Best Student Newspaper Special Issues of 2011-2012: 9/11, RGIII, Paterno, Sex, WWII, Dance Marathon

Even in the increasingly digital age, hard copy special issues still boast a regular, influential presence within collegemediatopia.  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.

Below is a sampling of the most high-profile, editorially impressive, and aesthetically innovative 2011-2012 student press special issues.

9/11 10th Anniversary Issues

Near the start of fall semester, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th 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.

The Iowa State Daily, Football Edition

In 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’s 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.”

The 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 paper also reported on the incident through the prism of a similar tragedy 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 current commemorative declaration: Honor the Four.

The Daily Orange, A Fine Mess Edition

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

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, former associate head coach for men’s basketball and the allegations of sexual abuse against him, the editors at The D.O. felt it was important to have one. No advertisements appear in the paper to focus on content.”

The Baylor Lariat, Heisman Issue

In December, The Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper at Baylor University, produced a special four-page “Heisman Issue” to commemorate the selection of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the winner 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.”

The 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 it 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.”

The Daily Collegian, Paterno Edition

Near the start of spring semester, in the wake of Joe Paterno’s deathThe 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.”  (The Collegian recently released another special issue, this one focused on the Sandusky mess, timed for the start of his criminal trial.)

The Pitt News, Sex Issue

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Timed for release on Valentine’s Day, the fourth-annual sex issue by The Pitt News dove with gusto into body issues, birth control, porn, 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 Special Site

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

NBN top editor Nolan Feeny: “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.”

The Daily Cardinal, Anniversary Issue

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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-pagetwo-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.”

The Crimson White, Tornado Reflection

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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. 

The University Press, BOT Special Investigation

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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.”

The 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.

Please let me know, politely: What other special issues should be on this list???  Depending on their merits, I will add them immediately.  (To be clear upfront, I am not interested in commencement or orientation issues unless they are supremely standout.)

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