Northwestern’s The Daily Journalists Under Fire: How Far is Too Far?

Maya Long, Editor in Chief

Northwestern University, located right outside of Chicago, is home to one of the most renowned and prestigious journalism schools in the country: the Medill School of Journalism. With a good reputation on its back, and several famous alumni to vouch for it, Northwestern has extensive influence when it comes to the media, journalism specifically. Recently, however, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the school’s Republican Student Association to give a speech, and a protest broke out in front of the building in which it was taking place. Naturally, The Daily’s photojournalists sped to the scene to report on the interesting issue at hand. 

 

Unfortunately, following the protest and subsequent reporting on it, there was an outcry from students who attended the protest. They claimed their safety was infringed upon and the posts were invasive. The Daily responded via an editorial with apologies, taking down the posts and statements that mentioned that the posts were “retraumatizing and invasive” to the students pictured in the posts. Yet, this whole debacle begs the question: how far is too far? When do journalists draw the line with moral obligation to protect people from the effects of their reporting? Is there even an obligation for journalists to regulate their work in this way? So, as a high school student journalist, a woman, a member of the LGBT community, and a person of color, I wanted to give my perspective on this controversial issue.

 

I sometimes wonder if people, specifically the more privileged individuals in American society, forget just how worried minorities must be all the time. We walk out the door, we’re worried. We go to the grocery store, we’re worried. I grew up cautious as a woman and learned to be terrified at certain times as a bisexual woman of color. So, I’m in all honesty, not surprised by the response from Northwestern students after the photojournalists published their photos outside a controversial political protest. Yet, that’s where my agreement with the aggrieved students ends. I understand the fear of retribution due to controversial topics and events and not wanting your name or photo associated. What I cannot understand is attacking a journalist for doing their job. Journalists, by nature, are asked to report on the truth and what is happening in the world. The students at The Daily did just that: report. 

 

As an aspiring journalist, I’ve always hoped to report on the topics, stories, and people that deserve a voice and need to be seen. A protest outside of a Jeff Sessions speech, which, might I add, included students climbing buildings and attempting to break into the speech room, is a topic and story worth reporting about. Jeff Sessions is a very polarizing figure in American politics, and as a result, it is no surprise such intense reactions from students were present. Northwestern’s journalists were simply doing their job regarding a news-worthy event on campus. 

 

So, was reporting on students climbing buildings to enter a political event too far? In my opinion, no. Did it endanger students’ lives and careers? Speculation is all we can now use to answer this question because the photos were taken down almost immediately. Should journalists ever apologize for doing their job when there was no harmful intent? No, never. These Northwestern students did exactly what they were asked to do regarding the highly anticipated speech made by Sessions. Denying that opportunity to report on such a juicy topic would have been a loss for them as students but also a loss for the art of journalism as well. And that’s where I feel I’ve answered my ultimate question of “was it too far?” No, because they were doing what they are supposed to do. In the wise words of Joseph Medill, politician and Chicago Tribune editor, whose name adorns Northwestern’s Journalism school,  “Write boldly and tell the truth fearlessly.”

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/17/780312536/roundtable-northwestern-university-journalism-controversy