The world of student journalism is never uneventful, but for Loyola University’s Phoenix, the school’s student newspaper, it’s been a hell of a few weeks.
Amid student-led protests on and around campus against the University’s relationship with the Chicago Police Department, six students were arrested. As they were being taken into custody, the Phoenix, which had been reporting on the protests since they began, posted videos to their Twitter. Following the arrests, the reporters followed police back to the station to gain more information on the arrests.
What followed this reporting was a statement on Instagram by Our Streets LUC, the protest organizers, regarding the Loyola Phoenix and its coverage. In it, they claimed that they asked the Phoenix not to publish the videos because it created unnecessary trauma for protestors. They claimed their practices were aggressive and invasive.
Ironically, the organization stated it would no longer be conducting interviews with the Phoenix. Further, like the bastion of First Amendment adherents they are with this statement, they disabled comments, cutting the discourse there.
Seeing this as a student journalist who has had to make difficult decisions on publishing stories, it’s infuriating to watch this dangerous precedent be set – especially as it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how the media works and its responsibilities to the public.
To be perfectly clear, the job of the media is to seek out truth and report it, as explicitly stated in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. We focus on what’s important to our communities, which is typically restricted to campus communities for student journalists.
When students are displaying their First Amendment rights through assembly and speech, student journalists listen. When that right is challenged, you report on it. When students are quietly escorted away in police vehicles, you seek truth and report it for. Journalists owe that to your audience, who is sitting there concerned and with questions.
When the Phoenix published the arrest information, including the names of those arrested (which the Our Streets LUC also shared on Instagram, as is public knowledge through police reports), they frankly did exactly what any journalist should do. They did not let these protestors become faceless, but they shined light on their plight.
The truth isn’t always pretty, but when it isn’t, it’s all the more important to share it so that communities can reflect and act.
We experienced this first hand with our coverage of former football offensive coordinator Morris Berger and his comments about Adolf Hitler. We were confronted with removal requests, accused of ending Berger’s career and received national attention.
I would be lying if I didn’t stress about ensuring every detail was correct, with days where I would crash on my couch after sitting in the basement of Kirkhof for hours on end handling the breaking news that week. It was wading through emails and comments of distaste. It was the criticism and lack of understanding for journalistic values and practices that permeated cries against the Lanthorn.
We saw that in the case of the Phoenix here. From protest organizers to spectators, it seemed like the student journalists could do nothing right. I’ve been in those shoes. It’s not easy to handle, but something many of us will face as journalists.
But while a handful of comments dissuaded the Phoenix by repeating that this coverage perpetuated student trauma, the Phoenix’s coverage helped reignite a conversation that needed to be had regarding the protest as well as the relationship between CPD and the University.
It would be repetitive to say we’re facing unprecedented, tumultuous times as a country while we grapple a swath of national issues. It’s not going to be easy for reporters, who have been unabashedly challenged on their craft by parties who simply disagree with the truth they’re reporting.
We owe it to ourselves, as news producers and consumers alike, to support the media that goes the extra mile to get things right – especially student journalists, who will continue to shape the industry.