JESSE SHARKEY

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Better to teach journalistic ethics by example

Why were faces blurred in this Facebook photo used in the Sun-Times story?
A routine news story became a viral controversy Sunday night after the editors of Northwestern University’s student-run newspaper issued an apology for interviewing and photographing campus protesters. Journalists from around the country quickly took to Twitter to attack the paper’s staff, saying they shouldn’t apologize for doing their job. -- WBEZ
It reads like a Who's Who in Chicago news reporting. I'm referring to the list of TV and newspaper reporters who have been lining up to teach a lesson to the students who staff the Daily Northwestern. The hubbub and overkill is about the paper's recent editorial apologizing for the way they covered the campus protest over the university's speaking invitation to arch segregationist and former Trump Atty. General, Jeff Sessions.

It was an unnecessary apology for interviewing and photographing campus protesters in a way that might put them in jeopardy. It's not the job of the press to protect the identities of protesters, say the critics and I generally agree. But I also applaud the student journalists for at least wrestling with the moral implications and unintended consequences of their actions and how their coverage might impact the lives and security of their fellow students. This, at a time when student activists, especially students of color, are often targeted for expulsion or arrest when they exercise their constitutional right to protest.

This kind of ethical and moral questioning goes to the very heart of democratic education and is something we rarely see among members of the corporate media.

There's no clearer example than the Sun-Times own coverage of a different sort of protest back in April when the racist FOP and other fascist and white nationalist groups marched in Chicago in an attempt to take down progressive States Attorney Kim Foxx and raise their profile in the city. While the article was a good exposure of some of the extremist groups involved, the Sun-Times editors also made a decision to blur the faces of some of the cops participating in the rally.

Who made the decision to blur the faces in the photo? Why wasn't there the same kind of critical response and ethical questioning from the professionals as there was around the Northwestern student editorial? I raised the question about the blurred faces at the time to a member of the Sun-Times editorial board who told me they would get back to me with an answer. Seven months later, I am still waiting for their explanation.

So until then, the pros who were silent back in April would do well to save the lecturing and teach by example.

This from Northwestern Daily's Editor Troy Closson.


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