As a student journalist myself, I was heated when I read that the students at the student newspaper of Northwestern University, The Daily Northwestern apologized for doing their jobs.
On Nov. 5 former Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the Northwestern campus to give a talk and there were student protesters at the event.The Daily Northwestern sent two reporters and a photographer to cover the event and the protest.
After the story was published the article was met with extreme criticism and it resulted in the paper taking out a source’s name, removing a photo of the protest and issuing an apology in their opinion section for their coverage.
The letter read: “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 benefiting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.”
I understand the student protesters' concerns in terms of their safety and anonymity, but they should have gone into this protest knowing what rights they have and don’t have.
A protest is a public event, in this case the photographer had the right to take the photo. The protesters should have known that their demonstration would be publicized due to the subject matter they were protesting. If they didn’t want it to be, they should not have done it.
By law, journalists have the right to report on an event like this and protesters have the right to decline to comment if asked to be interviewed by a reporter.
After the story was published, one of the sources wanted their name removed from the story and others wanted the photo taken down because, “Some students have also faced threats for being sources in articles published by other outlets. When the source in our article requested their name be removed, we chose to respect the student’s concerns for their privacy and safety,” The Daily Northwestern said.
The person who had their name removed should not have. The reporter was simply doing their job. If the person didn’t want their name published, they should not have consented to an interview in the first place, or requested to remain an anonymous source after the interview.
Our job is to tell the truth of the event through the quotes of our sources and while we can’t do that without them the sources should understand that they have the right to say no to us if they feel uncomfortable with going on the record.
The letter went on to talk about how sources were contacted before the protest.
“Some students also voiced concern about the methods that Daily staffers used to reach out to them. Some of our staff members who were covering the event used Northwestern’s directory to obtain phone numbers for students beforehand and texted them to ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed,” The Daily Northwestern said.
In terms of contacting the students before the protest, what the reporter did was legal. They used a public database to access the information; literally any student has access to this information and therefore the student reporter has the right to use it. Sure, a source may feel uncomfortable if they get contacted by a reporter, but the means of contact was legal, and the person simply has to say “no comment” and the reporter should leave them alone.
While I don’t agree with the paper’s choice to publish an apology, I also understand why they did it. As a student journalist myself I would feel terrible if I reported on something like this and was told that what I reported hurt people.
I think they were right to reevaluate the means in which they reported on the event, however, they should also understand that they don’t have to apologize for doing their job.
The state of journalism in this country right now is critical and I think that it’s due to a lack of understanding of what a true journalist’s job is: to tell the truth from all angles.
We’re not here to pick sides, we’re not here to only tell a positive story, we’re here to tell the truth so people don’t live in darkness.
I’m deeply saddened by all the criticism these student journalists are receiving from all ends: from the students of Northwestern who attacked the student journalists on social media and from journalists who are saying these students should never be hired in a real newsroom.
People need to know their rights and be willing to act on them. The First Amendment is here to protect our free speech on all levels. The protesters had the right to protest. The reporters had the right to cover the event. The sources had the right to say, “no comment.”
I think there is a lesson to be learned by all through this situation. Journalism is at risk and we need student journalists to bring in the new generation of reporters and photographers who are ready and willing to tell hard truths and help inform the American people, but we can’t do that if we can’t learn from our mistakes.