11/17/19 northwestern timeline

We’re writing to show our support for the staff of The Daily Northwestern, from one student newsroom to another.

Regardless of what Twitter may say, the travesty during last week’s Northwestern controversy wasn’t what the student journalists at The Daily Northwestern did in their coverage.

The travesty was the torrential backlash from alumni and professional journalists.

We don’t deny the students made mistakes. We don’t think they needed to apologize for doing their jobs. Perhaps they shouldn’t have removed the names and photos of the angry protestors, either. That’s a more debatable point. Including sources’ names in stories, looking up information in a public directory and using it to contact people who may have been involved in an incident, taking photos in a public space — it’s already been pointed out many times over that this is all standard practice in journalism, and has been for years.

Backing down from such basic principles of journalism is understandably alarming, especially in a political environment that derides members of the media at every turn.

But we can understand the stress and difficulty that comes with a decision like the one The Daily editors made. At the end of the day, their editorial and the editor-in-chief’s response on Twitter make clear that the decision was the result of a thoughtful, likely nerve-wracking process. It wasn’t made blindly or easily.

The stakes, in this political environment, in this increasingly digital culture, feel higher than ever. And that’s why we’re writing about this.

Our editorial board’s stance on this issue would have come out earlier. But like the Northwestern students — who also work at an independent Big Ten student newspaper — we had exams to study for, assignments to turn in, full class schedules to work around.

We’re not asking for pity. We’re just saying we understand what it’s like to have a million things on the brain, to be running late to class and worrying about how to cover breaking news or deal with that phone call from an angry source threatening a lawsuit. We understand what it’s like to be in charge of a news organization when you’re barely of legal age.

The editorial posted on Nov. 11 could have been a teachable moment for The Daily and other student newspapers that try every day to make the right decision and do good work. For those students who plan to go into journalism after they graduate. But the vitriol The Daily received on social media from alumni and professional journalists was the opposite of that.

The backlash was unnecessarily harsh and demeaning, the epitome of the toxic environment that develops on social media because of a lack of face-to-face interaction. Professional journalists are well aware of what it’s like to receive vicious, unhelpful commentary on social media. Their responses make it seem like they don’t remember what it’s like to be an up-and-coming reporter who makes mistakes.

The Daily staff should be held accountable, and critiques of their actions are warranted. But the amplified negative response from journalists with huge Twitter platforms was disproportionate to the amount of criticism The Daily deserved, and not an effective way to educate anyone on anything.

There’s a reason student newspapers are called student newspapers. They’re training grounds for budding journalists. In this field especially, it’s hard to learn through anything other than experience and making those mistakes. And if we can’t make mistakes here, where can we make them?

The editorial board is made up of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, campus editor, assistant campus editor, city editor, assistant sports editor, photo editor, assistant photo editor and graphics editor.

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