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August 08 2012


College Media Year in Review: 9/11 Anniversary, Paterno, RGIII, Sex & Satire

As student journalists across the country gear up for another academic year, it's worth looking at the most impressive feats of the last year in college media.

Over the past academic year, student news teams put together a number of editions -- in advance and spur-of-the-moment on deadline -- geared toward remembering or highlighting major anniversaries, athletic achievements, campus icons, big events, and even s-e-x.

They appeared as full-blown print issues, pullout sections, digital-only PDFs, digital-print hybrids, and temporary special websites.

Below is a sampling of the most high-profile, controversial, editorially impressive, and aesthetically innovative 2011-2012 student press special editions. They are listed in order of their publication or posting, beginning last fall and stretching to late June.

9/11 10th Anniversary Issues

Near the start of fall semester, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, many student newspapers published special editions or sections. The papers used the milestone as motivation for a look at how the country and their campuses have changed. They also provided glimpses into the lives of current students, who comprise what is being called the 9/11 Generation.




As Indiana Daily Student editor-in-chief MaryJane Slaby wrote to readers on the front page of the first of two related IDS special issues, "We are Generation 9/11. For the last 10 years, 9/11 has shaped our lives and the world around us. Most students on campus have lived half or more of their lives since that day in 2001 and barely remember life and world events before it."

Iowa State Daily Football Edition

Last November, the Iowa State University Cyclones staged a double-overtime, come-from-behind win against the then-undefeated, second-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. The historic victory included a narrowly missed field goal, a batted-intercepted OT pass, a calm-cool-collected redshirt freshman QB, fans storming the field and singing "Sweet Caroline" -- and a special digital edition of The Iowa State Daily, ISU's student newspaper.


As the paper's editorial adviser, Mark Witherspoon, recounted in a post-game message on a popular college media advisers' list-serv, roughly 20 staffers gathered to create the seven-page PDF "football edition." As he wrote, "The game was over about 11:30, they filled the newsroom by midnight, and worked until at least 5 or 6 a.m. ... to get the special edition out. It's filled with wonderful photos, wonderful stories, an editorial eating crow on the sports guys' wrong predictions, photo blogs, and digital highlights of the game."

Daily O'Collegian Honor the Four Issue

Late last November, The Daily O'Collegian at Oklahoma State University responded to a sudden campus calamity with a touching 10-page special issue. Articles, a poem, and a photo tribute focused on various details and reactions to a plane crash that killed the head and assistant coach of the women's basketball team -- along with an OSU alumnus and his wife.


In the issue, the O'Colly also reported on the tragedy through the prism of a similar one that affected OSU a bit more than a decade ago: a plane crash that killed 10 members of the Cowboys community. The memorial rallying cry for that event: Remember the Ten. The commemorative declaration this time around: Honor the Four.

Daily Orange Fine Mess Edition

Over this past Thanksgiving break, Daily Orange staff at Syracuse University quickly pulled together a special edition focused on a sex abuse scandal involving its men's basketball second-in-command, Bernie Fine. The eight-page issue detailed the allegations, the circumstances surrounding Fine's sudden firing, student, player, and alumni reactions, and the inevitable comparisons to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University.


A front-page editor's note shared, "The Daily Orange publication calendar did not include a paper for the Monday after Fall Break, but because of the developing story about Bernie Fine ... the editors at the D.O. felt it was important to have one. No advertisements appear in the paper to focus on content."

Collegiate Times At a Loss Issue

In early December 2011, a midday shooting and campus lockdown at Virginia Tech University brought back memories of the horrific 2007 shootings that killed 33 people. During that episode, The Collegiate Times, VT's student newspaper, provided tireless, innovative coverage unmatched by the outside media hordes that descended upon Blacksburg, Va.

Nearly five years later, on a late-semester Thursday, the CT again stepped up. As rumors and reports circulated about a fatal shooting and a gunman on the loose, staff turned to Twitter to tell the world what they were seeing and hearing and the trusted information they were receiving. They also interacted in real-time with students and other observers.

Collegiate Times1.jpg

The next day, the paper published a much-lauded special print edition. As the edition's lead story confirmed, "Yet again, Tech is shaken. Two lives are lost. And although life will go on for Tech students all too soon, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the heartache this campus has endured. It is worth taking a moment to think about how we move forward."

Baylor Lariat Heisman Issue

Also in December, The Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper at Baylor University, produced a special "Heisman Issue" to commemorate the selection of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the recipient of college football's highest honor.


The four-page edition included highlights from RGIII's historic season, reactions from Baylor students and alumni, and a glimpse at the Heisman voting results broken down by geographic region. As one of the three standout quotes featured prominently on the front page related, "This is a forever kind of moment."

Crimson White Championship Issue

In January, The Crimson White published a special 20-page edition to commemorate the University of Alabama's historic 14th national college football championship. The standout write-up in the issue: "Zero Hesitation," a rundown of how little outsiders had believed in the Tide a few months before the title run and how big the team played when the moment mattered.


As the piece began, "Zero. This word now has a special meaning for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many believed the Tide had zero chance to make the BCS National Championship game after its loss to LSU on Nov. 5. Those same people pointed to the number of touchdowns scored between the two teams in their last meeting. However, when the clock struck zero, the only zero that mattered for the Tide was the one beside LSU on the scoreboard as the Tide shut out the Tigers 21-0."

Daily Collegian Paterno Edition

Near the start of spring semester, in the wake of Joe Paterno's death, The Daily Collegian published a special commemorative edition honoring the longtime Penn State head football coach. Related pieces touched on Paterno's upbringing and early coaching career, his devotion to family and charities, the reactions of his former players, and the scandal that overwhelmed his final days.


A number of the pieces were topped by quotes from Paterno. Among them: "If you don't want to be the best, then obviously you shouldn't be associated with Penn State football ... To live the good life, we have to make sure that others have at least a decent life ... With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Pitt News Sex Issue

Timed for release on Valentine's Day, the fourth-annual sex issue by The Pitt News dove with gusto into body issues, birth control, pornography, celibacy, first dates, and, as one staffer excitedly proclaimed, "lady boobs!" The overall perspective, embodied by a line in a featured column: "Human sexuality is as diverse as human beings."


In a letter to readers, editor-in-chief Michael Macagnone wrote, "The horizontal tango, making love, doing the deed: There's no doubt our society has many means of talking about -- and around -- intercourse. And for most of the year, that is what society focuses on: the act itself, leaving the vast majority of its effects and implications unstated. Today though, with the naked intent of Valentine's Day in promoting Hallmark sales, last-minute flower purchases, and romantic gestures all around, we're going to talk about sex."

North by Northwestern Dance Marathon Site

The lone digital outlet on the list: North by Northwestern. In early March, in honor of Northwestern University's uber-popular Dance Marathon, a 30-hour philanthropy party, the online news magazine created a special site. Updated in real-time throughout the event, it featured photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, crowdsourced responses from the student dancers, haiku poetry, and a tracking of one student's heart rate while dancing and another student's calorie intake.


As outgoing NBN top editor Nolan Feeny said, "DM provides us with an opportunity to do what we do best. We are able to be there the whole weekend and find ways to tell stories that we couldn't necessarily do with a traditional news format. It also allows us to show off our personality and our voice. The Daily Northwestern is a great paper, but I don't think they would be asking Dance Marathon students whether they would rather have sex or a shower four times that day."

Daily Free Press April Fools' Issue

In early April, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press at Boston University was forced to resign following the publication of a print-only April Fools' issue that received immense reader criticism.

Spoof stories in the issue, dubbed The Disney Free Press, discussed Cinderella's alleged involvement in a prostitution ring, BU frat brothers slipping Alice in Wonderland LSD, and the dwarfs from Snow White participating in a group rape of a female BU student.


Critics condemned the content for perpetuating a campus rape culture and mocking victims of sexual assault. BU has been especially attuned to such issues due to recent campus events, including a high-profile scandal involving sexual assault charges brought against a pair of university hockey players.

In a letter posted to the Free Press website soon after the issue premiered, the newspaper's board of directors wrote, "We cannot apologize sincerely enough to all those who were offended by the inexcusable editorial judgment exercised in Monday's annual print-only April Fools' Day issue of the Daily Free Press ... Considering the events of this semester and the increasingly vocal, constructive climate of conversation about sexual assault and many other important issues on campus, much of the content of Monday's issue was incredibly harmful, tasteless, and out of line."

Daily Cardinal Anniversary Issue

In April, The Daily Cardinal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrated its 120th birthday with a resplendent special issue reflecting on its past and predicting its future. As the paper confirmed, "Since the 1890s, the Daily Cardinal has been a lens through which Wisconsin students have seen their world ... For the past 120 years, students have produced the Daily Cardinal through wars, protests, and tragedies."


Among the issue's highlights: a Q&A with an alum who edited the paper in the early 1940s (following an all-staff strike in the late 1930s over the firing of the executive editor for being Jewish); a full-page, two-story tribute to former staffer Anthony Shadid, who died earlier this year in Syria while reporting for The New York Times; and a piece from current executive editor Kayla Johnson headlined "The Next 120 Years."

Crimson White Tornado Reflection

In late April, a year after "one of the deadliest, costliest, and most widespread tornado outbreaks ever to hit the United States" struck Tuscaloosa, The Crimson White at the University of Alabama put together a comprehensive multi-platform news package reflecting on the storm's impact and the challenges CW staffers faced covering it.


The three-pronged effort: a temporary special homepage featuring content from a year before and the present, including 10 new web-only articles and a few multimedia projects; an ads-free commemorative print edition with more than 20 storm-focused features; and a 15-minute documentary video outlining the staffers' natural disaster reporting experience. The doc's title: "Harder Than We Thought."

The print edition included individual spotlights on how different communities are coping with the long-term aftermath; reports on how other areas hit by tornadoes in recent years are coping with their recoveries; and a story mentioning that pieces of an art professor's sculpture caught within the swirl of the tornado have been found as far away as Georgia.

University Press BOT Special Investigation

In May, The University Press at Florida Atlantic University unleashed a special issue that oozed investigative awesomeness and revealed some unsavory, ironic truths about those in power at the Palm Beach County public school.


The issue's aim: providing the down-low on the FAU Board of Trustees, the 13-member body that holds ultimate sway over the university's infrastructure, finances, and future. UP staffer Karla Bowsher unraveled "so many bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, liens, and lawsuits in our trustees' pasts that I needed another researcher [James Shackelford] to get through it all -- and an entire issue of the newspaper to cover it all."

Ubyssey Return Yearbook

Also in May, The Ubyssey at the University of British Columbia published a commemorative yearbook for 76 Japanese-Canadian students who were forced off campus and held as "enemy aliens" during World War II. It provides a fascinating history about both the school and the affected students.


Page after page after page features people whose lives were forever altered by a decision made during a moment of "frantic military mobilization." Timed to appear at a UBC ceremony presenting the former students -- living and deceased -- with honorary degrees, it was titled simply, "Return."

Daily Emerald Revolution Site

The web address: future.dailyemerald.com. The one-word header atop the homepage: Revolution. And the tagline just beneath it: "The Oregon Daily Emerald, reinvented for the digital age."

The student newspaper at the University of Oregon -- best known for its five-day-a-week print edition -- is morphing into a more wide-ranging, digital-first "modern college media company." On a special site that went live in late May, publisher Ryan Frank and top editors outlined a number of major new initiatives that will be rolled out in full force this fall.


Among them: a print issue that will appear twice per week, with new size, design, and content specs; the creation of an in-house tech startup and a separate marketing and event services team; and a ramp-up in "real-time news, community engagement, photo galleries, and videos on the web and social media."

As Frank shared in a MediaShift post soon after the site premiered, "We're about to close the book on the Oregon Daily Emerald. After 92 years, the University of Oregon's newspaper will end its run as a Monday-to-Friday operation in June. Yes, it's the end of an era, and we're sad about that. But it's also the start of a new era, the digital one."

Daily Collegian Sandusky Issues

In mid-June, a special issue of The Daily Collegian appeared on newsstands across PSU and State College, Pa., focused on the criminal trial of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Due to the reduced summer publishing schedule, Collegian staffers were not planning to put out a print edition until month's end.


In a note to readers, the paper's editor-in-chief, Casey McDermott, wrote, "Call me old-fashioned, sure -- but I stand by the idea that there are certain moments that deserve to be documented beyond narratives told in 140-character bursts or minute-by-minute updates alone. This is one of those moments ... Until now, our coverage of the Jerry Sandusky trial since the end of the spring semester has been online-only. This has its advantages ... [b]ut we also wanted to note the start of this trial -- an event that's been preceded by seven of the most pivotal months in university history -- in a way that could serve as an all-in-one reference as the trial unfolds."

Along with recounting various aspects of Sandusky's first day in court, the issue featured a rundown of the main prosecution and defense arguments, individual glimpses at all the trial participants, a timeline of events, and pieces on the courtroom's social media ban and the withholding of the identities of some of the alleged Sandusky victims who testified.

Soon after, at the trial's conclusion, the paper published a separate special issue documenting the story behind -- and the implications surrounding -- the guilty verdict. In its front-page summation, the paper rightly hinted that the story is still undoubtedly far from over. As the piece stated, "Seven months since the first arrest, eight days of testimony, 10 stories of abuse, 21 hours of deliberation, and one verdict. What's next?"


Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His textbook Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age is due out in early 2013 by Routledge.

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April 12 2010


How Going Online Can Help Save Struggling College Papers

In an old episode of "The West Wing," a leader of an AIDS-stricken African nation tells the president plainly, "It's a terrible thing to beg for your life."

The quote comes to mind as I read about the current plight of the Technician, the student newspaper at North Carolina State University. In a recent editorial, the few remaining staff at the newspaper declared that the publication "is looking down the business end of the barrel and is in serious need of student involvement ... Without student support, the paper could cease publication at the end of the semester ... Today's paper was only on the stand because of what the staff would describe as a printing miracle."

The newspaper's decline rapidly accelerated last fall when a lack of staffers in higher editorial positions left the multi-tasking editor-in-chief "overwhelmed and overworked." His extra effort in the newsroom cost him in the classroom, leading to poor grades which, ironically enough dealt him an automatic suspension from the newspaper. So the guy holding the paper together by the skin of his ink-stained hands was suddenly gone. Cue free-fall, or what one editor called, "sort of mayhem."

But the Technician can take heart in the advent of small campus publications that have sprung up online on smaller budgets, often surving and thriving without print editions.

On the Cusp of Extinction

The Technician's mayhem is also an important reminder: College media, on the whole, are not rich, overstaffed, well-oiled machines. In fact, most student journalism outlets are one bad semester, staff shortage or poor leadership transition away from near-extinction every academic term.

And yet, this reality is often overlooked on campuses and within news reports.

A few years back, Newsweek told the story of a young man named David Burrick. As the piece noted:

David Burrick edits a daily newspaper in Philadelphia. When big news breaks he deploys a staff of 200 reporters and photographers, flying them across the country if necessary, keeping an eye toward his $1 million budget. And then he goes to class. Burrick's paper? The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. "We're a bunch of 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds," he says, "but we operate like a major business and a professional paper."

What the article did not mention: The DP, Daily Northwestern, Independent Florida Alligator, Columbia Spectator, Daily Californian, and a few other big-money campus pubs are the exceptions, not the rule.

For the most part, college media are about the mayhem, not the millions. Many college news outlets are run on shoestring budgets. They are supported by the blood, sweat, and red pens of a small group of unpaid students who juggle competing commitments and operate with little journalistic training. A fair number of papers are run out of dorm rooms and via meet-ups in campus cafeterias -- newsrooms are a luxury that staff or their schools cannot afford. Ultimately, most student media are not looking to break the bank. They are fighting simply to stay alive.

Fortunately, student media survival and success with less -- less staff, less training, less time -- has never been more assured. Need proof? Look online, and onward.

A 'Rogue Campus Blog'

Onward State, a student news site at Penn State University, has been dubbed a "rogue campus blog" and a "sociological petri dish." Its founder, Davis Shaver, calls the outlet simply "a blogging fraternity."

onward.jpg The frat rushed into hyperlinked existence in November 2008, built atop Shaver's frustrations with what he considered the "technologically-phobic bureaucracy" of the campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian. Just 16 months later, even while still "as new as Joe Paterno is old," it has grown into a 20-student operation averaging 40,000 visitors per month, regularly breaking stories, and "giving the Daily Collegian a run for its money."

(A similar online-only publication, NYU Local serves the New York University campus.)

Blueprint for Reinvention

Onward State's "flash-bang success" is a chin-up for college media in mayhem, and a reason for the troubled Technician to take heart -- and take notice. The site's structure and style serve as a potential blueprint for saving (and reinventing) a student newspaper in peril.

The key rules it breaks are as follows:

  • Print, Out: Print publications provide student media an undeniable presence on campus, but they are expensive and require extraordinary care and special design skills to produce. Onward State's online-only push has allowed fewer staff to put out more news with much greater ease. Staffers serving on what I'll call Technician 2.0 could conceivably publish on their own terms, at their own speed, and without the specter of empty pages looming over them, waiting to be filled. As a student editor at an online news outlet at Ohio University told me a few years ago, "Ink stains are so 20th century."
  • Virtual Workspace: Face-to-face meetings and nights in the newsroom can be great for bonding, but are increasingly overwhelming for students already weighed down by classes, club meetings, and upcoming Spring Break trips. Onward State operates digitally, with a (Google) wave and a nod to the online-inspired portability of modern undergrads. Staff can live their lives and balance their outside workloads while still communicating constantly and feeding the site. No last-minute trudging across campus or sigh-inducing newsroom shifts needed.
  • User Friendly: Onward State has 20 dedicated staffers, and more than 40,000 potential contributors. Since its inception, the outlet has focused on generating involvement and content from the student body, in part by using social media. As Shaver recently told Mashable, "We focused on our Twitter presence from the very beginning, and it's paid dividends for us in terms of referring traffic to the site and really becoming a part of the community ... in the sense that people will actually send stories to us on Twitter."
  • Dress Down: Onward State is snarky, personal, occasionally gossipy -- and extremely well-informed. Too many student media think the key is parroting the professionals. One student described it to me as "dress up journalism." A campus outlet with a tiny or inexperienced editorial board should not pretend to be the New York Times. It's a disservice to student readers, and a turn-off to potential staff. Drop the pretense. Do something else, something new. As journalist and blogger Will Sullivan wrote, "College is one of the few times in your career that you can try something totally wacky, fail and it won't really set you back or ruin your career. Try alternative story forms. Learn new technologies. Break the mold of traditional journalism. Your generation and its ability to innovate will save the craft."

Dan Reimold is a visiting assistant professor of journalism at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, "Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy and a Student Journalism Revolution," is due out later this year by Rutgers University Press.

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January 28 2010


College Media Should Ignore Siren Song of Pay Walls

The drumbeats are growing louder, as Rupert Murdoch, Steven Brill, and now the New York Times have confirmed: Pay walls or metered pricing systems for online news content will soon be coming to a high-profile website frequented by you. Too little, too late? Journalism's savior? A final nail-in-the-coffin separation between old and new media?

The implications for the news industry and Internet as a whole are enormous. For college media specifically, meters and walls could be a veritable game changer, a final helium burst in their rise to professional press-level prominence -- provided, of course, they turn them down.

At present, I can see no reason why college media outlets should erect pay walls or enact pricing meters for their online content. Some independent student newspapers with higher bottom lines have endured financial hiccups lately but, overall, college media are holding strong. A majority of outlets are fully or mostly supported. Staff work for free or are paid a pittance. Annual profit expectations are zero to uber-low.

With no pressing need to enhance their revenue streams, my advice is: Keep sites free. By offering readers an open window instead of a wall, college media can become more of a trusted, viable alternative to the pro-press pay plans.

Attracting the Mainstream

Beyond niche outlets like The Chronicle of Higher Education and rich information centers like the New York Times, most meters and walls will only be scaled by the most passionate readers. (For example, I used to read Variety online, but there is no way I am shelling out its new asking price of $248 per year.)

If enacted en masse, the new "walledoffedness culture," as a snarky colleague of mine calls it, will leave general web surfers in the lurch and looking for more affordable options. Cue college media. If they react to the meter/wall onslaught correctly, student outlets can entice these more routine news seekers, who are in the majority.

Making it work will require some changes in student media's editorial approach. Two main alterations are worth consideration.

1. Increase Off-Campus Reporting


The web-age adage of how to succeed online is currently centered on hyper-localization. Cover a topic or geographic area like no one else, and your outlet will gain value for its uniqueness and market dominance. So far, student outlets have embraced this simply by continuing their long-established focus on campus and student news. But if the new journalism world is going to separate will-pay and won't-pay readers, some extra reporting about local and even national news could be a huge draw.

Last January, The Villanovan, a student newspaper at Villanova University, was criticized for failing to cover much of President Obama's Inauguration. At the time, editors offered a hyper-local response:

The Villanovan is and always has been the student paper of Villanova, not a national newspaper. There are four complimentary national papers on campus; students should turn to these for daily coverage. When you want to read about Villanova and students' reactions and reflections, though, we're your paper.

In the pay-era, this type of thinking might have to go. Readers may not be willing to pay for access to sites belonging to national or city papers. They might be looking for a free alternative, something relatively trusted that captures the pulse of their hometown. Offering some "outside" news may be a wonderful enticement to draw readers to student media sites. Hopefully people will also stay to read about what should always remain the student press's main focus: campus news, with a student-first editorial philosophy.

So, how do you add in this extra news component, especially since it's tough enough already to cover a single campus?

2. Extend Peer Content Sharing

We are living in a post-UWIRE world in which content distribution among college media is tougher than ever. (Though I have high hopes College News Network or a similar future initiative will save the day).

In order for student media sites to become more popular with casual news browsers, they will need to republish more news from their peers -- especially biggie items about, say, the recent special election in Massachusetts or the current Sundance Film Festival.

Most high-profile news events and issues have relevance to a school in some way -- at times simply because they occur near a campus -- so usually at least some student media will provide coverage and commentary. Student outlets looking to fill the gap created by pay walls should seize and display these news items more prominently on their sites, providing visitors a well-rounded glimpse of the world.

Strategy for Success

So to sum up, my three-point strategy for college media success in a walled-off news media world:

  1. Stick with local news reporting depth.
  2. Add national news breadth.
  3. Be an open window, not a pay wall.

In a New York Times piece about pay plans, Rupert Murdoch is described as a Pied Piper hoping to lead a mass of media to pay-walled nirvana. My advice to college media is simple: Do not follow Murdoch the Piper. Remember that in the fairy tale, the children are lured by the lovely music into a cave, never to be heard from again...

Dan Reimold is a visiting assistant professor of journalism at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, "Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy and a Student Journalism Revolution," is due out later this year by Rutgers University Press.

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