There can be no doubt that student journalists at Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times had the best coverage in the country of Thursday’s shooting deaths of the VT campus. As I wrote on this blog yesterday, the paper’s staff did an excellent job of not only covering the story as it broke using Twitter and other social media, they also dealt well with redirecting readers to first a photo blog and then their Twitter page when their web site went down under all the traffic.
They also produced a well-done special edition that was available both in print and online.
Today the students are getting recognition for their work literally coast to coast, with praise coming from New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
- NY Times: Using Twitter, Virginia Teach’s college newspaper kept on publishing
- LA Times: Virginia Tech shootings: Student paper covers it from the inside
The coverage by the Collegiate Times was certainly not perfect. Any time you try to cover a breaking story in real time, you are going to make mistakes. At one point the staff had a posted a photo that was actually from the 2007 mass shooting on campus. But to their credit, the staff not only took the photo down as soon as they realized their mistake, they also publicly acknowledged the error and ran a correction through Twitter.
Aside from having good local coverage, the students also showed a good understanding of what could be done with social media. As the Media Decoder blog at the NY Times pointed out, the paper made good use of crowd sourcing news about the shootings.
They also did a good job of making clear what they knew for sure and what was news they were uncertain about.
While the paper’s reporters and editors have justifiably been praised, for me one of the real heros of the day, journalistically, was online director Jamie Chung. Poynter.org reports that Chung used his computer in his dorm room to keep photos and news flowing the the paper’s web site while it was up. But the site quickly crashed under the heavy load. So Chung did a redirect first to a breaking news section, then to a WordPress site, and finally to the paper’s Twitter page. Chung told Poynter:
“It was very important to us to make sure we could still reach our audience,” Chung said by phone, noting that the site’s server was eventually upgraded. “The biggest challenge was knowing there was a problem that you know needs to be fixed but feeling like it’s completely out of your control. We said, ‘We might be down, but we still need some credible channel for our audience to access the news.’ ”