The Best Performance of Student Newspaper Journalism

Editor’s Note: There are many examples of independent student journalism but none seemingly surpass that of the 1980 staff of the O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University. Living Media Ethics author Michael Bugeja was media adviser to the newspaper at the time. On April 24, the bulletin bells clanged on the tickertape of our wire service machines. President Jimmy Carter had launched a rescue mission to save 52 hostages in the Embassy in Tehran. It happened after morning newspapers had gone to bed, so that meant no coverage apart from television in the pre-internet days. The following content was posted originally on Facebook as reporters 40 years later remembered their special issue. What makes this special? Students not only scooped the mainstream media with one of the first accounts; the delivery trucks were not due until late in the afternoon. Students were undeterred. They went to the press room and got bundles of newspapers and delivered them to advertisers, residence halls, community and campus buildings. They did this in an Oklahoma thunderstorm. Here is their story, the epitome of zeal.

Zeal matters: Journalism is a calling and so must be pursued with passion. Otherwise, you will burn out when your candle burns at both ends.” — Michael Bugeja, O’Colly media adviser

On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw was launched to rescue 52 hostages being held at the Embassy in Tehran. The mission was a failure. There was no Internet at the time. And when the news hit the wire at the Daily O’Collegian, the next day’s newspapers already had gone to press. So there would be no morning newspaper stories about the aborted mission.

Larry Solomon, editor that night, called me at home. We could not find the editor-in-chief or the managing editor; but Larry rode around Stillwater, waking up student reporters and bringing enough back to the newsroom to put out a special edition.

OCOLLYnewsroom

We telephoned military and government sources as if we were a national wire service. Our editorial cartoonist read wire service reports and drew a representation of what had happened. All-night dinners and cafes, some of them our advertisers, gave us food as we worked until dawn to report the news. Students went to the press room and watched the special edition roll off the presses. Then they realized something. We had no delivery trucks. They were not due until the afternoon. Worse, a thunderstorm had broken out, adding to the drama.

The freshman news writing reporting class arrived in the lab adjacent to the newsroom. They were pulled out of class and given addresses from our distribution map. Each student got a bundle of papers. Out they went.

Afterward, students went to the student union and saw the best evidence of the power of the press. You could not see a face. Everyone had a copy of the O’Colly fanned out–a veritable sea of newspaper front pages across rows and rows of tables.

Later the students learned that their newspaper was one of the first–and some said THE first–to report the news in print. Not only did these students beat the competition nationally, they delivered the newspapers to all of our advertisers, residence halls, campus buildings and town distribution boxes. In an Oklahoma thunderstorm!

Journalism is a calling. Many of the students on staff that evening went on to stellar careers in journalism, advertising and public relations. They still remember that night and special edition. It defined them. It bespoke the obligation of reporters to work tirelessly for the audience in the interest of democracy.

They set the standard for future generations.

Those students exist. It is up to teachers and internship advisers to nurture their zeal. That’s what Living Media Ethics does, chapter after chapter.

 

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