As journalists, it is our moral and civil obligation to report the truth, no matter how small or inconsequential. This profession used to be highly respected, with some of this country’s biggest trailblazers choosing it, such as Mark Twain, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
In the age of Trump, where truth has gone out the window, the perception of news media has drastically changed to that of a supposed national enemy, one where sensitive people can get easily hurt by basic practices.
Case in point: Nov. 10, Northwestern University’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, apologized for conducting simple journalistic practices and “contributing to the harm students experienced” after covering protests on the Northwestern campus against former Attorney General and the current Republican candidate in the Alabama senate race, Jeff Sessions.
Within days, journalists from the Washington Post and the New York Times and even Northwestern alumni came out against the Daily’s apology, saying that it was unnecessary to apologize for a common practice such as contacting people via phone numbers found in the directory to schedule future interviews and publishing photos of the protest, all in the name of privacy and better security for students in the protests.
In public, no one is legally entitled to their own image — photographers have the right to publish photos of people in public. Protest is rarely anonymous and usually indicates a sense of pride in attendance. Considering these factors, journalists covering a protest have no reason to blur faces or cherry-pick photos.
As reporters, we are well aware of making sure to report responsibly without putting people’s lives and welfares at stake, especially at a school such as Northwestern in the Chicago region, where activism has been well-documented, and, in 1970, four Vietnam War protestors were shot and killed by members of the National Guard on the campus of Kent State.
However, even taking all of these past events into account, that does not excuse the apology for basic journalistic practices. Both protests and student directories are matters of public record and, therefore, easily accessible information that journalists would be foolish not to use as a resource. To call it an invasion of privacy is utter nonsense, when, in reality, what it should be called is “good journalism.”