“Be careful here, this guy is a world-renowned scientist, and you’re a 17-year-old kid.”
According the Washington Post, these were the words Peter Baker offered to his son, Theo, as Theo was in the thick of his investigative reporting on Stanford University’s president Marc Tessier-Lavigne. Theo’s work at The Stanford Daily in uncovering Tessier-Lavigne’s manipulated neuroscience research led first to the commission of a special advisory committee, and ultimately to Tessier-Lavigne’s resignation.
Theo never backed down–fearlessly committed to finding the truth, he reported Tessier-Lavigne’s full pattern of scientific misconduct, and continued to cover the subsequent fallout and investigation.
Theo’s story is just one example of courageous, outstanding student journalism from 2023. This year, undergraduate journalists dug into complex stories and exposed wrongdoing at their institutions, sometimes even getting ahead of national news outlets to do so.
This was the case for journalists both at The Harvard Crimson and The Daily Pennsylvanian, UPenn’s student paper, following the controversial congressional hearing on university leaders’ response to rising incidents of antisemitism on college campuses this fall. Crimson reporters Miles Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan interviewed their president, Claudine Gay, as she responded to the fallout from her comments. A few days later, hours before The New York Times broke the news, the reporting duo published that Gay would stay on with the support of the Harvard Corporation, despite coming under scrutiny for her comments.
Similarly, UPenn juniors Jared Mitovich and Molly Cohen got ahead of national news outlets to report that their University president, Liz Magill, would be resigning amid the controversy, along with Scott Bok, the chair of the University Board of Trustees. Both The Daily Pennsylvanian and The Harvard Crimson had dispatched their student reporters to sit alongside national outlets to cover the hearing and responses live.
Also this year, reporters at The Daily Northwestern published multiple articles detailing allegations of hazing and racism on the football team. Similar to Theo Baker’s work, their reporting had far-reaching impact: the firing of head coach Pat Fitzgerald following an independent investigation into the team.
In a similar vein, Senior Staff Writer Zachary Schermele at The Columbia Spectator recently released an extended report on the Columbia Department of Public Safety and Facilities and Operations, with the results of several months of investigation that revealed a toxic work environment, particularly under the leadership of executive director Deidre Fuchs.
But this year’s excellent student journalism hasn’t only consisted of covering scandals and controversies–in many cases, it has also kept students informed in crucial moments and drawn national attention to what students are going through. This was exactly what editor Emmy Martin of the UNC-Chapel Hill Daily Tar Heel sought to do with her team’s real-time reporting of the fatal shooting that occurred on campus on August 28, 2023.
Gaining international recognition was the Tar Heel’s front page that Martin ideated the day after the shooting took place, which featured a collection of text messages sent between friends and family members as the lockdown took place, beginning with “Are you safe?” and ending with “Don’t stop texting me.” It was the front page seen around the world, with even President Joe Biden posting a photo of the paper on Twitter. She published an opinion piece–”We’re tired of being the ‘lockdown generation’”–as a followup to the huge response to the image.
The tensions that have been brewing on college campuses throughout 2023 will likely only intensify in the coming election year. Administrators will come under ever greater scrutiny, and independent college newspapers will become only more essential to holding them accountable while also filling in the gaps in local news.
Kidizenship believes strongly in the importance of and influence of rigorous, responsible, creative and independent student journalism. We’re proud to be republishing six of the most influential pieces of college reporting in our 2023 end-of-year issue, and will continue to track share the groundbreaking undergraduate journalism in 2024.
SIX LANDMARK COLLEGE JOURNALISM PIECES OF 2023:
- Stanford University journalist reports on scientific misconduct by former president Marc Tessier-Lavigne.
- Harvard University journalists beat national outlets to report their president would stay on despite backlash to comments on antisemitism on campus.
- University of Pennsylvania journalists also get ahead of national media, reporting their president’s resignation following remarks on antisemitism on campus.
- Northwestern University journalists report on hazing on the football team.
- Columbia University journalists investigate toxic work environment in the University’s Public Safety Department.
- University of North Carolina journalists respond to the August 2023 shooting.