of the panel on The Five discussed this yesterday. Dana Perino makes an excellent point comparing this to what is happening in China:
This is all unfolding as the student paper at Harvard, The Crimson, is under fire from activists for covering a campus protest of ICE and then asking the agency for comment. Just this week, the student council at Harvard sided with the protesters.
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