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Journalism students at top school apologize for behaving like journalists

Editors of the student paper at one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the U.S., the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, are being criticized for apologizing to students for reporting on a protest.

The story: The Daily Northwestern published an editorial Sunday, signed by senior Troy Closson, the paper’s editor in chief, apologizing for supposed “mistakes” the paper made while reporting on two protests during former Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to campus.

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The editorial: “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,” the editorial wrote.

“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,” the editorial reads.

“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,” the editorial continued.

Closson, who is black, told The Washington Post that the fact he is a person of color has put him in a difficult position while running the paper and reporting on events.

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“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,” he told the Post.

“What we want to show marginalized students more than anything is the Daily is really listening to you,” Closson said.

Some reactions: Reporters from The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and other papers expressed their concern, surprising the paper’s editors.

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

“Someday the young editors of The Daily Northwestern will look back on this episode in their lives with regret and shame,” argues former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Feder.

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