Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tough Lesson In Ethics For Virginia Tech Student Reporters

College newspapers are a strange balance of the job and the hobby, where sometimes it can feel like making sure the newspaper gets on the stands is more important than anything else in the world.

But then some moment comes where it shatters every concern you had about the paper going out, and you suddenly feel like the newspaper is the least important thing in the world; an extracurricular hobby.

Death will do that. But yesterday, Virginia Tech student reporters showed us why they're the real deal, even in the face of expectation-shattering news.

Student reporters from the Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech showed us all the tenacity of a feeling of obligation to get the story out there yesterday when 32 students and staff were shot and killed on their campus.

The students didn't have to do anything. For approximately two hours, there was an armed student prowling campus and it was within every right to have ran for the hills for their own safety.

Yet they stayed, and they reported. And they are some of the unsung heroes of yesterday's tragedy.

With server down, the Collegiate Times continued to update on their parent company's website, wire- (and some might say blog-) style. National news outlets quoted the editor-in-chief, who had one reporter in one of the buildings in question. And I'm not sure who broke the first news, but I distinctly remember the New York Times quoting Collegiate Times reports early yesterday, when it was thought that only one person had been shot and killed.

Some of their friends could have been victims. And for a time, a threat was still present. Yet the reporters typed on.

A hobby? I don't know. Something surely must have banded those students together; some imperceptible ethical obligation to inform their students. And combined with some of the citizen journalism that happened -- the cameraphone video footage from the Middle Eastern graduate student, for example -- the way the MSM collected first reports from the campus (before the AP arrived) was indicative of how those people on the ground alter breaking news coverage.

Yesterday's coverage taught a lesson; what it is, I don't know yet. But what I do know is that those Collegiate Times kids should be given some sort of Collegiate Pulitzer Prize for continuing to break news better -- and faster -- than the other media outlets. They did their campus community a huge public service and they should be commended.

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