The editors of the Northwestern University student newspaper issued a long-winded apology this week for simply covering an on-campus speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The student editors of the Daily Northwestern published a 700-word apology on Sunday over their coverage of a campus lecture featuring former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The editors claimed that their reporting on the event “harmed many students” that had protested the Sessions event and were subsequently featured in photos that accompanied the report. They claimed that their primary responsibility is to make sure that Northwestern “students feel safe.”
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. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. While our goal is to document history and spread information, nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.
Commenters were quick to criticize the students over the apology. One commenter, who claimed to be an alumnus of Northwestern, wrote that he was “ashamed” of the newspaper’s decision to apologize for simply reporting on the Sessions event.
Another commenter, who claimed to have worked as a journalist for over 40 years, said that he was “appalled” by the newspaper’s apology.
As a working journalist of 44 years, I’m appalled at what I have read in this editorial. It was a public demonstration. Students chose to be there. A reporter asks questions, and publishes the answers. You ask someone’s name. If they don’t want to give it, so be it—they decline. If they give it, you can use it. Period. End of story. The larger question should always be about balance. But worrying about whether someone is going to get in trouble? That’s their choice for being there. (Some very courageous students in China, Egypt, numerous former Soviet bloc countries, and Hong Kong could fill you in on this).
“As a Medill grad, this is beyond embarassing. Contacting people through a directory and using photos from a public event are basics of journalism,” another commenter said. “Here’s a hint: making everyone feel safe is the exact opposite of what your job should be.
Breitbart News reported in October that the Harvard University student newspaper refused to give into demands to apologize after reaching out to ICE for a comment on an on-campus protest.
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