In a story that will surely captivate Fox News pundits for at least the next week, the student newspaper at Northwestern released a statement about their own reporting, following a visit to campus by Jeff Sessions.
"We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced at the Sessions event, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward."https://t.co/RAjHSA349f
— The Daily Northwestern (@thedailynu) November 12, 2019
Essentially, the newspaper is apologizing for the way it covered the protest resulting from Sessions' presence. According to their statement, some students were upset that they were photographed, or contacted via the school directory, or texted for comments on the protest, mostly out of fear of retaliation by either the school administration, or the media at large, or really wrathful authority figures of any kind.
This, of course, comes on the heels of the recent debacle at Harvard, where reporters at the Harvard Crimson reached out to ICE for a comment after another protest, which is also a…fairly standard journalistic practice. While the concerns of these individual students might be valid, the entire field of news reporting should not be expected to compromise itself and over-cautiously cater to needs of every possible individual. This doesn't mean that journalists—student, or professional—should not try to approach situations with empathy and sensitivity, particularly when dealing with subjects who might be placed at risk by their reporting. In the case of the Daily Northwestern, the paper's backpedaling response may be a prime example of over-correcting for such sensitivities.
In fact, the Editor-in-Chief already acknowledged that:
/2 There's a lot that I could talk about, but first want to say that we covered the protest to its full extent and stand by our reporting. Our statement addressed some legitimate areas of growth we noticed in our reporting, but also over-corrected in others.
— Troy Closson (@troy_closson) November 12, 2019
His thread goes on, and it's quite thoughtful (particularly about the unique challenges of being the third black EIC of the newspaper in its 135 years of existence).
In other words…he's a fucking college student. They all are. And they're learning. Which is the point of going to college.
As a 30-something, it's easy for me to sit back and acknowledge, yeah, that was dumb, over-corrective statement to release. If I was any number of know-it-all pundits on Twitter, I would phrase it more like "LOL stupid college kids are ruining everything and this is the problem with liberal America and the future is doomed."
Many of these pundits are of the course the same ones who endless whinge about "cancel culture" (which—yes!—is also dumb). Some of them were up-in-arms about the poor Covington High School students whose lives were "destroyed" by the million dollar PR campaign scored them sympathetic slots on every daytime talk show.
But somehow, all of that lip-service towards empathy and nuance disappears whenever liberal college students do something embarrassing. Do college students take things too far sometimes? Sure! Hell, I used to be one of them! I probably did things that were overly sensitive, and things that were overly offensive—because I was still learning, and figuring out how the world worked, and where I fit into that. And if you look back over the last 50 years of US history, you'll find that most of those "overly-PC college kids" ultimately ended up being on the right side of history.
There's a large societal push right now for a greater emphasis on second chances and forgiveness. So why are college students always the exception?
Probably because Fox News knows it makes their advertising revenue, and the rest of our vindictive animal brains just go along with it.
Everyone tweeting about that bad Daily Northwestern editorial should also have to tweet out their biggest mistake as a college journalist.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) November 12, 2019
a number of journalists are mad about the Northwestern note in a way I have never really seen with several other issues, such the lack of diversity in their newsrooms, declines in public trust, or how reporting can further hurt underrepresented communities
— The best Thanksgiving is in October (@karenkho) November 12, 2019
Image via Wikimedia Commons