This week, The Daily Northwestern, the paper of record and student paper for Northwestern University, published an editorial apologizing for the paper’s coverage of former U.S. Attorney General/U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions’ Nov. 5 visit to campus.
Under the editorial were the names of Editor in Chief Troy Closson and seven other editors at the newspaper.
What should have been routine coverage of Sessions’ visit to campus and subsequent protests quickly resulted in an editorial and related decisions on coverage that are among the worst cases of ethics abuse and shoddy student journalism I have ever seen.
The editorial describes the event and an associated protest as “traumatic,” and says the paper has gone so far as to remove photos of Northwestern students protesting the event from the paper’s website.
The editorial, which garnered national attention in The Washington Post, and untold amount of ridicule and criticism on social media, would be downright humorous if it weren’t reflective of the values that are apparently being taught at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
Here is what the ill-advised editorial says about The Daily Northwestern’s coverage of Sessions’ appearance, groveling tone and all: “We met as a staff Sunday to discuss where our reporting and empathy fell short last week, and we are actively re-examining how we’ll address similar situations in the future and how to best move forward.”
Ah, looks to me like Northwestern is breeding quite the class of fine journalists this year. Must be the new NW curriculum that instructs student journalists to report sans a spine.
The Daily NW’s editors should be ashamed of themselves for this cowardly editorial decision and accompanying column. These protestors shouldn't have appeared in public at a widely publicized event/protest if they didn't want or expect photographers to capture them in a protest. Don't attend something if you don't want your name attached to it. Don’t show up to a protest of a major political figure and not expect journalists to do their job.
From the linked editorial: "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."
Give me a break. What a complete load of pandering and virtue-signaling. If their idea of journalism is reflective of academic journalism as a whole, this is indeed the "obituary for our profession." (Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith says the main lesson about reporting that used to be taught in journalism schools, including OU, was “get the story.”)
As for using the phone directory to reach out to protesters for comments, I fail to see how this is "an invasion of privacy" (as stated in the editorial) to use publicly listed information to contact people. Publicly available information is exactly that: public information. There is no invasion of privacy to employ this resource for reporting.
And here, they comically miss the entire point of the code of ethics: "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.’”
Treating people with respect is not the same thing as removing photos of students because they were offended. I would argue that an even greater breach of ethics is submitting themselves to trial by the court of public opinion. This either demonstrates a lack of understanding of ethics, or is an intentional warping of an ethical code to get the publication out of hot water
The whole column reads as a driveling and sheepish attempt to kowtow to a segment of a student base who is unreasonably upset their information and identity were published because they foolishly attended a protest on public property. I hate to rag on my generation, but it appears some among us still fail to grasp the idea of consequences. Maybe they would have been safer just posting witty quips on Twitter from their dormitories rather than making their presence known at the protest.
Another little ditty from the editorial: "We hope we can rebuild trust that we weakened or lost last week. We understand that this will not be easy, but we are ready to undertake the reform and reflection necessary to become a better paper. We also welcome any feedback you have about our reporting – that night or otherwise. The feedback that we have already received either directly or via social media has been incredibly helpful for us, and we are working to implement it immediately."
This quote may as well be replaced by a photo of the Daily NW staff prostrating themselves before a mob, begging not to be lashed to the cross for the capital transgression of doing their job.
"We have principles, and if you don't like them, we've got lots of other ones, too" should be The Daily Northwestern's new motto after this abysmal attempt to right a non-existent wrong.
My mentality is that the newspaper industry's job is to print the news and raise all hell, rather than whatever they call this craven and sorry excuse for coverage. It certainly wasn’t news they printed, and the only hell raised was in their minds with all the mental back-flips they must have done to arrive at this decision.
Maybe someone should take out a spot in the classifieds section of the Daily NW or post “MISSING” signs around campus to help them locate their AWOL spines.