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Prestigious college paper apologizes after its reporters posted 'retraumatizing and invasive' photos of students publicly protesting Jeff Sessions' speech on campus

Professional journalists blasted the Daily Northwestern's conciliatory op-ed

Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Northwestern University's prestigious campus newspaper apologized for having "actively harmed" students through its coverage of a protest surrounding former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Nov. 5 speech on campus.

The Sunday op-ed signed by Daily Northwestern staffers said "nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry."

What is the paper sorry about?

The paper said that "one area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters' Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down."

In addition:

"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. We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy, and we've spoken with those reporters — along with our entire staff — about the correct way to reach out to students for stories."

The paper's editor in chief, Troy Closson, on Tuesday morning didn't immediately respond to TheBlaze's request for comment on exactly what constitutes a correct procedure for contacting students for stories.

The op-ed also said it removed the name of a protester initially quoted in the paper because Northwestern's administration can punish protesting students: "We did not want to play a role in any disciplinary action that could be taken by the university."

"As students at Northwestern, we are also grappling with the impact of Tuesday's events, and as a student organization, we are figuring out how we can support each other and our communities through distressing experiences that arise on campus," the op-ed noted. "We will also work to balance the need for information and the potential harm our news coverage may cause. We met as a staff Sunday to discuss where our reporting and empathy fell short last week, and we are actively re-examining how we'll address similar situations in the future and how to best move forward."

Closson — a senior with the school's prestigious Medill School of Journalism — told the Washington Post, "Something we thought about a lot this week is how challenging it is to be student journalists who are reporting about other students. We're thinking about what our role looks like specifically as student journalists who have to cover this, but at the same time we have to go to class with those students tomorrow."

Charles Whitaker, dean of Medill, on Tuesday morning didn't immediately respond to TheBlaze's request for comment on the Daily Northwestern's apologetic op-ed.

Backlash

The New York Times used a sarcastic headline for its story on the college paper's op-ed: "The Daily Northwestern apologizes to student protesters for reporting."

Image source: Twitter

A number of professional journalists took the paper to task as well:

"There's a lot to comment on in this Daily Northwestern editorial," the Chicago Tribune's Gregory Pratt tweeted, "but apologizing for contacting people to ask if they're willing to be interviewed? Regretting that you photographed protesters protesting in public?"

The Washington Post's Amy Brittain tweeted: "This is called reporting. Why are you apologizing for it? Mind-boggling to read this editorial from student journalists who attend one of the top schools for journalism in the country."

"I don't doubt the sincerity of these student journalists," Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times tweeted. "But I worry that if journalists keep ceding ground on when it is acceptable to do basic reporting, we eventually play into the hands of powerful interests who would love to criminalize journalism."

"In appalling ignorance of the basics of news-gathering, a Northwestern student newspaper apologies for taking photos of students protesting Jeff Sessions and for using the student directory to text students to ask if they wanted to be interviewed," Byron Tau, who covers the Department of Justice and FBI for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted.

And Samuel King — a Northwestern alum who reports for Austin's National Public Radio station KUT.org — posted this telling tweet:

Image source: Twitter

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