Student newspapers find themselves in constant conflict to what to publish 

It is important to remember the purpose of student journalism and the opportunities it provides for students and audiences alike. 


When the opportunity to report on a controversial topic arises for a journalist, it can be a two-way street in terms of how they choose to approach it. 

Deciding not to write about a touchy event can seem like a safe route to avoid harsh criticism. Writing about controversial topics—even if they are worthwhile in the public dialogue—can sometimes be the catalyst for disaster. 

The staff of The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, recently faced this dilemma and the consequences of a choice gone wrong. 

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus, some students were compelled to protest this event because of his Republican views. When the protest started to heat up and police officers had to stop some students, The Daily Northwestern sent reporters to cover the event, knowing that students would want to know the full story. A routine process for the newspaper is to attend events, get interviews and write a comprehensive story. 

Despite the reporters doing their job ethically, the choice to publish the story and photos of protesters on Twitter caused discomfort among student activists and led the Daily to issue an apology addressing the issue. When the apology faced backlash, Troy Closson, editor-in-chief for the paper, took to Twitter to issue a follow-up. 

“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,” Closson tweeted. “Our statement addressed some legitimate areas of growth we noticed in our reporting but also over-corrected in others.” 

The apology, which seemed to be more trouble than it was worth, seemed unnecessary due to the nature of the reporting. But as student journalists, we understand. 

Pulliam School of Journalism Director John Krull, also understands both sides of the apology. As publisher of The Franklin and a professional journalist himself, he said the students at Northwestern were not wrong to cover the story as they did. 

“I don’t think the apology was a good idea, but I applaud the fact that these young college journalists were wrestling with what is the right thing to do here,” Krull said. “The Daily Northwestern had every legal right to do what they did. Nothing they did was illegal or unethical.”

Reporters for the Daily used a phone book to text student protesters and ask for interviews. The reporters did their jobs ethically, but it caused students to feel uncomfortable. Reporters from The Franklin use a similar search method on MyFC to find student’s emails and other information. It’s one of few ways we can complete our tasks as journalists and get ahold of sources. 

Part of the job of a journalist is cold- calling people who we may have never talked to before we started the assignment. 

Professional journalists from all over the nation have commented about the Daily’s apology, calling it “unnecessary” and “inexperienced.” 

Eric Bradner, a national political reporter for CNN and a Franklin College alumnus, said he believes the apology was an example of a valuable learning experience for student journalists. 

“There’s no better place to make mistakes and learn from them than college,” he said. “When you mess up, there are going to be consequences. The Northwestern students took this in stride and came out from it in a thoughtful place that prepares them for the future and challenges like this.” 

Readers need to know that journalism has a code of ethics, which is a set of guidelines outlining proper and fair reporting. To a college journalist, this is something they know very well, so explaining these guidelines to future interviewees could be beneficial to prevent misunderstandings. 

We understand why The Daily Northwestern felt the need to apologize.

The Franklin is a student-led paper that is in charge of providing truthful stories. Our challenge is that we are still students learning about this career. We are in college because we want to be better. 

Our staff often debates whether a story is worth the trouble. We weigh our options and decide what to do next. The Daily Northwestern suffered the consequences of running a story. Although they are students and not paid professionals, they did their best to handle it as professionally as they could. 

The Franklin reached out to the editorial staff of The Daily Northwestern by email and phone, but there was no response received in time for this editorial. 

This is a reminder to our school community that The Franklin cares about the college. We try our best to carefully monitor and edit each story before the final print editions are out on newsstands. 

But when mistakes happen, we can learn from them, chart a path to improve and discuss next steps as a community. 

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