Let’s face it: a journalist’s job is never easy. It requires patience, persistence and a good amount of thick skin to succeed in this business. For student journalists, it’s even more difficult to successfully implement these ideals, especially in a world where many institutions don’t take student journalism seriously.
In an age where journalists are increasingly being targeted and many institutions seeking to undermine them, it’s imperative that journalists hold themselves to a specific standard of reporting.
However, journalists, like everyone, aren’t perfect and must accept the mistakes they’ve made due to the high expectations that are thrusted upon them. In the case of Northwestern University’s recent controversy, the student reporters at The Daily Northwestern failed on numerous levels when reporting former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit. Given the Daily’s response to their own reporting, The Whit believes that it’s necessary to address this controversy as we are also a student publication that reports on issues concerning both Rowan students and Glassboro residents as a whole.
A journalist’s assignments require them to pursue stories that aren’t particularly positive looking towards the subjects their covering. A journalist’s job isn’t to be nice; it’s to inform the public. With the case of Northwestern, The Daily caved to public pressure in their coverage of the protests at the university.
One can certainly make the case that their reporting may have overstepped some privacy issues – but given that the protester’s Twitter handles and phone numbers were public in the student directory, it isn’t necessarily the reporters’ fault when the students were issuing statements, especially when many of the Northwestern students/protesters publicly demonstrated their disdain towards the former attorney general. If people are willing to publicly state how they feel, then it is certainly constitutes as being newsworthy.
In their editorial regarding their decision to pull their reporting and photos, The Daily stated that is was an issue regarding the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
“Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions,” said The Daily. “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.’
Certainly Northwestern can make their case through the SPJ Code of Ethics. Yet the SPJ Code of Ethics also states, “Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.”
As a result, they’ve chosen not to stand by their work and have instead chosen to supersede that responsibility to the public. Journalists should always try to inform the public, but never be swayed by them.
Furthermore, in an effort to minimize harm, as the SPJ Code of Ethics also states, they did the most harm to themselves and consequently student journalism as a whole. That’s not to say that student journalism is going to suffer. Nearly a month ago a student from Arizona State beat every news outlet in the country during President Trump’s involvement with Ukraine. As well as, The Whit’s coverage of the student protests regarding the anti-gay, and anti-Muslim hate group that visited Rowan last semester.
Being a journalist, especially a student journalist, is never easy. The staff at The Daily Northwestern may have had their reasons for issuing their editorial, but had some like that were to happen at Rowan, which has before, we as journalists have a duty to inform the public. No matter how much it might “traumatize” people. The failure of Northwestern is a blight on student journalism and should be treated as such.
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