Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

42° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Students Publishing Company: We will intercede with State’s Attorney on charges

To the Northwestern Community:

Just a few days ago, most of you had no idea of our existence.  Now, after a change.org petition, letters to the editors of campus publications, an editorial, board statements, social media posts, calls for boycotts, more letters to the board, and now local and national news media coverage, I thought it might be good to introduce the Students Publishing Company Board of Directors.

We are part of the Northwestern community – 13 volunteers who are students, faculty, staff members and alumni – including four former editors-in-chief of The Daily Northwestern.  Our primary role is to manage the business of the paper, including significant fundraising, and select editors-in-chief who have the talent and wits to run a thriving, independent newsroom.  Each board member loves what we do as the collective nonprofit “publisher” of what we consider the best student newspaper in the country.

We owe you a fact-filled explanation of what’s been happening since several hundred copies of The Daily were tampered with on October 25, 2023.  And we need to express our regret for the unintended consequences of our actions since that tampering, not the least of which has been the harm to the students criminally charged in connection with the incident, as well as the distress over it in our own newsroom.

You’ve probably already heard about the tampering, which involved wrapping several hundred copies of The Daily Northwestern with a fake front page designed to closely resemble the paper, down to the look of the top “nameplate,” as well as the layout and the fonts used.  Except the nameplate read “The Northwestern Daily,” and the content was not something you would ever see in the actual Daily.

Whatever you might think about the content of that fake front page – and many of us were offended by it – the disturbing words and images weren’t the reason we decided to take action.  It was the use of The Daily as a vehicle to distribute the fake front page that upset us.  This co-opting of the work of our student journalists and the potential damage to the reputation of the paper built upon more than a century of hard work was the problem.  To us, it seemed no different from someone hacking into our website to post their own content and replace ours.

So, we reported the tampering to Northwestern Police, thinking this was our best option.  Our intent was to protect the student journalists at The Daily, as well as the paper’s reputation.  We wanted to show how much we valued our students’ efforts and our front page, the manifestation of the best of our journalists’ reporting efforts.  

Once we informed the NU Police of the incident, their investigation identified two people who were possibly involved.  At that point, we were asked to sign “complaints” against those two individuals, presumably as part of the investigation.  We didn’t understand how these complaints started a process that we could no longer control – and something we never intended.  As it turned out, we were never informed by the State’s Attorney’s Office that these people would be charged – and we were not asked whether we even wanted them to be charged.  We heard nothing further on the investigation from NU Police despite reaching out to them.  Eventually, we received some second-hand information – now clearly incorrect – that the two individuals were not NU students.  Otherwise, we didn’t know anything about them.  

The charge the two people face is misdemeanor-level “theft of advertising.” They apparently weren’t arrested but instead received notice of the charge in the form of a written citation (like a ticket but worse).  However, one citation apparently was delivered in person by uniformed police, which we’re sure was an unpleasant, if not downright frightful, experience. For someone convicted of theft of advertising, the penalties can be as harsh as some jail time, a substantial fine (for a student), or both.  It also can mean a permanent mark on someone’s “record” that follows them for many years, if not forever.  Illinois allows for expungement of records for these types of crimes after a certain amount of time, but there’s no guarantee.

It’s only been in the last four days that we learned more information about the people charged:  that they are students; that they are Black. Some may disagree, but these facts matter to us.

We have been listening to our fellow community members, and they have been heard.  We understand and recognize why we need to take action.  We hope to heal the hurt and repair the relationships that have been damaged and frayed by our unintentional foray into the criminal justice system.

So, what are we doing? As of yesterday, we have hired legal counsel to work on our behalf with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to pursue a resolution to this matter that results in nothing punitive or permanent.  Since we are not a party to the case, we lack any authority to ensure this resolution, but we intend to use all available resources in good faith to try to get there.  

As a board and as individual members of the Northwestern community, we don’t wish to cause harm to other members of this community.  We hope that everyone else in our community feels the same.

We have been reminded of Students Publishing Company’s primary mission:  “To enhance, implement and further the educational and charitable goals of Northwestern University … and to serve the interests of the Northwestern University community.”  We are reaffirming our commitment to this mission.

On behalf of the Board of Directors,

John Byrne

Medill 1990, Daily Northwestern Editor-in-Chief 1989-90

Chair, Students Publishing Company Board of Directors

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