I imagine that the staff of The Cavalier Daily had other stories planned for the end of last week. I certainly had a different column in process before an article in Rolling Stone was published last Wednesday detailing heinous allegations of rape and what is described as a response from the University administration that is woefully insufficient. The foci of virtually everyone on and around Grounds shifted immediately to the story and the response to it. I watched, in part, as those seeking information and those who had something to say turned increasingly to The Cavalier Daily.
I have written in this space previously wondering what the purpose of a college newspaper is and musing on various possibilities. What The Cavalier Daily has been for the last week is a lot of how I’d like to define any good newspaper. Unlike the Hannah Graham story for which The Cavalier Daily leveraged a small group spearheaded by Kelly Kaler to effectively report a story that unfolded over weeks (and continued, in fact, this past Thursday), the breadth of what the CD can do was shown this week. I stopped counting at a dozen different bylines on articles related to the Rolling Stone piece and reactions to it. There were reports from many corners of the University and from virtually all groups of stakeholders including faculty, alumni, undergraduate and graduate students, the Board of Visitors, state-level politicians and so on. On Twitter there were photos in real time of protests that sprung up including the few arrests outside of the Phi Kappa Psi house. I watched as my personal twitter feed (one separate from my @cdpubliceditor handle) shifted from links to national news sources to sharing Cavalier Daily articles. That was notable for me because in the past, even with University-related news, people I follow tend to stick with national publications. The Cavalier Daily was simply doing a better job of working the story than anyone else. The articles they ran were informative, concisely written and above all, timely. The reaction roundup article published Thursday night by Peter Simonsen was a particularly good idea, I’d very much like to see it updated as warranted. Any time I learned of a reaction from anywhere else, The Cavalier Daily already had it. It really felt like the CD was just everywhere on this, which is about as high praise as I can think to give a newsroom working a story.
The one story that really fell flat for me was the article on the University administration’s proposed changes to its sexual misconduct policy. It was published early Thursday morning online and in the Thursday print edition and had nothing referencing the Rolling Stone article or reaction to that article and felt like it was lacking as a result. Making another phone call to ask whether or how the policy would be moved forward in response (even if met with no comment or demurral) would have helped readers locate the information in the article in the changing landscape. As is, it read like it was already old news and the quotations in the article were already out of date.
But that is really a nitpick in what was a fantastic job of reporting overall. Beyond giving us the news, the Cavalier Daily website was important as a digital gathering place. The comment sections on several articles blossomed quickly with hundreds of comments across several pieces. Of course not all of the comments are helpful, reasonable or even accurate, but a place to feel that one’s voice can be heard is important — a tremendous service to the community. The “Letters from the Community” feature on the website is invaluable. The one thing that felt disconnected for me was the mobile app. With no comments available on the articles and without updates as frequent as the website it just wasn’t as useful as other ways of accessing The Cavalier Daily.
Beyond everything I’ve just written and as good a job as I think the Cavalier Daily staff has done covering the Rolling Stone article reaction, I think the most important thing the staff did from the perspective of publishing a good newspaper was not lose the handle on the other important things going on at the University. Second year student Peter D’Agostino died suddenly on Thursday and The Cavalier Daily had a news article up immediately and followed with updates, a letter from Peter’s friends and, eventually, his obituary as provided by his family. All of these were top news items on the website, which I think was the right place for them.
Christopher Broom is The Cavalier Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.