This past week, the editorial team of Northwestern University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, faced harsh criticism. Jeff Sessions, the former United States Attorney General, was on campus to speak, and the event drew multiple student protestors. Two main protests took place, one peaceful and one that was more violent. Writers and a photographer for The Daily Northwestern were on scene, taking photos and collecting information. The photographer posted photos of the protest online, and writers and editors took to the university directory to get the contact information of protestors to reach out for interviews.
Normally, this would all be pretty standard practice for reporters. However, the editors and writers of The Daily Northwestern failed to take one thing into consideration, that being both their status and the protestors’ status as students.
The protestors involved were upset with the staff for posting their faces online and reporting their names, as the university could use the paper’s identification as a way to punish the protestors. The editorial staff wrote and published an apology to their fellow students.
That’s when professional reporters took to social media to criticize the board for apologizing. Reporters were angry that the students were coming across as “wishy-washy” and not confident or committed to the work that they had done.
But it’s really not that simple.
Professional reporters don’t have to worry about an entity, such as a university, stepping in to their work. They don’t have to worry about facing criticism from their classroom peers for the work that they do, thus potentially losing their audience. They don’t have to worry about pleasing both their classmates and the professional world.
The role of a student journalist is vastly different than the world of a working reporter. It’s also very different than the role of a regular student.
As student journalists, we are both journalists and students. We have a committed responsibility to reporting the news as accurately and as doggedly as possible. But we must also be empathetic to the needs and wants of the remainder of the student body whom we serve. This means that we can’t always use the same methods as the pros.
We at The Globe are calling on professional reporters to support the work that is being done by student journalists, and to consider the more tightened parameters that we must work with. We ask that you remember your time in journalism school, however different it may have been compared to now. We ask for patience as we navigate the often-times confusing path towards a career in journalism. We also ask for the patience of our peers as we balance our dedication to serving you and our responsibilities as one of you.
And to our fellow journalism students working at The Daily Northwestern, we appreciate your acknowledgement of your mistakes. We also recognize that some of the criticism directed your way was unwarranted. And during this time, we also reflect on our own mistakes. We are not perfect, and as much as we strive for perfection, it will never be reached. But as long as we are committed to practicing good, ethical journalism, we will always find our way back on the straight and narrow path.