Student leaders of the newspaper covering Northwestern University have faced two waves of criticism recently.
Readers were critical of the newspaper's reporting about protests at the university, just north of Chicago, Illinois. Opponents of former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions organized the demonstrations to protest his visit to Northwestern.
Student activists criticized the paper for publishing photographs of demonstrators. The pictures showed the university's police force blocking protesters as they tried to get inside an event where Sessions was to speak.
Within days, editors at The Daily Northwestern decided to apologize. But the apology they published Monday led to criticism from reporters and journalists across the country.
The newspaper removed the photos from its website. The editors said they did not want students to be at risk of punishment by the school or online harassment. But working journalists said the editors should not feel any guilt for following widely used reporting practices.
The written apology
The Daily Northwestern noted that its "goal is to document history and spread information." But it argued that "nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe ... and ... are benefiting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it."
Right to report on protests
By early this week, the student leaders of The Daily Northwestern were in shock. But the paper's editor-in-chief, Troy Closson, said he and the other journalists understand their right to report on protests. They just want to work with an understanding of other peoples' experiences and emotions.
Closson added that the editors did not plan to take back the apology. He said the message was directed toward the Northwestern community, especially non-white students who are in the minority at the school.
"There's a lot of students ... who feel we ... don't care about ... the student body that we're part of, but rather we're just there to extract a story and never talk to them again," Closson told The Associated Press. "That's the history and reputation we have."
In October, student activists demanded an apology from another college newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. They were displeased with the paper for contacting U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement for a story on a campus protest against the agency. The newspaper argued it was the right decision.
Kenna Griffin, president of the College Media Association, said the Northwestern students should not have apologized. She would have urged them to put out a statement explaining how they produce stories, she said.
"We have an administration (in the White House) right now who feels that anytime they don't like something reported, they can label it untrue or fake," Griffin said. "This idea is being adopted by the public. So there's definitely a need for journalists at every level to explain how the information is gathered and the decisions they make."
By last Sunday, Closson said he and other editors felt they owed readers a fuller explanation of their decisions about the paper's reports on Sessions and the protests. He did not expected many people outside the campus community would read it.
Charles Whitaker heads the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He called the written apology "heartfelt though not well-considered." He suggested it was in reaction to intense "public shaming" from student activists following the newspaper's coverage of Sessions' speech and the protests.
Whitaker wrote that the apology was a sign of their strong sense of community responsibility and the considerations they make for others. But he added that this should be a warning to all reporters. It suggests that they may no longer be able to independently cover the news if they feel forced to change how they do so because of public pressure.
He also defended the students against criticism from professional reporters.
Words in This Story：
editor(s) – n. a person whose job is to prepare something written to be published or used
journalist(s) – n.a person whose job centers on the activity of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
harassment – n. the act of annoying or bothering someone in a constant or repeated way
practice(s) – n. something that is done often or regularly
benefit(ing) – v. to be helped
extract – v. to get something such as information from something
reputation – n. the common opinion that people have about someone or something
diversity – n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization
label – v. to name or describe (someone or something) in a specified way
adopt(ed) – v. to begin to use or have a different manner, method
shaming – n. the act of forcing someone to act in a specified way by causing feelings of shame or guilt
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