The University has been at play in three recent significant state and national stories that The Cavalier Daily has not covered.
Federal Judge Glen Conrad approved a protective order on documents pertaining to Rolling Stone’s egregiously misreported story about rape at the University. Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone for defamation; the judge’s order will limit the amount of information that will inform that case and enter the public record.
In Richmond, state politicians are sparring over whether University President Teresa Sullivan should hold on to her job. Republican Delegate David Ramadan is leading a charge for Sullivan to be fired because of recent unsavory headlines about rape on Grounds. Other delegates maintain that Sullivan has handled a tumultuous year well — and that it’s not the General Assembly’s job to intervene so specifically in University affairs.
And this week, Martese Johnson, the fourth-year student who was unjustly beaten by police last spring, published a 1700-word article in Vanity Fair about the aftermath of that experience.
Where was The Cavalier Daily on these stories?
According to Editor-in-Chief Julia Horowitz and Managing Editor Chloe Heskett, the main reason the stories went uncovered is probably that the paper’s staff simply didn’t know about them. Good on them to admit it rather than try to drum up convoluted justifications — but that’s a pretty serious set of whiffs for a newsroom that’s supposed to have its finger on the pulse of all things U.Va.
The Johnson story isn’t just a matter of reporting that the Vanity Fair piece exists. It would be good for The Cavalier Daily to offer readers at least a mention of Johnson’s piece or an analysis of it, but there’s also important work to be done on how Johnson has shaped the University’s national image.
The more essential question in that case, though, is why The Cavalier Daily couldn’t get its hands on this piece or a similar one from Johnson, and why the paper has not profiled Johnson, who appears to be quite open to discussions with news outlets. Why let a University story be overtaken by national outlets? Doesn’t home-field advantage matter?
And even if it is difficult for The Cavalier Daily to send reporters to Richmond to cover state proceedings, surely legislators’ attempts to meddle in University affairs have roiled the waters here in Charlottesville. Once scooped by professional papers, couldn’t The Cavalier Daily beat them by looking deeper into Madison Hall? Or let students have a say; now that the issue of Sullivan’s job security has been broached, The Cavalier Daily should be running opinion pieces on her tenure or on who ought to have a say in whether she is fired. About the court order in the Rolling Stone case, too, there remain plenty of University repercussions to sort through and student opinions to air.
More important, The Cavalier Daily ought to ask itself what service it provides its readers. It’s no fun to be constantly playing catch-up with the pros or to run rehashed versions of stories from outlets with significantly more — and paid — manpower. But if The Cavalier Daily wants to be the authoritative source on University happenings, it needs to run those stories even when it isn’t leading the pack. Running a newspaper, even in the Internet age, is not just a race; The Cavalier Daily shouldn’t sit a story out just because it doesn’t get there first. There are surely U.Va. students whose sole source of University news is The Cavalier Daily; they shouldn’t have to turn elsewhere to see important headlines about their school.
But in these cases, an equally pressing question is why reporters and editors didn’t know about the events in question. Each of these stories is much bigger and more important to readers than alumni donations, Student Council transparency or a petition to rename Columbus Day, all of which received coverage this week. It’s hard to know where staffers went wrong or how they missed something — though one wonders if publishing in print daily, with all the daily pressure that entails, might help — but The Cavalier Daily should have beat reporters whose responsibility it is to know about and write about these stories.
Someone should be on the rape and sex beat; another person should be an expert on all things pertaining to race or policing. The Cavalier Daily has a new communal “bureau” model — an improvement over random and unstructured assignments — but having more than one person on a beat, and having unspecific beats, still diffuses responsibility and makes it harder for reporters to foster the relationships they need to cover a beat well. Collective responsibility makes it much more likely for stories to fall through the cracks.
If The Cavalier Daily wants to remain relevant as a source of news, it needs to set up the internal structures that ensure that it can at least run even with — and sometimes beat — the professionals.
Julia Fisher is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CDPublicEditor.