Home Opinion OPINION: The Daily Northwestern and its impact on ethical journalism

OPINION: The Daily Northwestern and its impact on ethical journalism

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Opinion editor Charlotte Caldwell, a sophomore studying journalism, argues that The Daily Northwestern made a mistake by retracting protest coverage, and their decision created a disparity between views on ethical journalism.

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.


The concept of ethical journalism as we know it is at war with an ever-increasing threat from people who want to switch the narrative around to appeal to their own interests.

The drama began to unfold after staff members of The Daily Northwestern posted photographs of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at a Northwestern University College Republicans event to Twitter. Some protesters felt that their privacy had been invaded, and the photos were taken down and an apology to the student body was quickly released.

In The Daily’s apology letter, the staff cited the part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that says: “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” There seems to be a disconnect between how the publication’s staff view respect and how the SPJ defines it.

When the editors at The Daily thought that their action after the event would be the correct response, they could not have been more wrong. Their actions caused a misrepresentation of information about the event to their readers and displayed a potential bias of the publication to select students. Both of these elements are far more unethical than treating sources with respect.

It is not disrespectful for a journalist to do his/her job and publish an unbiased report of a public event. Just publishing photographs or writing a story about a public event should not lose the respect of the publication’s readership.

The press has just as much of a right to be at these events as anyone else, and they are permitted to publish the content they obtain as long as it is not knowingly defamatory toward the other party — that is the whole point of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause.

Criticism usually makes anyone think twice about the content of their work, but that is just part of the job. When writing opinion, I stand by the statement that, “if you’re not making people mad, then you’re not doing your job right.” This should be true for all aspects of journalism, not just opinion pieces. Making people consider their own thoughts on topics should not be something to be ashamed of. Accurately informing the public, and allowing them to form their own opinions, should be the first priority.

The professional journalism world blew up after the redaction and apology, with most journalists agreeing with the statement that it was a “travesty and an embarrassment.” The Daily claims the reason they operate differently from a professional publication is because they “cover a student body that can be hurt by the university,” but other people can be just as easily hurt by news coverage from professional publications. Therefore, their argument for their retraction is not effective.

The fate of hard-hitting and investigative journalism depends on journalists being unapologetic about the news they report. If the student journalists at The Daily Northwestern do not learn and grow from this event, then they won’t get very far with their current mindset in the world of professional journalism.

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One Comment

  1. Katy A Schwartz

    June 26, 2020 at 11:43 AM

    Excellent article and congratulations!


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