Archive for May, 2011

The best film I have seen this year has “Disaster” written all over it. “Documenting Disaster: A Campus Newspaper Pieces Together a Torn Community” is a 45-minute documentary about student journalists, by student journalists.

Beginning last October (after attending the ACP/CMA convention in Louisville), a four-student team at Christopher Newport University spent a large chunk of their senior year delving into an historic moment in contemporary college journalism history.  The students are all staffers for the CNU student newspaper, The Captain’s Log: Victoria Shirley (editor in chief), Samantha Thrift (news editor), Andrew Deitrick (online editor), and Cassandra Vinch (sports editor).

As the journalists-documentarians describe their film’s focus, “On April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech community was struck by one of the largest shootings in American history. Student journalists of the Collegiate Times [Tech’s campus newspaper] reported alongside national media organizations– both as students and as journalist[s]– to help break the largest news story of the year.  This is their story.”

This story, simply put, is a triumph.  “Disaster” is a well-paced, high-minded doc. It is built atop the firsthand accounts of former Collegiate Times staffers and its former faculty adviser who together mounted a sustained, vigorous, real-time reporting operation that scooped the national press and helped students and staff make sense of the chaos.  The film also features an interview with Larry Hincker, who faced a “media zoo” in the aftermath of the shootings as head of university relations at Virginia Tech.

Among many other things, I learned from watching the film that a Collegiate Times photographer was temporarily held by police while trying to snap some shots.  I learned the staff passionately debated whether the student killer (who committed suicide) should be counted in its final tally of the dead.  I learned the staff decided early on that the paper should focus “on the community, instead of the massacre” to in some small measure contribute to the campus healing process.

These enlightenments– and the interviews that produced them– are set against sharply-edited snippets of mainstream media coverage and a hauntingly spare musical score.  I laughed.  I cried (in manly fashion, of course).  I immediately added the film to the syllabi for several of my fall classes.  To the j-profs reading, I suggest you do the same.

Coming up next . . . An interview with the filmmakers (brief bios below).

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Question: I received an email last night from a student journalist that at one point noted, “The death of OBL [Osama Bin Laden] is mega-big news . . . [b]ut we’re not exactly drowning in foreign correspondents and military operations know-how over here, you know?  Is it really something our student newspaper should cover?

Answer: Yes, absolutely.  Bin Laden’s death– and second-day stories related to it– deserve front page/homepage play this week within student newspapers nationwide (at least those still publishing).

First, your newspaper may be the main or only source students and others on campus rely upon for information on this story beyond the “death texts” they received from friends Sunday night and the YouTube video they watched of the president’s speech soon after.

Second, your newspaper can very nicely complement the coverage already out there– no foreign correspondents or military operations know-how required.

In February 2007, Jeff Jarvis famously advised news outlets, “Cover what you do best.  Link to the rest.”  Follow this mantra in coverage of all “mega-big” stories. Even at Harvard, student newspaper readers are not expecting an exclusive behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of how the U.S. took Bin Laden out.  That is where The New York Times comes in.  But readers should expect– and deserve– campus-specific follow-ups and stories discussing this news from the higher ed. perspective.

Along with running a basic “Bin Laden is Dead” 10-incher, a majority of student news outlets have focused in the last 36 hours on three side stories— the spontaneous student celebrations erupting after the news broke; the reactions of professors and others on campus with international/intellectual prowess who are not being quoted anywhere else; and reflections on the death’s meaning for current students who were in grade school when 9/11 occurred.

Future stories might include sitdowns with campus figures/students/alums with direct 9/11 connections (including those who lost a family member in the attacks); reactions of student military veterans and the campus ROTC; glimpses at how the news spread among students (a tech/social media piece or a more straightforward ‘where were you when you heard’ rundown); and firsthand accounts from students studying abroad, possibly in the Middle East (if anyone’s still out of the country this late in the semester).

Other ideas for follow-up stories, or interesting angles you have already seen covered?

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In the wee hours of the morning, The Indiana Daily Student turned to Storify to share a sampling of Indiana University student reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  The multimedia storytelling platform allows narratives to be constructed on anything and everything through a gathering and organization of YouTube videos, Flickr photos, tweets, and more.

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As expected, the Twitterverse has exploded amid the breaking news reports and subsequent presidential confirmation that Osama bin Laden has been killed. Early tweets from college students and student journalism outlets are centered on the shock, the spontaneous student celebrations on some campuses and in D.C. . . . and the announcement’s impact on finals week.

Below are a random collection of related tweets.

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