Northwestern University student paper apologizes for sending a reporter to cover Jeff Sessions talk10 min read

0
40

A Northwestern University student newspaper has apologized for sending a reporter to cover a talk by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after protesters claimed it was ‘traumatizing, invasive and harmful’ to them. 

The lengthy apology by The Daily Northwestern on Sunday sparked a huge backlash online from a number of high profile journalists who questioned the move, calling it ‘deeply embarrassing’ and ‘mind-boggling’. 

Signed by eight members of the editorial team the letter said: ‘The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. 

‘We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night.’

The Daily Northwestern apologized for sending a reporter to cover a talk by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after protesters claimed it was 'traumatizing, invasive and harmful'

The Daily Northwestern apologized for sending a reporter to cover a talk by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after protesters claimed it was ‘traumatizing, invasive and harmful’ 

The apology was signed by student at the university’s Medill School of Journalism and the paper’s editor in chief Troy Closson, pictured, and seven others

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, picutred, was speaking at the event which was free and open to the public

The apology was signed by student at the university’s Medill School of Journalism and the paper’s editor in chief Troy Closson, left, and seven others. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, was speaking at the event which was free and open to the public 

Reporter Olivia Olander, who works for the Northwestern News Network, tweeted video from the event showing protesters trying to open doors. She later added 'we stand by our coverage'

Reporter Olivia Olander, who works for the Northwestern News Network, tweeted video from the event showing protesters trying to open doors. She later added ‘we stand by our coverage’

Images from the scene show protesters outside the building where Sessions was talking

Images from the scene show protesters outside the building where Sessions was talking 

They also said sorry for using the college directory to interview students, adding: ‘One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive.

‘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. 

‘We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy, and we’ve spoken with those reporters — along with our entire staff — about the correct way to reach out to students for stories.’ 

The nine paragraph apology came after protesters attended an event last Tuesday were Sessions spoke, which was free and open to the public. 

He was reportedly interrupted by protesters telling him: ‘You are a racist; you put kids in cages.’

Reporter Olivia Olander, who works for the Northwestern News Network, tweeted video from the event showing protesters trying to open doors and ‘rush in’. She later added ‘we stand by our coverage’.

The apology was signed by student at the university’s Medill School of Journalism and the paper’s editor in chief Troy Closson and seven others. 

Matt Pearce is the National correspondent for The Los Angeles Times

Matt Pearce is the National correspondent for The Los Angeles Times

National politics reporter WSJ Sabrina Siddiqui is a former NU Medill student

National politics reporter WSJ Sabrina Siddiqui is a former NU Medill student

Matt Sebasian is a senior editor at The Denver Post

Matt Sebasian is a senior editor at The Denver Post

White House correspondent for The New York Times Maggie Haberman also tweeted

White House correspondent for The New York Times Maggie Haberman also tweeted 

Pro-immigration activists at Harvard last month attacked student journalists for making a routine inquiry requesting comment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

In a petition signed by more than 670 people, the activists claimed that the Harvard Crimson ‘blatantly endangers undocumented students’ by giving ICE the opportunity to respond to criticism.

The imbroglio stems from a September 13 Crimson article about an ‘Abolish ICE’ rally held by student group Act on a Dream, in which the newspaper reported that ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a strongly worded statement, Crimson editors Kristine E. Guillaume and Angela N. Fu stood by their decision, writing: ‘every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.’

But The Daily Northwestern took the opposite approach and their move has been widely condemned online.  

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler called it a ‘travesty and an embarrassment’. 

Amy Brittain, a reporter for The Washington Post’s investigative team, said: ‘This is called reporting. Why are you apologizing for it? Mind-boggling to read this editorial from student journalists who attend one of the top schools for journalism in the country.’ 

Wall Street Journal reporter Byron Tau called it an 'appalling ignorance of the basics'

Wall Street Journal reporter Byron Tau called it an ‘appalling ignorance of the basics’

Political editor of @townhallcom Guy Benson waded into the debate

Political editor of @townhallcom Guy Benson waded into the debate 

The Washington Post's Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler called it 'an embarrassment'

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler called it ‘an embarrassment’

National politics reporter WSJ Sabrina Siddiqui is a former NU Medill student. She called it ‘sad’ to say sorry for ‘doing the basics of reporting’, adding: ‘You can debate how to cover certain events, but publishing photos of public protests and tracking down contact info is what you learn in Journalism 101.’

White House correspondent for The New York Times Maggie Haberman said: ‘One of the biggest problems US journalists face in this day and age is how few people understand what standard news-gathering process looks like. A student newspaper saying normal process is somehow a bad thing is incredibly troubling.’ 

Wall Street Journal reporter Byron Tau called it an ‘appalling ignorance of the basics of news-gathering’.  

Medill School of Journalism dean Charles Whitaker defended the reporters on the paper saying the coverage ‘was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism’. 

Check this out  Brewers' Hader apologizes to teammates for racist tweets

He added: ‘I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the “sin” of doing journalism.’ 

And Washington Post Wesley Lowery tweeted: ‘One of only black students in history to hold his position, student journalist who makes incorrect decision based on sincere desire to not harm marginalized campus group is publicly decried by industry’s most powerful (white) journalists. Definitely a lesson to be learned here!’ 

Editor in chief Closson responded to criticism in a series of tweets Tuesday, saying: ‘Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity — and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of color, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate.

‘And our statement and the areas it fell short were largely a result of that — of how challenging it can be for marginalized students to navigate situations like those this past week while balancing our identities, roles as student journalists and positions as students at NU.’  

DailyMail.com has contacted Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern for comment. The paper works independently of Northwestern and Medill.

THE DAILY NORTHWESTERN APOLOGY IN FULL 

Last week, The Daily was not the paper that Northwestern students deserve.

On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event. The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.

One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down. 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 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.

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. We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy, and we’ve spoken with those reporters — along with our entire staff — about the correct way to reach out to students for stories.

Check this out  The Bachelor intruder Brittney Weldon is believed to be the brunette escaping show in dramatic scene

We also wanted to explain our choice to remove the name of a protester initially quoted in our article on the protest. Any information The Daily provides about the protest can be used against the participating students — while some universities grant amnesty to student protesters, Northwestern does not. We did not want to play a role in any disciplinary action that could be taken by the University. 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. As a campus newspaper covering a student body that can be very easily and directly hurt by the University, we must operate differently than a professional publication in these circumstances.

Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions. We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups. As students at Northwestern, we are also grappling with the impact of Tuesday’s events, and as a student organization, we are figuring out how we can support each other and our communities through distressing experiences that arise on campus. We will also work to balance the need for information and the potential harm our news coverage may cause. We met as a staff Sunday to discuss where our reporting and empathy fell short last week, and we are actively re-examining how we’ll address similar situations in the future and how to best move forward.

We hope we can rebuild trust that we weakened or lost last week. We understand that this will not be easy, but we are ready to undertake the reform and reflection necessary to become a better paper. We also welcome any feedback you have about our reporting — that night or otherwise. The feedback that we have already received either directly or via social media has been incredibly helpful for us, and we are working to implement it immediately.

Through our coverage, we know Northwestern students to be passionate, thoughtful and just. Every day, we strive to encapsulate all that you are and all that you deserve.

Troy Closson, Editor in ChiefCatherine Henderson, Print Managing EditorKristina Karisch, Print Managing EditorPeter Warren, Print Managing EditorChristopher Vazquez, Digital Managing Editor and Diversity and Inclusion ChairSneha Dey, Diversity and Inclusion Chair and Web EditorEvan Robinson-Johnson, Photo EditorAmy Li, Campus EditoR