CHICAGO (CBS) — The dean of Northwestern’s prestigious journalism school issued a statement regarding the controversy surrounding a student newspaper’s apology.
The issue stems from the Daily Northwestern’s coverage of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was speaking at the Evanston campus at an event for the Northwestern University College Republicans.
There were protests regarding Sessions speaking and a reporter and photographer were sent to cover it. But some who were protesting were upset that their pictures were shown at the demonstration. For the story, a reporter went through the student directory to find people willing to talk about their participation.
The images were seen throughout social media and people were upset with the paper. The Daily Northwestern issued an apology but many said no apology was necessary, in part because the demonstrators were protesting publicly.
In an editorial dated November 10, the Daily Northwestern stated, in part:
Some students also voiced concern about the methods that Daily staffers used to reach out to them. Some of our staff members who were covering the event used Northwestern’s directory to obtain phone numbers for students beforehand and texted them to ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed.
On Tuesday, Dean Charles Whitaker, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications issued his own statement about the controversy. Whitaker defended the students covering the Sessions event and said he was “deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the “sin” of doing journalism.”
Whitaker said that while he understood why the newspaper felt obligated to issue an apology, he said they were “beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared. I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would affect a measure of community healing.”
The dean added that it’s been a difficult time for the journalism students at the school. He asked that the student activists “have a dialogue about what journalism is and what you might expect when you hold a protest in a public setting. Feel free to critique the coverage. That’s what The Daily’s opinion pages are for. Better yet, join the staff.”
“The Daily is not and should not be the lone provenance of Medill students. I assure you, your input would be welcomed. But waging war on our students on social media — threatening them both physically and emotionally — is beyond the pale. Our community deserves a more civil level of discourse,” added Whitaker.