Northwestern U campus newspaper apologizes after covering 'traumatic' Jeff Sessions speech

The paper says that it has an obligation to employ different procedures than a "professional publication" because the student body can be easily "hurt by the University."

The student paper at Northwestern University is apologizing for standard photojournalism and naming students in its coverage of recent protests of a visit by Jeff Sessions.

One of the nation’s leading journalism programs is apologizing for partaking in standard reporting practice, lamenting that it may have “harmed” students by reporting on protests on campus last week.

In its coverage of a visit to the university by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and corresponding student protests, Northwestern University’s The Daily Northwestern apologized for “contribut[ing] to the harm students experienced.”

The paper issued an apology Sunday for several aspects of its reporting, emphasizing the fact that reporters posted several photos of the event that student protesters complained were “retraumatizing and invasive,” and noting that the photos have since been taken down. 

The paper noted that while it is the paper of record for the university, and wishes to convey the “gravity of the events that took place” during Sessions’ visit, it ultimately “decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.”

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”We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories,” reasoned the paper. “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 [sic] from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.”

The paper also apologized for standard methods used by its reporters to reach out to students for comment on the event and the protests. 

Reporters used the university directory to find contact information for students and texted them to ask if they would be interested in being interviewed about the story. In its apology, the university newspaper conceded that doing so was “an invasion of privacy,” and assured readers that it had “spoken with those reporters” about “the correct way to reach out to students for stories.”

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The apology explained why it removed the name of a student protester who had been quoted in its original coverage. 

”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,” the paper wrote. “We did not want to play a role in any disciplinary action that could be taken by the university.” 

The paper says it removed the student’s name out of “concerns for their privacy and safety,” because it is “covering a student body that can be very easily and directly hurt by the University” and as such “must operate differently than [sic] a professional publication in these circumstances.”

The paper promised to aim “to balance the need for information and the potential harm our news coverage may cause,” and attempt to “rebuild the trust that [it] weakened or lost last week.”

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