Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Student newspapers: In sports, timing is everything

Most folks in the industry as well as the readers would agree that America's newspapers are in serious trouble. But when a college newspaper scoops the mainstream paper in its town, the New York Times could not ignore it.  Maybe not  a newsworthy shaggy dog story, but at least one that's of a tail wagging the dog.

It happened in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the university's  student newspaper, the Michigan Daily,  revealed the  unseemly absence of news coverage  involving the Wolverines'  senior place kicker .  It came to light after he was "permanently separated" from the college for violating the student sexual conduct policy back when he was a freshman in 2009. He remained on the team until the current football season ended,with the sexual assault charge long hidden from public view.  It's difficult to win some games without a place kicker.

"It's unclear why sanctions were not decided  in this matter until recently," the Michigan Daily reported. Indeed.

The the New York Times  accepted the cue in its own piece this week, reporting:

"It was a shocking revelation for a university town that has a population of 116,000  and a football stadium of nearly the same capacity.  But almost as surprising was the origin  of the report: The story was not broken by the local professional news organization, the Ann Arbor News.  Instead it was uncovered by The Michigan Daily, the university's independently run student newspaper."

The News is owned by Advance Publications, which also owns the Plain Dealer  and other papers. In 2009,  it installed its plan to cut back daily print editions to two days a week in favor of a web-first model.  The student paper is now the only five-days-a week print paper in Ann Arbor.

The student paper's aggressive reporting reflects the growth of campus dailies as well as news sources via other media.  The Times noted that the University of Kansas has started a wire service and covers the legislature. Arizona State now has a Washington Bureau - the state's  largest in the nation's  capital.  It is  staffed by students who receive college credit. (The University of Akron suspended its student paper for lack of able young bodies to run it.)

Meantime, don't you wonder about priorities  when a football player remains at a school four years after he is accused of sexual assault until after his last season has ended and he's no longer useful as an athlete?   Fortunately, they didn't stop all of the presses in Ann Arbor.


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