College Newspaper of the Year, 2011-2012: The Daily Collegian, Penn State University

Over the past year, The Daily Collegian produced startlingly good journalism. Staffers at Penn State University’s 125-year-old independent student newspaper rose to the challenge of reporting upon a multi-headed, complex, feral, real-time beast of a news story that continues to scrape and claw for attention.

Amid a massive scandal that has eaten PSU alive– leaving it temporarily branded Unhappy Valley in the eyes of many– one bright spot has been the Collegian.  Online, in print, in the newsroom, and in the field, the DC team has exuded “old-fashioned hustle,” repeatedly distinguishing itself in small but powerful ways from the professional media horde.

For its bold, fair, accurate, nonstop, comprehensive, and oft-innovative coverage of all-things Sandusky and beyond, The Daily Collegian is my selection as the top college newspaper of the past academic year.  Its two tiers of excellence, in my opinion: producing quality work and simply surviving a story that prior to fall semester’s start no one but Pennsylvania’s state attorney general could have imagined unfolding.

As editors wrote in late April in a goodbye editorial of sorts, headlined “Penn State, Thank You for Reading,” “In an academic year where the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes seemed forever out of reach, here we are.  When we descended on campus last August, few of us could have predicted the roller coaster of emotions that would be in store.  Though there’s still much left to resolve, there’s some comfort in knowing we made it this far.”

Below is a barebones glimpse at the Collegian’s standout print work of 2011-2012, specifically the special editions related to the child sex abuse mess and its campus and football fallouts.  One other issue in this mix is celebrating the paper’s 125th birthday.

Above is a screenshot of a portion of the front page of the first Sunday edition published in the Collegian‘s 125-year history. As news adviser Jim Rodenbush explained just prior to its publication, “The Collegian, which has been a five-day-a-week paper since going ‘daily’ in the 1940s, will publish its first-ever Sunday edition this weekend in response to Joe Paterno’s final home game Saturday and the ongoing scandal/story.”  Below is a portion of a photo-heavy page featured in the middle of the 12-page edition.

Near the start of spring semester, in the wake of Joe Paterno’s death, the paper published a special commemorative edition honoring the longtime 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.”

As outgoing editor-in-chief Lexi Belcufine explained to readers about the special commemorative issue published in late April (partial front-page screenshot above), “To celebrate the Daily Collegian’s quasquicentennial, we’re trying on mom’s high heels and pearls, so to speak. Our look today is a nod to the semi-weekly Penn State Collegian of the 1920s, the predecessor of The Daily Collegian.”  At the time, the paper was known as The Free Lance.

According to Belcufine, “I’d wager that The Free Lance newsroom was much like that of your Daily Collegian– filled with endearing, yet neurotic, nocturnal and over-caffeinated students who can’t remember the last time they ate or thought an Oxford comma was kosher. We continue to cover every student government meeting and campus event with zeal, so our staff is ready if a national story rocks Penn State, much like it did this year.”

In mid-June, a special issue appeared on newsstands, focused on the criminal trial of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  Due to the reduced summer publishing schedule, Collegian staffers were not due to put out a print edition until month’s end. In a note to readers, the paper’s new 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.”

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 so far, and pieces on the courtroom’s social media ban and the withholding of the identities of some of the alleged Sandusky victims who testified.

The most recent special issue documented the story behind– and the implications surrounding– the guilty verdict delivered at the close of the Sandusky trial.  In its front page summation, the paper rightly hints that the story is still undoubtedly far from over.  As it states, “Seven months since the first arrest, eight days of testimony, 10 stories of abuse, 21 hours of deliberation, and one verdict.  What’s next?

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  1. […] a link to all the articles in the series, but here’s the most recent one they published, an interview with Kristin Cashore, who writes teen fantasy […]

  2. […] College Media Matters, a leading blog that analyzes college journalism, gave its nod to Penn State’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, for the “College Newspaper of the Year” recognition. Of The Collegian, CMM said: Amid a massive scandal that has eaten PSU alive– leaving it temporarily branded Unhappy Valley in the eyes of many– one bright spot has been the Collegian.  Online, in print, in the newsroom, and in the field, the DC team has exuded “old-fashioned hustle,” repeatedly distinguishing itself in small but powerful ways from the professional media horde. […]

  3. […] College Media Matters blog, named The Daily Collegian its College Newspaper of the Year. Reimold praises the paper’s staff for “producing quality work and simply surviving a story that prior […]

  4. […] State’s Daily Collegian vaulted to the top, following in the footsteps of its CMM “College Newspaper of the Year” honors earlier this […]

  5. […] 2011-12 College Newspaper of the Year  — College Media Matters […]



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