A special report titled “Accounting for Assault” published last April by the Arrow student newspaper at Southeast Missouri State University is among four national finalists in the running for a College Media Association Pinnacle Award to be presented later this month.
The special edition was an investigative report of the “prevalence, complexities and accountability of sexual assault at Southeast.”
The Arrow is a finalist along with Distraction Magazine at the University of Miami, the Daily Bruin at UCLA and the Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin in the “Best Special Section: More than Four Pages” category. The winner will be announced at the Associated College Press/College Media Association Fall National College Media Convention Oct. 29 in Dallas.
An Arrow contingent, including Arrow Editor Kara Hartnett, Content Advisor Logan Young, News Editor Katelyn Mary Skaggs, Digital Managing Editor Rachael Long and Faculty Advisor Dr. Tamara Zellars Buck plan to attend. While at the conference Oct. 25-29, they also will present a session, using the special edition as a case study, titled, “Is it Advocacy or Journalism?” during which they will discuss the fine line journalists walk when writing about a case for which they are impassioned.
The special section was eight months in the making, said Hartnett, who last year served as digital managing editor of the Arrow. The special report was borne out of conversations she had with members of her sorority, Delta Delta Delta. As president of the sorority, Hartnett was involved in assisting several new members who reported being sexually assaulted last fall. Those conversations sparked her interest in how sexual assault cases are adjudicated on campus and the relevance of this issue, she said.
“It really was jumping in and understanding ‘what is the issue?’” said Lucas Presson, assistant publisher of the Southeast Missourian, which through a partnership with the University provides professional guidance for publication of the Arrow.
From the outset, Presson said he impressed upon the student journalists the importance of the project not becoming an advocacy piece. Rather, focus was placed on how sexual assault is accounted for at Southeast and whether there are gaps.
“This represented the best demonstration of the (Missourian-Arrow) partnership, Buck said, with students working alongside and being advised by professionals at the Southeast Missourian, including the management team, the editor, crime reporter and photographers.
Hartnett said the intent of the section was to address how those impacted by sexual assault have responded to it.
“It became an amazingly complex piece trying to fit all of the puzzle pieces together,” Buck said, “and Kara become our resident expert” in speaking with impacted students, University officials and national experts.
The special eight-page section, with additional content appearing online at SoutheastArrow.com, was published April 19. The report produced included 12 pieces based on more than 30 interviews, two videos, info-graphics and a resource page.
“When they wrote this, I knew it was going to be a powerful piece,” Buck said.
Within hours of the section being published, Hartnett said she began receiving messages and students congratulating her and opening up to her, wanting to “come out of the shadows” and tell their story about how the issue of sexual assault had impacted them.
“I completely developed as a journalist throughout this entire process,” Hartnett said.
Presson praised the University’s collaboration as stories in the section were produced.
“Throughout the process, the University handled this very well in terms of getting information to students. … It never looked like us versus them,” Presson said. “It was journalists asking questions, the University responding.
“That communication worked well,” he said.
He underscored the sensitivity of the topic saying, “As horrific as stories can be, there’s no question this is a challenging issue,” but “it’s good to see students passionate about something … to prepare them professionally.”
Many lessons were learned from the series, Hartnett said, and she and her team will discuss those in their “Is it Advocacy or Journalism?” presentation at the Associated College Press/College Media Association Fall National College Media Convention. Those lessons include challenging authority and navigating sensitive areas, asking difficult questions that many would rather not ask, the impact of words, non-bias journalism, understanding media law and its implications, discussing delicate issues with students who have come face to face with sexual assault and learning how to be a member of the University community as a media outlet.
“I love the fact that they are wanting to instigate conversations on campus on issues of national importance,” Buck said.
Enhancing sexual violence prevention education and encouraging victims of sexual violence to report the incident to appropriate parties has been an ongoing effort at Southeast over the past few years. In December 2016, the University implemented a special subcommittee to review the processes in Southeast’s Student Code of Conduct, and changes to the code were announced at the start of the fall 2017 semester. Hartnett and Buck said these are welcome changes. The series, in part, also raised the community’s interest in participating in conversations on this topic, Buck said.
Presson referenced a complimentary letter, along with feedback to further assist the student journalists in their understanding of this complex topic, Dr. Debbie Below, vice president for enrollment management and student success, sent to the Arrow staff following publication of the series.
“That was a testament to how Kara and the team handled themselves throughout,” he said.
Below also attended an end-of-the-year Arrow barbecue where she engaged in conversation with staff members about certain portions of the report.
Overall, the impact of the series has been significant, Hartnett said, particularly as it has raised awareness on campus. She noted that the Arrow’s website, where the report is posted, had about 3,000 page views. Buck said the story was shared in social media about 1,000 times within the first day.
Being one of four national finalists for the Pinnacle Award is especially meaningful, considering that a team of just seven Arrow staff members were involved in reporting on and compiling the special report, she said.
“It’s unusual for a staff our size” to compete, she said. “That makes this award even more spectacular because of the number of people involved.”
Being named a finalist for the award indicates Southeast’s multimedia journalism program is one of the nation’s best, Hartnett said.
“When you look at the programs we’re up against, they have 75,000 students. Our paper, our content can compete. So, it definitely speaks to the quality of the program,” she said.
Presson said the success of the special report should serve as a recruiting tool for the University in attracting students into its multimedia journalism program.
“I could not be prouder of this crew,” Buck said. “They (the student journalists) are going to be so much more prepared to enter this industry because of projects like this.”
“Accounting for Assault” is available in its entirety at http://www.southeastarrow.com/accountingforassault.
*Top Photo: Arrow Editor Kara Hartnett says the “Accounting for Assault” special report began with conversations she had with members of her sorority.