Northwestern’s apologizing for photographing protestors is a well-meaning snafu

After their coverage of a protest was criticized, editors at the Daily Northwestern issued an apology to students and altered their coverage of the event from their website.

Almost immediately they were viciously criticized by veteran journalists. The apology has been described as “groveling,” “appallingly ignorant” and “embarrassing.”

While I agree that The Daily bowing to pressure for its legally and ethically sound reporting was a huge mistake, industry professionals should have been more constructive in their criticism of students.

These are students, they are still learning, they are bound to make mistakes; God knows I have made my fair share.

Many of these more experienced journalists are right in their positions, and would even be justified if it was one of their peers, but these are students. Sure, it’s a prestigious school, but it is still a student paper.

This could have been a great learning experience for promising young journalists. Instead, they are in full damage control mode, facing public attacks from industry professionals.

Editor-in-chief, Troy Closson has taken full responsibility tweeting “I hope that in providing critiques and feedback of our statement, you can direct that towards me. The other staff members…don’t have the final say, I do.”

Closson had a difficult call to make, he has said that the paper has historically failed students of color and that he hopes to fix this. He is one of only three Black editors in chief in the paper’s 135 years.

It is clear in his apology that he viewed the backlash to the protest coverage as a failure of the student body, and worried that it could lead to protestors facing consequences from the university or law enforcement.

These are valid concerns, a lot of journalism is about weighing the public’s right to know against the privacy of individuals.

However, these protestors were in a public space, with their faces exposed and a journalist present. The journalist who took their pictures had every right, and the protestors had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Protesting publically and then being outraged when images of you show up online in this day and age is ridiculous.

Often, good journalism means not everyone is going to like you. This is an unfortunate fact of the industry and one we need to come to terms with.

Journalists shouldn’t be friends with their sources. Sure, as students we need to sit in class next to some of our sources and sometimes that can be uncomfortable.

But that’s the job. There will be times where good reporting burns bridges. With controversial issues you can’t make everyone happy, and, as The Daily learned, trying to, can make things much worse.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Daily 49er newsletter