2014 College Media Year in Review, Part 3: ‘A Complete War Zone’
Over the past year, along with reinventing and beating back evermore present financial challenges [see part one and part two], student media and student journalists inserted themselves into a number of hot-button national and international issues and events.
For example, during the 2014 Winter Olympics, the mastermind of the massively popular Twitter account and social media phenomenon @SochiProblems was a 20-year-old journalism student at Toronto’s Centennial College named Alexander Broad.
— Cabbie Richards (@Cabbie) February 6, 2014
The Centennial College newspaper’s summary of events: “Take an unusually slow day in a Toronto college journalism school newsroom, and a journalism student with a love of sports. Now add controversy over the 2014 Sochi Olympic preparations, and some social media. What you end up with is @SochiProblems.”
Broad’s take on his sudden fame and its potential professional impact: “Nowadays anything can boost your career, any little thing. Sometimes it’s a foot in the door, sometimes you know someone, sometimes someone picks you up for your writing, and sometimes it could be … just an account on Twitter.”
— Alexander Broad (@alexjbroad) February 4, 2014
— Matt Gutman (@mattgutmanABC) February 6, 2014
— Alexander Broad (@alexjbroad) February 4, 2014
Three months later, in the wake of the Isla Vista shootings, The Daily Nexus student newspaper at the University of California, Santa Barbara, earned praise for its quick-hit, on-point coverage. At the same time, a competing campus paper, The Bottom Line, elicited controversy for initially declaring it was refraining from covering the story “to minimize the emotional harm for our reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists.”
A University of Wyoming student journalist also earned some online buzz and pockets of vitriol by calling for an end to “infectious patriotism” on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
In an op-ed for The Branding Iron, UW’s campus newspaper, sophomore Jeremy Rowley wrote simply, “[W]e, the United States of America, need to get over it. … [T]he way the country has viewed September 11th every year since the attacks has been anything but productive.” He specifically cited displays of national pride aligned with the 9/11 anniversary as out of whack with America’s true place in the world and out of step with what long-term mourning should look like.
Separately, in August, Christian Lee, a student photojournalist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, stepped immediately into the chaos of the initial Ferguson riots — capturing images he later posted on his blog, shared with SIUE’s student newspaper and sold to outside news outlets and news services.
“In a nutshell, it was a complete war zone,” said Lee, a business management major from Richton Park, Ill. “I have to admit, I was really scared, really scared. I saw people running past me with clothes they had just stolen out of stores. I saw people being injured from the riots. I saw [police] officers roaming the streets with a real intensity, on edge. … It took a lot for me to keep going, keep moving. But I didn’t turn around. I just kept shooting.”
College media covered no issue or event as relentlessly, passionately and comprehensively in 2014 as sexual violence. Student outlets nationwide pushed to raise more awareness about the problems of sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse on their campuses. They addressed the alleged and convicted perpetrators and increasingly called out their schools for questionable investigations and punishments. They also published candid reflections and commentaries from survivors, presenting their experiences and perspectives on a relatable, human level.
One example: In October, the O’Colly at Oklahoma State published a cover story detailing “a sexual assault case in which the system failed.” The 2,100-word investigation by O’Colly digital news editor Kassie McClung spotlighted the many internal doubts, peer pressures, investigative procedures and cultural norms that can leave a sexual assault victim re-victimized and feeling “like a statistic pushed under the rug.”
As McClung wrote about “Ashley,” who reported a rape to campus police in spring 2012, “She was too ashamed to tell her parents what happened and felt discouraged by police officers. Ashley said because she didn’t want to spend years fighting for a case she would likely lose, she closed it. Almost three years later, Ashley sees a chaotic process in which justice didn’t play a part. The process was so discouraging, Ashley said, she regrets reporting the incident to the police.”
In recent weeks, the most complicated related tightrope has been walked by The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia. The paper has earned praise, professional news shout-outs and social media shares for its coverage of the “Rolling Stone rape fiasco” — both before and after the nationally-known gang rape allegations were called into question.
As Cavalier Daily public editor Christopher Broom wrote at one point, “It really felt like the CD was just everywhere on this, which is about as high praise as I can think to give a newsroom working a story.”
To read my full 2014 year in review, click here or on the screenshot below.