July 10, 2023

Some of the best reporting anywhere over the weekend was published by a college newspaper.

The Daily Northwestern — the student newspaper of Northwestern University — and reporters Nicole Markus, Alyce Brown, Cole Reynolds, and Divya Bhardwaj published a disturbing story about the university’s football program: “Former NU football player details hazing allegations after coach suspension.”

A former player told The Daily Northwestern about hazing within the program that included coerced sexual acts. They spoke to another player who confirmed the story. In addition, the player said head coach Pat Fitzgerald might have known about the hazing. Fitzgerald was originally serving a two-week suspension after a whistleblower prompted a six-month investigation by the school.

But following the story by The Daily Northwestern, the university’s president, Michael Schill, sent a letter to the Northwestern community that said he “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction.”

The Daily Northwestern goes into alarming detail about the kind of hazing that might have gone on. The unnamed player said, “… it’s just absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane behavior.”

The player also said, “It’s done under this smoke and mirror of ‘oh, this is team bonding,’ but no, this is sexual abuse.”

Read the story, but be warned, you might find some of the allegations quite upsetting.

The reporters received praise for their work on Twitter.

Michael David Smith, managing editor of Pro Football Talk, tweeted, “When you’re a college kid at the student newspaper, you know you’re going to face blowback if you report something critical of the football team. I’m so impressed with these Northwestern student journalists for having the integrity to report this story.”

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, tweeted, “So proud of our @MedillSchool @MedillSports students and their work at @thedailynu.”

In his column for the Chicago Sun-Times, sports columnist Rick Morrissey wrote, “If everything indeed starts with the coach, then NU needs to fire Fitzgerald. If the school really does put the well-being of its students first, then it needs to find someone else to run the football program. And if the university’s trustees are paying attention to this very public mess, they might want to take a hard look at the man handing out two-week vacations that are masquerading as suspensions.”

Morrissey also pointed out, “It took the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, to bring to light what the school chose not to after a six-month investigation that it had authorized.”

For the record, a letter signed by “The ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team” wrote that they “do not tolerate” hazing and that the “allegations brought forth are exaggerated and twisted.” They called them “fabrications.” They also showed their support for Fitzgerald.

A grim milestone

Friday marked 100 days of detainment for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held by Russia on espionage charges. The U.S. government and the Journal deny those charges and the U.S. considers Gershkovich to be “wrongfully detained.”

The Journal recognized the 100 days with a wraparound section on the front section of the print edition. The front page of the wrap was a full-page photo of Gershkovich with the words: “100 Days. #IStandWithEvan.”

In a caption under the photo, the Journal wrote about his detainment and said, “He has committed no crime, only journalism.”

The Journal’s Shelby Holliday spoke with Gershkovich’s parents for this video story on what the past three months have been like.

Sport of the Times

The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Bruell has a profile about David Perpich. He is a cousin of New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and the publisher of The Athletic — the sports site the Times bought in January 2022 for $550 million. Her story: “He Pushed the New York Times to Buy Wordle. Now He Has to Make Sports Work.”

It includes a couple of references about what The Athletic’s presence means to the actual sports section of the Times. Bruell wrote, “Some Times sports staffers are worried that their group will be folded into the Athletic, Times employees said. At a recent meeting to discuss a new role for a senior sports editor, executive editor Joe Kahn declined to commit to keeping the Sports desk the same size, according to attendees.”

Then, on Sunday, Washington Post sports media reporter Ben Strauss wrote, “New York Times sports staff demands answers amid turmoil with the Athletic.”

According to Strauss, 28 members of the Times’ sports staff sent a letter addressed to Kahn and Sulzberger.

The letter said, “For 18 months, The New York Times has left its sports staff twisting in the wind. We have watched the company buy a competitor with hundreds of sportswriters and weigh decisions about the future of sports coverage at The Times without, in many instances, so much as a courtesy call, let alone any solicitation of our expertise. The company’s efforts appear to be coming to a head, with The Times pursuing a full-scale technological migration of The Athletic to The Times’s platforms and the threat that the company will effectively shut down our section.”

The Times gave Strauss a statement that said, “We’ve had conversations since we bought The Athletic about what it means for the future of our sports coverage. We’ve rolled out some changes, such as including Athletic stories on the home screen. As with any coverage area, we have been closely evaluating how to deliver the best possible sports journalism for our growing audience. We’ll update when we have more to share.”

Strauss wrote, “Several current and former Times sports staffers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they feared some sports jobs could be eliminated, potentially forcing them to move either to the Athletic or to other coverage areas at the Times.”

Meanwhile, it was just recently that The Athletic laid off 20 reporters — or about 4% of its staff.

Strauss wrote, “Several current and former Athletic staffers have wondered in recent days if there may be more cuts coming at some point, given that the outlet may need fewer reporters to carry out its mission of less expansive coverage.”

My two cents

I spent 30-plus years of my career as a sportswriter, and continue to be an avid sports fan and sports media consumer. I subscribe to The Athletic and enjoy it very much. It has plenty of talented writers and reporters. It is one of my go-to sites every day.

But I also read the Times sports section daily. The reporting and writing there is elite. Let me repeat: elite.

It would be a real shame if Times leaders decided to alter the current Times’ sports section by cutting staff and/or integrating the coverage into The Athletic. They are two distinct sports outlets.

In a perfect world, both The Athletic and Times sports section would co-exist, each doing what they do best. For the Times, that’s deeply reported stories, superb writing and topics that you aren’t going to find routinely on most sports and/or news websites.

I’ve always felt that the Times could boost its metabolism a tad with more up-to-the-minute analysis on breaking news stories and hot trends. And a few more stories, not fewer. You can’t do that by subtracting staff.

It’s a great section.

Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: CBS News)

Hot type

More resources for journalists

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

More News

Back to News