Apology from Northwestern’s Student Newspaper Makes Headlines of its Own

The editorial board at Northwestern University’s student-run newspaper has come under fire following its coverage of two protests that took place last week during a visit to the Evanston campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The Daily Northwestern tweeted pictures of the protestors and contacted them for comments by phone using the university’s directory.

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But those pictures have been taken down, according to the paper’s editorial board, which issued an apology over the weekend, saying its reporting “harmed” other students.

“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 benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry,” the apology reads, in part. “We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups.”

The decision to apologize resulted in harsh criticism on social media from other journalists and newspapers nationwide. To date, the published apology has garnered more than 500 comments on the paper’s website.

“They’re students, and they’re learning. They took a lot of heat from their fellow students and social media. They’re in community with their fellow students they go to class with them, and share mutual friends,” said Beth Bennett, associate dean at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “They internalized the heat and the criticisms that they were taking, and in that editorial, they were speaking to other students on campus. What emerged was that they were speaking nationally, and they didn’t know that. I don’t know that they considered that when they wrote the editorial.”

In a series of tweets Monday, editor-in-chief Troy Closson outlined the newspaper’s decision to issue an apology:

Closson’s tweets led to further discussion on social media about the current state of journalism and the challenges college journalists face – especially those of color – in balancing their racial identities as well as their positions as students on a college campus while gathering news.

“For a long time, student activists have been concerned about how marginalized communities are portrayed in the media, so it’s not a new conversation on campus,” Bennett said. 

She added that this incident points to what’s to come in terms of decisionmaking for the next generation of journalists. 

Bennett joins “Chicago Tonight” in discussion.

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