Northwestern newspaper: Journalism is all about not triggering the right people, you know

Give these J-school stars credit for taking lessons from their professional betters. They just approached it a lot more honestly than, say, the networks who on one hand hailed whistleblowers while wreaking revenge on the person who revealed one of them had been too gutless to take on a super-rich pedophile predator.


At least Northwestern University’s Daily Northwestern actually did some reporting on protests outside a speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions … before its editors cravenly and profusely apologized for it (via Instapundit):

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.

Wait … what harm? One might not like Jeff Sessions, but did he go around beating students? Did he steal their cars? Did he drink their whiskey? The premise of this apology — that speech is harm — undermines the very existence of journalism itself. This isn’t just a heckler’s veto, it’s The Sacrament of the Holy Heckler’s Veto.

Having perverted the fundamental value on which both education and journalism rest, the remainder of this idiotic mea culpa could hardly be surprising. Among the lowlights of this unconditional surrender, the editors then explain that the first duty of journalists is deciding which true things aren’t safe to report:

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.


Well, the execs at ABC certainly agree with that, as do the execs at CBS. I sense great things ahead for these gutless wonders! It’s great to meet the next generation of reporters who don’t report, journalists who don’t journal, and most importantly editors who completely remove anything that doesn’t fit their own narrow worldview. The future is looking more and more like … the present, actually.

And then we have this stirring defense of the use of anonymous sources, even when the source freely gives his name:

We also wanted to explain our choice to remove the name of a protester initially quoted in our article on the protest. Any information The Daily provides about the protest can be used against the participating students — while some universities grant amnesty to student protesters, Northwestern does not.

So? If the protester told the reporter his/her name and didn’t ask to remain anonymous, maybe they wanted their name in the paper. At any rate, all that a reporter need do in this instance is ask permission. Once granted and not rescinded before publication, there is nothing at all unethical about naming sources.

And then there’s this juicy little turd in the middle:

Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions. 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.”


True, but that’s not where the Daily Northwestern failed. The original report sounds as if they treated them with respect, but now the editors want to trade respect for condescension. For instance, they’re treating the entire community as incapable of withstanding a public speech by a longtime public official, whose discussion was likely rather anodyne anyway. They then treated a source who named himself for publication as if he was an idiot who lacked any capacity to make that choice for himself. The editors then assumed that “marginalized communities” couldn’t even stand the mention of anything that dissents from their worldview. That may be many things, but it ain’t “respect.”

Robby Soave sums this up well at Reason:

Absent from the piece is any attempt to explain how covering the event, and taking pictures of it, undermined the physical safety of students. Reading between the lines, I gather that consuming news or seeing pictures relating to the event was deemed psychologically scarring by some activists in the marginalized community, and this is the harm the paper’s editors wish to avoid in the future. If so, reporters would be unable to cover any event that involves even the slightest public controversy.

Is this what students at the country’s most prestigious journalism school are learning these days? That self-censorship is the paper’s best practice if someone is offended by what’s happening in the world?

The Washington Post’s motto is “democracy dies in darkness.” I hope the newspaper doesn’t hire too many recent graduates of Northwestern’s journalism program: They sound way too eager to turn off the lights.


Well, they’re turning them off at Medill. What do they plan to cover in the future? The weather? Or is that too triggering as well? Does snow disproportionately impact marginalized communities too?

By the way, the comments on the editorial are well worth reading, and almost universally scathing. Many of them wonder if the editors are launching a satire of themselves. And the answer to that is absolutely, even if it’s unintentional. This one is the most cogent and perhaps even the least dispassionate:

As a working journalist of 44 years, I’m appalled at what I have read in this editorial. It was a public demonstration. Students chose to be there. A reporter asks questions, and publishes the answers. You ask someone’s name. If they don’t want to give it, so be it—they decline. If they give it, you can use it. Period. End of story. The larger question should always be about balance. But worrying about whether someone is going to get in trouble? That’s their choice for being there. (Some very courageous students in China, Egypt, numerous former Soviet bloc countries, and Hong Kong could fill you in on this).

Your job is to report on the event.

Precisely … if the point is actual journalism. They’re teaching other values at Northwestern’s J-school these days, it seems.

Update: My pal, colleague, and Northwestern alum Guy Benson has his own extensive thoughts about this shameless and craven pander:


This is, put simply, appalling.  Disseminating photographs taken during public protests of a public event is neither “re-traumatizing” (being in the same general vicinity as a public official, even if one strongly opposes his or her views, is not a “traumatic event”) nor ” invasive.”  It is journalism.  Students chose to participate in disruptive protests.  Journalists documented what happened.  If these students did not want to be photographed within this context, they could have chosen not to participate in the protests.  If they did not wish to be “re-traumatized” by what the photographs depict, they could have chosen not look at them.  A news outlet apologizing for publishing relevant, non-obscene, non-violent images from a news event, then retroactively censoring those images, can be described any number of ways.  It cannot be described as journalism.  The sentence in which the editors assert that ensuring that their “fellow students feel safe” is more important than documenting history or spreading accurate information is emotionalist, coddling, infantilizing activism.  It is not journalism.

He does have one constructive suggestion, however:


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