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Aug. 30, 2023, 2:25 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   August 30, 2023

The front page of the August 30 issue of The Daily Tar Heel — the independent student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — consists entirely of texts sent to and from students during the lockdown around the August 28 campus shooting which a graduate student killed a professor.

Stories in the issue cover not just what happened on campus, but how the shooting is affecting the local community. Monday was also the first day of school for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and they went into lockdown too. Alongside that story in the Daily Tar Heel’s “City and State” section were stories about family-owned Chapel Hill businesses, road closures, and a new coffee shop.

As local papers continue to vanish, student journalists are stepping up to fill an important community role. Around 10% of capital statehouse reporters in 2022 were students, Pew found last year. The trend was underscored Wednesday by the new data from the Center for Community News (CCN), a nonprofit organization run out of the University of Vermont that aims to increase student-led reporting nationwide — and to make existing efforts more visible.

“It may come as a surprise to many Americans that much of the professional reporting that keeps our communities informed is now the work of students, in coordination with professional editors and faculty,” Richard Watts, the director of CCN, said in a statement.

CCN sent its first annual survey to 130 colleges and universities “with a news-academic program in 2023.” Sixty-two responded. These programs, according to CCN’s definition, are distinct from campus newspapers “in that students report on the world at large, under the direction of faculty and professional editors, for news outlets that serve their communities and regions,” and their work is republished for free by other media outlets.

Here’s some of what CCN found in its survey of news-academic programs:

The programs range from the very large (University of Missouri has six student-staffed newsrooms) to the very small (Franklin College has 5-7 students cover the statehouse under the direction of a full-time faculty member)…

News-academic partnerships like these are responsible for some of the most enterprising and consequential reporting in local news today. For example, an extensive new investigation by student journalists for the Capital News Service into Maryland’s public schools uncovered lack of accountability, fraud, and false resumes; Indiana’s The Statehouse File monitors on-the-record statements by elected officials on critical developments in Indiana’s abortion ban, testing scores, and more; and in the wake of historic flooding in Vermont, UVM’s Community News Service recently wrote about how non-English speakers can access disaster resources.

The Daily Tar Heel, as a student-run newspaper independent of the university, doesn’t actually qualify as one of the “news-academic programs” that CCN looks at. But it and other campus newspapers are clearly filling a community-serving role anyway. “Major kudos to the student media news directors and reporters who are expanding what they do — student media plus these university run reporting programs are both essential for different reasons,” Watts told me in an email. “Democracy needs all of the above!”

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