I used to have a framed copy of this quote on my office wall: “It’s a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
To tell the truth, I never did hold much to the belief that a newspaper should deliberately raise a lot of hell, but sometimes printing the unvarnished news does just that.
And I firmly believe in disseminating the news whether it be by the old-fashioned print and broadcast methods or the Internet.
The above quote is ascribed to Wilbur Fisk Storey who was publisher of the Chicago Times in 1861 when he reputedly made the statement.
Storey, who had a varied career in publishing in several states, was more of a manager than a journalist.
But apparently he was a hell raiser who, according to Wikipedia, “was independent in an extreme way, boasting that he had no friends and wanted none, and apparently doing his utmost to create enemies. His whole mind was bent on giving the news, though his idea of what constituted news frequently struck some as morbid and indecorous. His efforts yielded him a large fortune.”
Storey was a critic of President Abraham Lincoln even before Lincoln became president and through the Civil War. Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside shut down Storey’s newspaper for two days in 1863, but Lincoln quickly lifted the ban.
What brings Storey and his well-known quote to mind is a recent incident that indicates students at one of the country’s highly regarded journalism schools have a lot to learn.
So do some student protesters.
Editors at Northwestern University’s campus newspaper apologized for its coverage of student demonstrators, which they said was invasive and “hurt students.”
The publication, The Daily Northwestern, covers both the university and the surrounding community in Evanston, Ill. The apology addressed the paper’s coverage of an event that featured former Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a speaker and was attended by scores of protesters.
From what I read, the Daily Northwestern staff did exactly what it should have: covered the event including the protests.
But some of the demonstrators — who need to learn that when you publicly raise hell you may get some publicity for it — were outraged at the coverage.
The newspaper’s apology said that its editors were sorry that photographs of some protesters had been shared by reporters on social media and that reporters’ efforts to contact students for interviews using Northwestern's directory had been “an invasion of privacy.”
“Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions,” a column signed by the paper’s editor-in-chief and seven other editors said. “We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups.”
I doubt this is a life or career-changing event for anyone involved. We all make mistakes, especially journalists. When we do, we should apologize and try to correct them.
But I’m getting tired of hearing apologies for perceived mistakes in past actions that weren’t even mistakes at the time they were made.
Two political examples:
Vice President Joe Biden has apologized for his part in passing hard-line anti-crime bills in the 1990s. Maybe some of them were too harsh, but something needed to be done about crime rates at the time.
Same for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, now that he is entering the presidential race with Biden and numerous others, is apologizing for his support of “stop and frisk” policing when he was mayor.
Biden and Bloomberg, of course, are catering to the brown and black vote which is a significant part of the Democratic base.
Unlike many Mississippians, I am no fan of President Donald Trump, and I think he owes a plethora of apologies.
But he won’t apologize, whether he needs to or not, and that’s one thing a lot of people like about him.
Charlie Dunagin is the retired former editor of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He now lives in Oxford. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.