Guide student journalists, not scold them

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Vitriol directed at the Daily Northwestern by professional journalists is nowhere near as productive as constructive criticism.

Illustration of journalists surrounded by angry people
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot more to student journalism than what meets the eye.

This past week, after publishing coverage of Jeff Sessions’ controversial appearance on campus, the Daily Northwestern — the independent student newspaper at Northwestern University — was hit with a kind of double backlash: first from activists whose names were published in the Daily’s reporting, then later from some professional journalists who decried the Daily’s decision to publish an editorial apologizing for publicizing activists’ names and photos. 

Considering that we at The Daily Californian have endured our fair share of protests and contentious campus events, we empathize with the Daily Northwestern. As student journalists, we’re dedicated to our craft, which includes providing timely, accurate information to the public while remaining well within the limits of what could be construed as libel or slander. 

Do we unanimously agree with everything the paper did in this situation? No. But do we think they opened up an important conversation? Absolutely. Situations arise in which the notion of unbiased reporting conflicts with an inherent desire to fairly represent all communities, especially people from marginalized groups, hence the valid mistrust between these communities and newsrooms. The Daily Northwestern found itself faced with this conundrum, and after enduring apparently incessant vitriol online, several editors convened to publish an editorial addressing how their coverage might have harmed student activists on the pursuit of truth. 

The Daily Cal — as well as every student newsroom, every big-shot newspaper, every single journalist — has failed in some way. And at times, we’ve been humbled by the immediate feedback we’ve received in response to some of our more contentious content. But the backlash that some professional journalists have spewed on Twitter has been neither introspective nor constructive.  

Frankly, this situation presents an opportunity to talk more about how we report on vulnerable populations. Our generation has the responsibility to discuss fair and equitable representation of communities in our reporting, which is a discussion that needs to involve people who have been reporting for years — you know, professional journalists. 

It seems as if, however, these journalists have lost sight of what it was like to be a student and an aspiring journalist. The lack of resources, time, experience and mental stability in high-stress situations compared to seasoned newsrooms would hopefully be enough for our so-called mentors to pitch in real advice as opposed to whatever has been happening on Twitter. 

Without a doubt, student journalism is the best training ground for working in the journalism industry. The practices we imbibe and the skills we hone in our campus newsrooms are what we carry into the industry. Rather than lambasting student journalists for their coverage decisions on Twitter, then, let’s have this conversation. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.