Responsible student journalism extends to covering difficult truths

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People attending public protests on campus shouldn’t be surprised if their photo appears in the student paper, especially if they’re at the center of the action.

After all, while student journalism can depict activist students in vulnerable or compromising positions, their role in the public eye is necessary to accurate reporting.

In intimate school communities, student journalists are under ever-increasing scrutiny when walking the line between empathetic news coverage and censorship.

These tensions between students and university journalists on campuses came to a head this month when a Northwestern University student called out the campus paper for ‘trauma porn’ when they used a photograph of her knocked to the ground at a protest.

But at very public protests, on or off campus, news coverage is inevitable. Attending an activist event of this nature should be accompanied with an understanding that your picture or actions might be displayed in an article. 

It’s the role of journalists to cover difficult news sensitively without watering it down or compromising the integrity of stories. Reporting requires presenting every side of the story. Otherwise, news isn’t objective and it can’t present you with the full scope of the issue.

Photography has a massive impact in framing those news stories and their importance. People say “a picture is worth a thousand words” for a reason. Little can capture a reader’s attention and draw them into the story like a meaningful photo.

That said, student and mainstream journalism share a history of leaving marginalized communities behind. Journalists must keep this front of mind when covering events that influence these marginalized groups, and strive to report on them responsibly.

These challenges facing the journalism community as a whole are only amplified on campuses. 

Fake news, political disengagement, and a lack of understanding of the media’s role can run rampant in student communities. Interactions with university journalists are often the first time post-secondary students see news outlets up close, which can understandably be intimidating.

That’s why empathetic journalism is so important—it’s vital that journalists responsibly represent events to avoid perpetuating existing systems of oppression.

But there’s a line between empathetic journalism and compromising journalistic integrity. 

News should reflect the truth of a story. That’s something story subjects must be prepared for. There are avenues at most media outlets to express an opinion, but the news section isn’t one of them. 

The work student journalism accomplishes is important. To do this work, they must remain objective and impartial in their reporting.

Student journalists have to prioritize responsible and empathetic news coverage on their campuses. In return, their communities should extend the same empathy when examining the role of these outlets. 

—Journal Editorial Board

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