The Daily Northwestern apologized for doing its job last week, sparking a nationwide conversation about the role of journalism on college campuses.
Earlier this month, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at Northwestern University. Students protested the visit and caused damage to university buildings. Like countless campus newspapers do across the country, The Daily covered the event with reporters and photographers. The photographers at the protest had published their photos of the event, sparking outrage within the community as students feared disciplinary action from the university.
But instead of standing by its coverage, The Daily said sorry for it.
The newspaper’s editorial board explained that it betrayed the trust of the community and caused unintended upset from student protestors who did not want to be in the spotlight. But The Daily should not have backed down from its journalistic duties because of public pressure.
The role of journalists is to tell the stories that happen within their community, to their community. The Daily is more than a college newspaper – it serves as a local paper for Evanston, Ill. Instead of apologizing, The Daily should have released a statement talking about its community relations and how it chose to talk to sources. Essentially, The Daily needed to explain how journalism works.
Journalism ethics apply at all times in covering a story, especially when it comes to sensitive topics or events. It is at the discretion of journalists to assess situations and decide whether publishing something could put someone in danger or unfairly smear their reputation. The Daily was careful and courteous in its reporting and did not deserve the backlash. But it should not have let its guard up when people got mad.
Still, it is understandable why editors felt sorry for their actions. There is ongoing mistrust in news organizations and the topics they cover, and the paper must have felt mounting pressure from people who were offended or thought the editors were in the wrong for doing something right. While The Daily should not have given into the pressure of sources, it likely tried to mend already fragile relationships with the student body.
The incident is not the first time we have seen student newspapers come under fire for doing their jobs. The Harvard Crimson received backlash because of its reporting on a protest to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and The Hatchet editorial board stood by the newspaper. Much like the case with The Daily, the community felt that The Crimson had betrayed them and gave names of undocumented individuals to ICE. In reality, The Crimson was telling the story with sensitivity and care.
This growing divide between communities and the newspapers that serve those communities is troubling and can be fixed by explaining what journalism is, how it is done and why we report what we do. Free press outside of college has faced backlash countless times, and other college newspapers have experienced continuous criticism for covering the events they are allowed to cover.
Journalism cannot exist without community trust and support. Students should better understand the role of the newspaper, and the newspaper should always stand by its coverage so long as it is reported with care.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.