Finding Balance

Jeff Sessions visited Northwestern University to give a talk. There were protests. In one, students forced their way into the room and broke some things. Northwestern Daily, the school paper, reported on the event and interviewed some of the protestors and the reporters shared some of their photos.

Some people got mad. Said their privacy was violated. Said they could be kicked out of school now that they’ve been identified.

The editor apologized for publishing names and photographs of the protesting students. “Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups.” Said they would try harder to adhere to the SPJ Code of Ethics (a very concise and well-written guide btw.)

Other people got mad. Said that there was no need to apologize for doing what any journalist should do, journalism.

Into this fracas Charles Whitaker, the Dean of the School of Journalism, published a statement which starts out formally but wraps up with this wonderfully folksy appeal that strikes just the right balance, inviting participation amongst the students and telling the adults to respectfully let the kids work things out for themselves.

So to our student activists, I say let’s have a dialogue about what journalism is and what you might expect when you hold a protest in a public setting. Feel free to critique the coverage. That’s what The Daily’s opinion pages are for. Better yet, join the staff. The Daily is not and should not be the lone provenance of Medill students. I assure you, your input would be welcomed. But waging war on our students on social media—threatening them both physically and emotionally—is beyond the pale. Our community deserves a more civil level of discourse.

And to the swarm of alums and journalists who are outraged about The Daily editorial and have been equally rancorous in their condemnation of our students on social media, I say, give the young people a break. I know you feel that you were made of sterner stuff and would have the fortitude and courage of your conviction to fend off the campus critics. But you are not living with them through this firestorm, facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility that has been directed their way on weaponized social media. Don’t make judgments about them or their mettle until you’ve walked in their shoes. What they need at this moment is our support and the encouragement to stay the course.

Charles Whitaker, Dean, Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism

We are living in different times. The sooner we can let the kids work things out, the sooner they can teach us how things have changed.

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