Commentary

COVID-19 Inspires Gripping Campus News Coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has invaded campuses in the past few weeks as many colleges work to bring back students for the fall semester. That grim development has made student newspapers a focal point for compelling news and debate about how educational institutions are handling an unwieldy health crisis.

"UNC has a clusterf--- on its hands" was the succinct headline of a recent op-ed in the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in describing the college's lack of preparation for an outbreak of multiple COVID-19 clusters. The newspaper typically doesn't print profanity in headlines, but its editorial team was compelled to print something dramatic to shake up the school's management.

The op-ed chided administrators for ignoring a warning from local health officials who recommended different procedures to better ensure the safety of students. Amid the growing alarm about the outbreaks, the university later announced that all in-person classes would be canceled for undergraduates, a mere two weeks after students had returned to campus.

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The Daily Tar Hell isn't alone in covering the travails of college students returning to campus during the pandemic. The Observer, the student newspaper for the University of Notre Dame and nearby Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College, has been on the front lines of COVID-19 reporting.

The newspaper now maintains a web page with daily numbers of confirmed cases at the colleges, and has run op-eds pleading with administrators and students to help stop the spread of the pandemic. "Don't make us write obituaries," the newspaper last week wrote in an editorial. It asked the entire three-college community to take the health crisis more seriously.

As more colleges open their campuses and contend with reckless students who feel invincible to the coronavirus, student newspapers have an opportunity to provide compelling coverage.

Let's hope that doesn't include obituaries.

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