Much as conservatives blast the news media for a supposed liberal bias, the sting of press scrutiny very often draws liberal ire as well. News coverage is a sword that slices both ways, which is why we now turn our attention to the overly sensitive, politically correct, liberal obsessiveness that consumes American university campuses. This tendency manifests itself most obviously when campus protests erupt, and participants decide they don’t like the news coverage that ensues.
At Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, students organized a protest against a recent appearance by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Protesters tried to storm a back entrance to a packed lecture hall, where they were confronted by police. Colin Boyle, a photographer for the campus newspaper, did exactly what any journalist should do under such circumstances: He took photos and attempted to document it for the public record, later posting photos on Twitter.
But one of the student protesters, Ying Dai, was upset at being photographed, as if she thought her privacy had been violated while joining a public protest.
Her discomfort, expressed via Twitter, yielded an embarrassing, wholesale capitulation by the campus newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. Boyle took down the photo. The newspaper’s editors issued an apology for having posted protest photos and for accessing a school directory to help them gain contact information for the students involved.
There was never cause to take down the photos. Although Northwestern is a private university, Sessions’ appearance was a public event. The swarm of protesters, who overwhelmed campus police, was absolutely newsworthy. The newspaper’s staffers did what good journalists do: They used whatever resources they had at their disposal to do their jobs. If students didn’t want to comment, they simply had to decline or hang up the phone.
In this teachable moment, The Daily Northwestern badly failed its readers and the student body by allowing basic journalistic values to be compromised.
This is hardly the first time campus events have prompted attempts by protesters to dictate how they are covered. Recall the 2015 anti-racism protests at the University of Missouri during which Assistant Prof. Melissa Click shouted, “I need some muscle over here,” to stop a campus journalist from taking video of a public area the protesters had cordoned off. The subsequent termination of Click, who held a courtesy appointment to the university’s famed journalism school, was well deserved.
Very often, campus newspapers are staffed from the general student population and do not necessarily include journalism students. They nevertheless need to understand some basic tenets of the profession and the awesome responsibility reporters undertake. This job doesn’t exist for newsmakers’ comfort. We report the news regardless of whether they’re happy with it. The subjects of news coverage must never be allowed to direct that coverage or decide how news events are displayed.
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