The more we learn about the efforts of the Northern Star team in at Northern Illinois University the more we are amazed.
The professionalism is astounding. A tragedy of this magnitude is, obviously, a huge test for those reporting on it. Personal grief battles against student inexperience. This will have been the biggest story these students will have ever worked on. And to top it all off: One of the victims, Daniel Parmenter, was part of the newspaper team.
Talking to the New York Times, the Northern Star’s advisor, Jim Killam said: “It became very clear that people very close to us were injured and dead. It immediately changed the complexion of the newsroom.”
The Times article goes on to explain the lessons learned from the Virginia Tech shootings last year. The Star’s team was fully prepared after their editor-in-chief, John Puterbaugh, had been in contact with Amie Steele who is editor-in-chief for Virginia Tech’s newspaper, the Collegiate Times. Techniques borrowed from the Virginia Tech coverage included using Facebook to identify victims quickly.
The newspaper found itself in a privileged position: They were the best source of news bar none. The mainstream media couldn’t come close to the tight personal bonds the Northern Star will have had with the students and staff at the University. It was this factor that allowed the Star to be the first to report that the killer had turned the gun on himself.
While coverage of the tragedy will soon drop off the mainstream agenda, it will of course continue to dominate the Northern Star’s pages. Amie Steele knows this all too well with her experience in Virginia.
“I’ve been looking forward to the first issue that doesn’t have an April 16 story,’she told the Times. ‘But unfortunately I don’t think that is going to come anytime soon.”
Here in the UK, students are not given the resources needed to produce an impressive media output like those made by the Northern Star and Collegiate Times.
Yet, journalistic instinct cannot be bought. Would UK student journalists be up to the task of reporting such a tragedy?