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EDITORIAL: Journalistic rules must be comprehended

Students, public must understand journalism standards prior to action

Protests broke out when former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions was speaking at Northwestern University. Police unsuccessfully tried to prevent protestors from entering, and a photographer for Northwestern’s student paper, The Daily Northwestern, caught it on camera.

Following the incident, a student, captured on camera and published online by the paper, complained via Twitter about her image being used. The New York Times reported the incident, and while it did not support the student's claim, it called it an act of “Trauma Porn,” in which a traumatic photo was potentially exploited for The Daily Northwestern’s gain. 

Additionally, the paper used the public student directory to contact potential interviewees, which some students thought was an invasion of privacy.

The result? The Daily Northwestern issued an apology for both using the photo, and using the open access student directory.

First and foremost, activists, and anybody who attends public events, must realize that they may be photographed by the media. Complaining about a picture being taken of yourself in a public space is asinine. 

Activists in particular should be considerate when interacting with the media. Without widespread press coverage of protests and other statements of activism, those movements would likely not have garnered the necessary attention to accomplish what they have. Activist groups attacking the media over a non-issue could face repercussions and harm their causes in the long run. 

More importantly, the treatment of The Daily Northwestern is part of a larger, frightening trend regarding public treatment of the media. 

Everybody knows about President Donald J. Trump's countless attacks against the media, along with numerous other politicians and public figures who do the same. Members of the public seem to have been vitalized by their rhetoric. Some of these attacks can be legitimate, but they still open the door for an institution following journalistic standards, such as The Daily Northwestern, to get attacked as well. 

The Daily Northwestern did follow journalistic standards during the event: The event was public, so the act of taking photos was fair game, and the student directory is public information, so using it for something as simple and harmless as requesting an interview is far from invasive.

Conversely, apologizing for not breaking protocol was a terrible decision on The Daily Northwestern’s part. As mentioned prior, nationally and locally, the news media has come under unnecessary fire as of late. Issuing an apology when unwarranted only continues to fuel the widespread angst regarding the media.

Further, it invites future derogations against The Daily Northwestern and all student media, when such criticisms are invalid. They are inviting pointless attacks by backing down over a non-mistake. 

Journalism is a field that requires an incredible amount of tact. It is the expectation of the broader public that their news sources are both reliable and responsible. In order to maintain a professional sense of reliability, The Daily Northwestern should not have apologized for mild Twitter hysteria. Their readers may question their trust in the paper as a news source from here on out.

Other journalists and publications are also writing about this event. The aforementioned article from The New York Times detailed a history of contention involving campus newspapers, as well as statements from student journalists regarding such tensions.

“I was thinking, like, imagine if this had happened on our campus,” said Robyn Cawley, the editor-in-chief of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student paper. “We would have sent somebody to the protest. We wouldn’t have given it a second thought. You’re out in public, you’re protesting, it’s very likely you’re going to have some sort of media coverage there,” Cawley said.

The same student also spoke about how journalism should often make the public uncomfortable. 

In fact, Zach Kessel, a student journalist from The Daily Northwestern wrote a piece for The Washington Post denouncing their paper’s decision to apologize.

“What isn’t admirable is acquiescence. The Daily apologized for standard journalistic practices ... No reporter has ever broken a major story without stepping on toes. If journalists are restricted by the need to ensure that subjects are completely happy with the coverage, they can’t do their jobs,” Kessel said.

It is a troubling trend that people feel empowered to attack the media. Without accurate journalism, information is not dispersed to the public, and when needlessly attacked, journalism cannot be accurate.

It is of the utmost importance that students, and truly everybody, recognize what constitutes as fair and reasonable journalistic practices, and refrain from imposing on those important practices for no other reason than to be problematic. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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