The Daily Northwestern — referred to as The Daily — the student newspaper of Northwestern University, apologized on Sunday, Nov. 10, for its coverage of protests surrounding the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech on the campus.
This apology, however, was one that was entirely unnecessary, as the student reporters at The Daily were merely doing their jobs as journalists.
“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.” Troy Closson, editor-in-chief of The Daily said in the address.
The aforementioned harm that the students at The Daily allegedly contributed to was from reporters posting photos of protesters on personal Twitter accounts, as well as utilizing the university’s directory to find the phone numbers of protesters to ask if they were willing to be interviewed.
“Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive,” Closson said.
The photographs were subsequently removed but the fact of the matter is that this protest was a public event.There is no reason that those at the Daily needed to release a public apology for taking photographs of an event that happened on its very campus.
Closson mentioned in his apology that obtaining students’ contact information was an “invasion of privacy.”
However, the Northwestern University directory is available to all students and faculty. The reporters at The Daily were simply using the information at their disposal. Journalists have gone to much further lengths than to ask for interviews, and those at The Daily did not even approach crossing any lines, or invading the privacy of student protesters.
Noted in the apology is the reasoning behind the removal of the name of a student protester: “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.”
Closson seems to be taking the stance that The Daily, functioning as a student newspaper, should focus more on protecting the identity and privacy of the students, keeping them out of harm or trouble from the university. Doing so, while it may be with good intention, will inevitably damage the reputability of The Daily.
Closson and The Daily have garnered a large amount of media attention after word of this apology got around. In a series of tweets in response to it, the editor-in-chief said, “We aren’t unclear about our rights as a newspaper to cover student protest, but also understand the need to do so with empathy.”
Journalism seeks to spread the truth, the process of hiding details and removing sources names for the sake of empathy, goes directly against what it is journalism stands for.
Empathy is incredibly important, but when being empathetic takes priority over accurately telling the story, it becomes a serious problem.
Closson and the writers at the Daily should not have apologized for simply doing their jobs, but as student journalists they should hold themselves to the same standards as professionals.