From The Daily: Saving student newsrooms, nationwide

Saturday, April 25, 2020 - 2:44am

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Design by Alec Cohen

March 11 — the day the University of Michigan announced classes were going to be online for the rest of the semester — was a whirlwind. We knew it was coming. I sat restlessly through three classes, paying no attention and completely abandoning my self-imposed rule to put my phone away during class. I checked my texts every five minutes, waiting for the news to break. When the class finally ended at around 3:15 p.m., I bolted straight for the newsroom — not bothering to think about the rapidly approaching deadlines of midterms or papers. After taking two stairs at a time, I rounded the corner and found I wasn’t the only one. My fellow news editors were there too, waiting in solidarity. We’d already prewritten most of the story and copy editors were simultaneously revising as we anxiously refreshed inboxes and checked feeds. When it finally broke, senior news editors Barbara, Claire and I read the long email from our University President as fast as we could. We each picked a section and we wrote. It was chaos. 

We published the article in 8 minutes. We beat every other news outlet. Everyone in the newsroom cheered, and I was able to breathe for the first time all day.  

That same day, we’d already published two breaking news stories before noon: our provost, who had been placed on leave for sexual misconduct allegations, was removed from his role and there was a COVID-19 patient being treated at Michigan Medicine. I co-wrote one of them in my environmental law class (don’t tell my professor). 

This is not unusual for us. Working for The Michigan Daily isn’t an extracurricular, it’s a job. Some editors are in the newsroom from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night, afterward retreating home to finish their academic obligations. 

Professional journalists can dedicate an entire day to writing a story and everything it entails, whether it be extensive research, contacting sources or conducting interviews. Student journalists do all of that, but on a much tighter schedule. We have to work around classes, group projects, homework assignments, exams and other extracurriculars. I once left a class to “go to the bathroom,” but I was actually interviewing a state senator in the hallway –– it was the only time he could talk. We’re full-time journalists and full-time students, making our role incredibly unique. 

The Michigan Daily is the only daily print paper in Washtenaw County. We don’t just serve our school, we serve our community. Accordingly, we cover every city council meeting and every election, every athletic competition, festival, tradition and campus event. This results in an impressive dance of student journalists speed-walking across campus, driving over state lines and flying across the country.  

Our sports section, named the best sports section at the College Media Awards in 2019, is the only outlet that covers every varsity sport at the University. Sports writers are sent all over the country. Wherever the Wolverines go, The Daily goes. But our sports coverage isn’t just about the games: We broke the news when the women’s gymnastics team hired a coach affiliated with Larry Nassar — and when she was fired less than a week later. And even though all athletic events have been canceled, our coverage of Michigan teams hasn’t stopped — we’ve only dived deeper into what it means to be a Wolverine.

We’ve sent news reporters to Iowa to cover the caucus, one of our reporters was called “fake news” at a Pence rally in February and when Bernie Sanders rallied on our campus, we interviewed him right before. 

Since COVID-19 has become more prevalent in our country and the first two cases were detected in the state of Michigan, we’ve watched every COVID-19 briefing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has done. We wrote about how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community. We interviewed essential workers at the University and were inspired by their dedication and big hearts. We published an op-ed written by an ICU nurse at Michigan Medicine that conveyed the growing concern of health care professionals so close to home. Our photo staff has stepped up to cover protests and capture what Ann Arbor looks like in the middle of a pandemic. A reporter covered operation gridlock in downtown Lansing — one of the first of what has since become a national movement protesting stay-at-home orders. 

After a Daily investigation, renowned opera singer and tenured voice professor David Daniels, who was accused of numerous counts of sexual misconduct, was fired. We also unearthed previously undisclosed allegations of sexual misconduct claims against professor Stephen Shipps. The allegations spanned 40 years. He retired shortly after our article was published. 

The Michigan Daily published its first edition in 1890. Since then, we have served our community with integrity and pride. We are entirely independent of the University and completely student-run. This ensures we’re able to hold the University’s administration accountable and publish whatever we see fit. We interview our University president every month — something no other local news outlet does — and press him on issues important to the community, including the endowment, divestment from fossil fuels, union bargaining and sexual misconduct policies. Independent journalism holds the powerful accountable, and this starts with student journalism. 

The Michigan Daily is lucky. We have a wonderful staff of over 300 dedicated students, all of whom contribute to our goal of maintaining journalistic integrity while delivering stories that highlight the voices of our community and cover all realms of academic, social and political life.

Student journalism is about more than informing the student body: It can spark very real change within our institutions, local communities and day-to-day lives. However, student newsrooms are notoriously underfunded. Print papers are rapidly declining nationwide and smaller news outlets are fading, hurt by the relentlessly fast-paced transitions of the 21st century and a lack of funding. Student journalism often steps in to fill the void. 

I won’t be the only one to say this today, but student journalism is real journalism and it’s needed now, more than ever. So, we ask you to do what you can to support us and to support all other student newsrooms around the country. Donate if you can, buy an ad and, most importantly, read our coverage. We do it for you.