Covering the Death of a Campus Icon

It’s an awkward conversation, talking about the lasting legacy of a person who has not died yet. And it is a grim task, preparing for someone’s death. But all of that became reality this past week, when staff members of Elon University’s student news organization Elon News Network learned President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley died at 92.

In terms of coverage, preparations had been underway “for years,” said Executive Director of ENN, Tommy Hamzik. “Even before I was a student, generations of student media members have been preparing for this story, because of Danieley’s impact on campus.”

Dr. J. Earl Danieley spent more than 70 of his 92 years involved with Elon University in some way. He was a student, professor, dean, Elon’s sixth President and then named President Emeritus. Danieley saw a lot of change, and made a lot of changes to campus, including the current 4-1-4 academic schedule, building seven campus buildings and admitting Elon’s first black students. Current University President Leo Lambert was quoted as saying, “There will never be another Earl Danieley, but he has taught us that every member of the Elon community has the capability and responsibility to carry forward his good work.”

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J. Earl Danieley, left, poses with current Elon University President Leo Lambert on Move-in Day

Danieley’s good work was chronicled by Elon News Network in a variety of ways. Both the broadcast and print student media organizations combined in August 2016 to work together under one roof, giving ENN staff members the unique ability to cover this story on multiple mediums and platforms.

Hamzik and his team of 75 student journalists were tipped off that Danieley’s health was deteriorating, so they put the years of planning into action.

“The Sunday before he died we got the final video package ready to go, and we touched up the obituary and had that ready as well,” said Hamzik.

Hamzik said the staff was planning their weekly Wednesday print edition as well as their weekly Thursday ELN Morning broadcast when news of Danieley’s death broke around 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Along with their regularly scheduled publications and broadcasts, the staff added a special 12-page memorial edition of The Pendulum newspaper to be on newsstands Thursday morning, less than 48 hours after the death of Danieley.

“As soon as we knew he had died, we made sure to adjust Wednesday’s edition of the paper to reorganize things, and obviously change the cover story.”

The cover photo for Wednesday’s paper is seen here, taken by staff photographer A.J. Mandell this fall at one of Danieley’s last appearances on-campus. The cover story was written by Hamzik himself, which he said was largely complete by the time news of Danieley’s death reached the newsroom.

For ELN Morning Executive Producer Audrey Engelman, the news of Danieley’s death meant the planned rundown of Thursday morning’s show, which often includes light news, cooking segments and musical performances, had to be “thrown out.”

“We were pretty short-staffed at the time, so we were not able to have people keep doing their original stories, and get Danieley memorial stories done,” Engelman said. “So everyone dropped what they were doing to pick up a memorial piece.”

The 30-minute live memorial show ended up having five pieces on Danieley’s life, legacy and impact on different members of the campus community. University President Leo Lambert and Social Media Manager for the University Adam Constantine, a close friend of Danieley, were in studio for live interviews.

“I can’t stress enough how important it was that everyone was willing and able to go with the flow. It really helped that week, and during the last-minute planning for the broadcast especially,” said Engelman.

Hamzik credits the cultivation of sources as part of ENN’s success with their coverage.

“It is so important in a small community like Elon to be connected across campus, and really know the people you are writing about and reporting on every day,” said Hamzik. “You are building trust with people personally, but your coverage helps your organization as a whole build trust.” Hamzik says his tip from a source the weekend before Danieley’s death helped him and the rest of the team understand that this was coming, and to prepare accordingly.

Many of the professors in Elon’s School of Communications have had real world journalism experience, covering local and national news stories as they occurred. Hamzik said learning from those who had been there helped his team successfully cover one of Elon’s saddest days.

To view the Wednesday, November 30th edition of The Pendulum:

To view the Thursday, December 1st special memorial edition of The Pendulum:

To watch the Thursday, December 1st special memorial edition of ELN Morning:

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