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Professionalism & integrity above all

Observer Editorial Board | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sometimes, football becomes the smallest thing.

At schools like Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State, the football team and its head coach often transcend their simple athletic role. They become symbols of a university, its students and alumni — the successes and failures within the football program are magnified beyond the sidelines.

In times of struggle, tragedy and scandal, the heat of the spotlight burns even hotter.

But it is during times like these that students of such universities feel an irresistible urge to protect their home, their coach, their alma mater. The riots at Penn State this past week have shown in an unprecedented way how far students will go to protect their own leaders and mentors — even in the face of overwhelmingly negative public opinion toward those leaders.

At times of crisis, the student newspaper becomes a unique case study in conflict of interest and mixed loyalties. Like all other students, those who report on their classmates’ athletic, academic and personal achievements yearn to protect those they know best. However, these same individuals have made a commitment to uphold their responsibility as unbiased reporters of the news. Their sole mission, as The Observer’s original staff editorial stated, is “to uncover the truth and report it accurately.”

In this respect, the Editorial Board of The Observer would like to recognize the staffs of The Lantern of Ohio State University and, more recently, The Daily Collegian of Penn State University for their outstanding and balanced reporting of the scandals which have rocked their schools. By utilizing journalistic tenets such as tenacious sourcing, broad coverage and nearly-instant breaking news updates, the students who double as writers and staffers at these papers have shown a commendable willingness to separate their dual identities.

As Penn State students marched by the thousands up and down their campus, many shouted vulgar slurs at the scores of media members who had descended upon Happy Valley. A local TV news van was knocked onto its side and its windows were shattered. At least one ESPN reporter had rocks thrown in his direction.

When a salacious event occurs like the one that upended the Nittany Lion landscape this week, the media firestorm surrounding it naturally attracts reporters from around the world. The student reporters are among those who have spread themselves thin throughout the campus in an attempt to cover the various press conferences and protests over the past week, and therefore are also targets of attacks of their peers.

These attacks, whether warranted or not, risk belittling the effort that coverage of these kinds of stories demand and diminish the thanks in an already thankless job. Student reporters were on the scene years before the news crews from CNN and The New York Times rolled in, and they will be there long after as the coverage fades away from the national scene. But in many ways the intimacy with which students are allowed to report on and write about the actions of their peers and their mentors cannot be rivaled by media conglomerates.

Therefore we at The Observer want to take our time to recognize those student journalists who, when confronted by stories that challenge their identity and loyalty, continue to put professionalism and integrity above all else. We look to their staffs as an example for the future, and we will always strive to live up to our highest calling, expressed in that 1966 editorial: to uncover the truth and report it accurately.