The Student Press Law Center is proud to honor The Daily Northwestern and its reporters Nicole Markus, Alyce Brown, Cole Reynolds and Divya Bhardwaj with the 2023 Reveille Seven Courage in Student Journalism Award, as well as Loyola University student journalist Kloe Witt as a finalist for the award.
The Daily Northwestern team is recognized for their outstanding reporting over the summer uncovering the extent of hazing, sexual assault and racism on Northwestern University’s football team. Their work led to substantive changes to the football program –– including Northwestern’s decision to fire its longtime coach –– and sparked national discourse highlighting the importance of student journalism.
SPLC and the Associated Collegiate Press announced the honor Oct. 30 at the Fall National College Media Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University sponsors the $2,000 prize for the award, which is given annually to student journalists who have demonstrated exceptional determination and support for student press freedom, despite resistance or difficult circumstances.
“There is no better example than The Daily Northwestern of the essential role of student journalists and the courage it takes to tell stories that many on campus, including the administration, want to keep hidden,” SPLC Executive Director Gary Green said. “Nicole, Alyce, Cole and Divya are part of the campus community and faced relentless resistance and intimidation for investigating a story that upended the beloved football program and its revered coach. Because of their reporting, the university was forced to end a culture of hazing that had infected its football team for years.”
Read their series of stories:
Their reporting followed on the heels of a July 7 announcement from Northwestern that an outside investigation found evidence of hazing within the football team and that it had suspended Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks. In doing so, the university released a summary of the investigation but not its full findings.
Over the next few days, The Daily Northwestern team published a series of explosive stories, based on multiple interviews with former team members, with explicit details on incidents of racism, sexual assault and other hazing that went well beyond what the university had shared publicly.
Because of that reporting and the resulting increased scrutiny, the university reversed course on July 11 and fired Fitzgerald. Northwestern also implemented additional anti-hazing training and hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an internal review of its athletic program. Beyond campus, the Illinois legislature and others across the nation have since proposed legislation to protect student-athletes from similar conduct.
Markus, Brown, Reynolds and Bhardwaj knew senior administrators wanted to move past the hazing allegations and that there would be immense pushback from the community for bringing negative attention to the football program. Indeed, they received threats leading to concerns about their safety. But they pursued the story anyway.
“I’m so humbled and excited to be accepting this award on behalf of The Daily Northwestern,” Nicole Markus said via video. “Reporting on a story of this magnitude came with its challenges, especially because the team of reporters knew how big of an impact it would have on our campus community. But I’m so proud of everybody who worked incredibly hard on this story. I’d also like to thank the Student Press Law Center for enabling reporters to do important work like this.”
Their work, along with other significant student reporting in recent months, brought renewed focus nationally to the importance of student journalism, including in the Associated Press, ESPN, USA Today, The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated. Journalists across the country also shared their support of The Daily Northwestern on social media and called for renewed focus on the importance and future of student journalism.
“Student journalists keep punching above their weight and breaking some of the biggest stories of the year,” Green said. “We need student journalists to dig where others are not looking and SPLC is steadfast in our commitment to help them continue this critical work.”
SPLC also recognizes Loyola University Maroon student journalist Kloe Witt as a Courage award finalist for her bravery in fighting student disciplinary action for her routine newsgathering the university said violated its Student Code of Conduct.
In March, while covering a story for The Maroon about an arrest made in Loyola’s dining hall, Witt went to the university police station seeking information. She identified herself as a reporter and visibly recorded the conversation on her phone. University police later filed disciplinary charges against her, and Witt was eventually found responsible for unauthorized recording in violation of the Code.
Witt refused to back down, appealing the decision and calling SPLC and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression for help. After her story gained public traction, the interim university president got involved. He dropped the charges against Witt, cleared her record, reevaluated the university’s disciplinary procedures and publicly apologized to The Maroon for the incident.
Whitt and The Maroon had maintained throughout that the recording was legal and a normal journalistic practice to help ensure accuracy. The university’s interim president said he would work with The Maroon and others on campus to ensure the Student Code of Conduct did not conflict with those practices moving forward.
“I am glad that the university has decided to change their mind,” Witt told The Maroon afterward. “I’m grateful for all of the support I’ve received and the encouragement from people not only in New Orleans, but around the country. It’s a shame this had to happen in the first place.”
About the Award
This year’s recipients were selected by an advisory committee of journalists and journalism educators, including Ellen Austin, retired high school journalism teacher and adjunct faculty at Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism; Steven Holmes, former executive director of standards and practices at CNN and SPLC board member; and Gary Green, SPLC executive director.
The Reveille Seven Courage in Student Journalism Award recognizes student journalists who have demonstrated exceptional determination and support for student press freedom, despite resistance or difficult circumstances. The award honors the legacy of the Reveille Seven, a group of Louisiana State University student journalists who were expelled in 1934 after publishing criticism of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. SPLC presents the honor in partnership with the Associated Collegiate Press and the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, which provides a $2,000 prize to the winner. Prior winners dating back to 2001 can be found here.
The Student Press Law Center (splc.org, @splc) is an independent, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit working at the intersection of education, journalism and the law to promote, support and defend the rights of student journalists and their advisers at the high school and college levels. Based in Washington, D.C., the Student Press Law Center provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.