I was bitten by the bug. Dinner-table discussions with mom and dad, who are bother former journalists, led me to where I am today.
My mom once tracked down the mayor of York, Pennsylvania, outside of his laundromat.
After she had found some discrepancies in public statements he made, he had been avoiding her – but outside of this laundromat, he was caught in a web of dirty lies. He held his laundry basket on the side of the street, with his clothes likely falling to the ground, and she asked him the tough questions.
In a text just now, mom told me, "If you don’t want to be bothered, get an unlisted number. If you are protesting, you are inserting yourself into the process. Prepare to be photographed. Sorry... not sorry."
It’s easy to take the now-infamous Daily Northwestern editorial at face value and question the utter disconnect between student journalists at that student newspaper and a genuine understanding of aspects of the standard reporting process, such as contacting potential sources and taking photos of newsworthy events in public spaces.
“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 benefiting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it,” the editorial reads.
What? Appeasing the people we are covering is not a part of the reporting process, and pretending that it is, that’s a frightening stance on the part of the paper’s editorial board.
But I’m not comfortable acting as an arm for the police or for the university, either, which it seems could have resulted from some of their coverage of the speech and resulting protests.
If I can find your phone number in a quick online search, and if you’re out there in the world creating the news, prepare for an – often unprompted – text or a call from a reporter like me.
If you are going to climb through windows and fill an auditorium in protest of a controversial speaker, prepare for my legal pad to be out, my pen to be flying and my camera to be clicking.
I believe all of that to the 10th degree.
But as journalism students and working student journalists, it sometimes feels like we are under a burning hot microscope.
On one end, we’re told to make all of our mistakes while we’re still in school, so we don’t make them in the real world. On the other end, this viral mistake on the part of the paper at Northwestern leads to every professional reporter feeling the need to weigh in on social media and admonish a group of fresh-to-the-field reporters.
I appreciate the transparency in their editorial: it tells flat out why the Daily Northwestern editors made the decisions they made. Yet I strongly disagree with their decisions in response to criticism of their coverage.
In a society where trust in the media is at an all-time low, as a paper, don’t consistently appease your sources or desperately beg for your readers’ trust. That’s not going to fix any issues.
But you know what else won’t fix any issues? Public outcry like this among the journalism community over a single column, when so many other issues are facing the industry.
As a fellow journalist on the outside of the Daily Northwestern looking in, try to treat this situation with compassion and as an opportunity for growth, instead of acting like it’s the death of strong reporting and solid journalism.