Daily Northwestern Apology

In this Friday, April 29, 2016, photo, people stand near the entrance gate to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern University's student newspaper is under fire. Their first critics came from within the campus as student activists questioned journalists’ coverage of protests. Within days, editors decided to write a statement apologizing but their editorial prompted a second round of criticism from journalists around the country starting Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune via AP)

As upcoming journalists, many of us are aware of the difficulties involved in the craft. Our work is expected to inform the public in an objective way, but when respecting the feelings of the public comes into play, things can get confusing. 

On Nov. 10, The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper at Northwestern University, released an apology addressing their coverage of a protest against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even though they followed standard procedures in contacting individuals and taking photos in a public space.

The students who were involved in the protest were at risk of being disciplined by Northwestern as the university does not grant amnesty at such events. For this reason, The Daily Northwestern was put in a situation where they had little control. Students pushed their concerns towards the newspaper instead of the true source of their problems: the university. Alongside this, many individuals felt uncomfortable with the coverage and felt they were reliving traumatic events. 

Unsurprisingly, Twitter blew up. The apology was criticized for focusing on saving face. It overlooked the work journalists do in order to get news to the public by inadvertently saying methods, like reaching out to students for comment, are wrong.

The apology might have undermined the importance of journalism, but the harsh responses against it overlook an issue many journalists face as well as the mistakes that actually harm the profession.

The article was written by college students, and it’s unreasonable to expect perfection all the time from people who typically make mistakes as they learn — especially when the reasonings behind the apology are understandable. 

The students at The Daily Northwestern were faced with a dilemma many professionals struggle with today. In the battle between informing the public and making sure the public feels respected, one must make the decision to prioritize one over the other. In this case, the newspaper took the apology a step too far. 

Journalism is meant to be jarring and the emotions created are meant to invoke change. The importance of a protest can’t be displayed without proper coverage. 

Northwestern is considered one of the best universities for journalism in the country, so the newspaper’s mistake was very  unexpected. However, respected professionals in the field have made harsher mistakes against the integrity of journalism. People within the profession shouldn’t focus on one student newspaper’s problem, they should work on preexisting problems in journalism.

Remember when The New York Times released an editorial against Sarah Palin that was based on a conspiracy theory? How about when Rolling Stone ran a story about a gang rape that turned out be false? These mistakes cost millions of dollars in lawsuits, but both publications are still held in high regard.  

We should look deeper into the problems in the industry today. Over the past few years, the credibility of news outlets have been suffering, and these cases certainly don’t help.

Right now, the public has trust issues. According to a report by the Gallup, only 41 percent of Americans trust what they see in mass media. Fewer people are believing in the news, and undermining the feelings of the public doesn’t seem like it will solve this.

The apology from Northwestern shouldn’t be viewed as something so negative. In reality, it represents a problem in journalism that might be one of the greatest factors killing the craft. Despite undermining the importance of objective reporting, the newspaper’s publication at least tried to connect with the community its supposed to help and inform in the first place.

Instead of focusing on the mistakes of beginners, maybe we should address what actually affects the importance of journalism: public opinion.

The Editorial Board consists of Zora Viel, Opinions Editor; Amanda Rosa, Editor-in Chief; Kelly Hayes, Digital Managing Editor; and Tranelle Maner, Engagement Managing Editor.