Year in Review: Most Viral Student Media of 2012, Part 2

Allegations of Ivy League hazing. Alice in Wonderland on LSD. A Biblical studies professor busted in a child predator sting. A student squirrel whisperer. A 280-pound black bear falling from a tree. And something called milking.

These buzzwords and teaser descriptions factor into a few of the many viral creations published or posted by college media over the past year. The student press was responsible for an especially high number of viral reports, columns, videos, photos, headlines, and tweets in 2012.

Some were deliberate attempts for clicks, shares, and attention. Others were scandals featuring student journalists at the center. And still others were quiet bits of content that became sudden sideshows within the Internet circus, for better and worse.

Collectively, their moments in the digital spotlight offer a fascinating foundation for a student press year in review– a glimpse at what was especially popular, controversial, funny, unexpected, and out of control.

In that spirit, here is part 2 of a chronological rundown of top college media moments and content that blew up online in 2012.

Check out part 1 of this rundown

THE FAMOUS FALLING BEAR

Late last spring semester, a student journalist’s photo of a tranquilized bear went viral– and almost spurred a lawsuit.

In April, Andrew Duann, a student photographer for The CU Independent, snapped an instantly iconic shot of a black bear falling from a tree near a University of Colorado residence hall village.  The animal had been tranquilized by local wildlife officials and was subsequently taken into temporary custody for its own– and others’– protection.

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Duann’s photo of the creature almost immediately became a web sensation. As Denver’s Westword reported, “[W]ithin four hours or so [of its posting], it had become a Facebook and Twitter smash, as well as winding up on Gawker, Reddit, Yahoo, and more traditional news platforms such as CBS4, 7News, Fox 31, the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post. . . . The surge of traffic eventually crashed the Independent’s site.” The animal became knownin some circles as “Boulder’s famous ‘falling bear.'”

And then came a post-viral twist: In the wake of the photo’s online success and its republishing by other news outlets, Duann briefly looked into legal action against his own paper. As Poynter’s MediaWire confirmed, Duann was “upset that the paper’s adviser . . . allowed publications around the world to reproduce the photo, asking most outlets only for it to be credited to Duann and the CU Independent.”

Duann considered the bear shot his personal copyrighted property, even though he was on the paper’s staff and apparently supplied it willingly for the story it accompanied. He ultimately did not file suit.

Days later, in the story’s saddest twist, the bear was killed after being hit by two cars on a highway outside Boulder, Colo.

RED AND DEAD

The most viral– and arguably the most significant– student press story in 2012 was the temporary mass resignation of The Red & Black staff at the University of Georgia. In mid-August, editors, reporters, photographers, and designers at the campus newspaper quit in protest over what they felt was an unacceptable level of editorial control being exerted by non-students.

Their concerns centered on the increased hiring of outside professionals and the accompanying “serious pressure” they were placing on content and everyday newsroom decisions.  As an editor said in a statement announcing the staff’s resignation, “I felt like it was unethically turning into something that we were trained not to do, from grip and grin photos to not letting us do our own work. It wasn’t our paper anymore.”

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In response, the students started a separate news site of their own with an unsubtle symbolic name, Red and Dead. Their efforts received national attention and thousands of devotees on Facebook and Twitter. Many championed them as student press heroes.  The paper’s publisher said he thought their resignation was an overreaction.

Less than a week after the protests began, the students and the Red & Black board of directors reached an agreement to resume R&B production.  The staff was also reinstated, on the grounds “that students have editorial control over the contents of our publications with no prior review.”

BRYAN COLLEGE IS NOT PENN STATE

In late September, the editor in chief of The Bryan College Triangle at Tennessee’s Bryan College self-published a controversial story about a former professor charged with sex crimes involving a minor.  Alex Green wrote, printed, and distributed the article on his own four days after Bryan’s president told him it could not be run in the paper.

The article outlines the real reason behind the sudden, quiet resignation of a Biblical studies professor at the Christian school: his arrest over the summer in an FBI sting while attempting to meet a minor at a Georgia gas station.  Charges include “attempted aggravated child molestation and child sexual exploitation.”  When Green initially inquired about the professor’s departure, the school told him he was leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”

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In an editor’s note included in the self-published issue, headlined “Why It’s Important,” Green wrote, “Bryan College is not Penn State.  Had one individual in the Penn State program stepped up and revealed the truth about the actions of Jerry Sandusky, there would have been no fallout 14 years later.  Joe Paterno could have died a hero.  Instead, he died a goat. Penn State could have been praised.  Instead, they are broken. . . . Printing this story will not cause a Penn State situation for Bryan. I believe it will prevent one.”

The Chattanooga Times Free Press confirmed at the time “reporters and editors around the country [are] talking about the fifth-year senior’s decision to publish against the administration’s wishes.”  A student at another Tennessee Christian school wrote to Green on his Facebook wall, “You are an inspiration.”

In a public statement issued the day after Green distributed the article, the Bryan College president said his spiking of the story “may have been a mistake.” In his words, “Our intent was to look at the situation as Christians and do what was right. As humans, we are fallible. What we can do is learn from our mistakes.”

THE SQUIRREL WHISPERER

In early October, Onward State posted a profile of Mary Krupa, a Penn State University freshman “best known for playing with squirrels, while also donning them with tiny-squirrel sized hats.”  The student news site dubbed Krupa nothing less than a full-blown “squirrel whisperer.”

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In the post, Krupa is described with “squirrels . . . climbing on her, sitting on her forearm, and generally gathering around her.” She even has a favorite: Sneezy The Penn State Squirrel.

Since the Onward State story appeared, Krupa has evolved from a “mini-web phenomenon” to a full-blown “world sensation.” She has been featured on a host of sites and shows such as Mashable, Yahoo News, Penn State Network, two Taiwanese outlets, BuzzFeed, something called Neatorama, and Tosh.0.

Sneezy also now has a Facebook page to help share his “squirrely wonderfulness with the world.” It currently boasts more than 6,000 “likes.”

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AS FORTHCOMING AS YOU LIKE

In November, officials at the State University of New York at Oswego– known as Oswego State– threatened an international journalism student with suspension and campus banishment.  The student’s case– and the interim suspension he faced while it was handled– sparked what The Oswegonian student newspaper called a “national outcry” and placed the school at “the center of a national freedom of speech debate.”

For a story on the Oswego State hockey coach he was completing for a class assignment, Australian exchange student Alex Myers emailed fellow coaches at three nearby schools.  In the message, he identified himself as a staffer in the school’s public affairs office, where he worked part-time.  He also urged the coaches, “Be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about [the Oswego State coach] does not have to be positive.”  The statement struck at least one of the emailed coaches as offensive.

It also prompted Oswego State officials to charge Myers with disruptive behavior.  Coupled with a separate charge of dishonesty (for misrepresenting himself as part of public affairs), Myers was temporarily suspended and told he must leave campus almost immediately. The disruption charge was ultimately dropped and his suspension lifted, but Myers still lost the public affairs job.  He was also forced to send an apology to the hockey coach and write a piece “to share with other students in journalism classes . . . what you have learned from your experience.”

Myers said the immense news coverage of the situation was surreal, apparently even reaching his native Australia. “It is kind of embarrassing to have my biggest error over my university career to be broadcasted nationally,” he told the Oswegonian. “It’s definitely tarnished journalism for me.”

UDDER MADNESS

The year’s final student-centric online craze continues to gather oodles of fat-free, skim, 1 percent, and unpasteurized buzz.  In late November, a small posse of U.K. college students and young graduates premiered an activity— dubbed milking– with a video round-up “destined to become an Internet sensation.”  It has spurred press coverage and copycat videos produced by students across Britain, Scotland, and, increasingly, the U.S.

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As The Tab at Britain’s Leeds University explained, “Similar in difficulty to its viral cousin planking, milking simply requires the participant to purchase some milk and then pour it over their head.  The result is a thing of beauty.”

A comment beneath the video confirmed, “This is legen…dairy.”  An online Time magazine story similarly declared, “Move Over Planking: ‘Milking’ is the Internet’s Latest Silly Meme.”  And U.K. tabloid The Sun shared simply, “It’s udder madness!”

To read the full review on PBS MediaShift, click here or on the screenshot below.

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