Addressing The Daily’s coverage of Sessions protests

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Last week, The Daily was not the paper that Northwestern students deserve.

On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event. The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.

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. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. 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 from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.

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.

We also wanted to explain our choice to remove the name of a protester initially quoted in our article on the protest. 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. We did not want to play a role in any disciplinary action that could be taken by the University. Some students have also faced threats for being sources in articles published by other outlets. When the source in our article requested their name be removed, we chose to respect the student’s concerns for their privacy and safety. As a campus newspaper covering a student body that can be very easily and directly hurt by the University, we must operate differently than a professional publication in these circumstances.

Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions. We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups. 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. 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.

We hope we can rebuild trust that we weakened or lost last week. We understand that this will not be easy, but we are ready to undertake the reform and reflection necessary to become a better paper. We also welcome any feedback you have about our reporting — that night or otherwise. The feedback that we have already received either directly or via social media has been incredibly helpful for us, and we are working to implement it immediately.

Through our coverage, we know Northwestern students to be passionate, thoughtful and just. Every day, we strive to encapsulate all that you are and all that you deserve.

Troy Closson, Editor in Chief
Catherine Henderson, Print Managing Editor
Kristina Karisch, Print Managing Editor
Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor
Christopher Vazquez, Digital Managing Editor and Diversity and Inclusion Chair
Sneha Dey, Diversity and Inclusion Chair and Web Editor
Evan Robinson-Johnson, Photo Editor
Amy Li, Campus Editor

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