Northwestern University’s campus newspaper is under fire for covering protests sparked by a campus visit from Jeff Sessions, former U.S. Attorney General. Student editors of The Daily Northwestern are receiving backlash for the paper simply doing its job: reporting the news.
What was the newspaper’s supposed offense? Sending reporters to cover Sessions’ speech and associated protests, and contacting participating students afterwards to get their take on the evening’s events. One of the reporters took pictures of the protestors, and later tweeted the images. Keep in mind these people were protesting in public.
According to the unfortunate apology released by The Daily Northwestern, the paper “did not want to play a role in any disciplinary action that could be taken by the university.” Additionally, staffers removed the pictures from Twitter and scrubbed the names from the article for the “privacy and safety” of the students.
Though perhaps well-intentioned, this is the wrong approach. Journalists need to be able to report the truth, even if that means highlighting both sides of an issue and invading the “privacy” of participants in a public protest. Both the student activists and reporters need to recognize the value and rights involved with freedom of the press.
We see free speech under attack at many colleges, but at a university with one of the top journalism schools in the country, this turn of events is especially concerning. With student reporters feeling like they can’t adequately and accurately portray the events happening on campus without backlash, freedom of the press is on the line.
The dean of Northwestern’s journalism school issued his own powerful statement which criticized the decision of the paper to retract its reporting and apologize but also recognized the challenges of community reporting. He also emphasized that the journalists themselves are still learning. We just hope this provides a larger “teaching moment” for budding journalists around the country about the critical role a free press plays in our democracy.