As newspapers around America shut down or severely trim staff and
expenditures, college journalism students increase local coverage.
In January, residents learned that the senior place-kicker for
the University of Michigan's football team had been permanently
"separated" from the school for violating its student sexual
misconduct policy. The violation, an alleged sexual assault,
occurred in 2009, when the kicker was a freshman, and his punishment
was not determined until his athletic career had ended this past
The article describing all of this, based on documents reviewed
by two reporters, stated, "It's unclear why sanctions were not
decided in this matter until recently." A month later, the Education
Department's Office for Civil Rights began investigating the
university's handling of the case.
It was a shocking revelation for a university town that has a
population of 116,000 and a football stadium of nearly the same
capacity. But almost as surprising was the origin of the report: The
story was not broken by the local professional news organization,
The Ann Arbor News. Instead, it was uncovered by The Michigan Daily,
the university's independently run student newspaper.
The Ann Arbor News, owned by Advance Publications, changed in
July 2009 from a daily newspaper to a web-first model that produced
a print edition only twice a week, making Ann Arbor among the first
American cities to lose their only daily paper. Since then, The
Michigan Daily has been the only Monday-through-Friday print
publication in town.
As daunting financial pressures force newspapers around the
country to shut down or severely trim staff and expenditures, a new
model has emerged in many communities in which college journalism
students increasingly make up for the lack of in-depth coverage by
"I keep questioning whether this scandal would have come out
sooner if we had a vigorous local paper here," said James O'Shea, a
former editor in chief of The Los Angeles Times and managing editor
of The Chicago Tribune who is now a visiting professor of journalism
at the University of Michigan. "But I also don't know if it would
have ever come out without The Michigan Daily." The place-kicker,
Brendan Gibbons, has not been criminally charged.
The Ann Arbor News, which for several years was named
AnnArbor.com, went through its latest rebranding last September,
when it was integrated into the statewide platform of Advance's
MLive Media Group, which includes, among other properties, seven
other print newspapers.
The constant changes have muddled The Ann Arbor News's identity
and, according to some residents, eroded its standing as the go-to
source of news in the community. That sense was reinforced by the
football article, on which The Ann Arbor News played catch-up after
student reporters broke the story.
"I feel The Michigan Daily fills an important niche in Ann Arbor
and a need that is unmet by our regional newspapers in an era of
constrained resources," said the student paper's editor in chief,
Peter Shahin, sitting with the two reporters who broke the football
scandal story, Adam Rubenfire and Matt Slovin, in the daily's
conference room. On the far wall, a bookshelf holds hardcover
volumes of archived issues of the newspaper dating back decades.
"We have 200 to 250 staff, and though we are a trade publication
first covering the university, we are also trying to fill a void in
other areas here, like the arts," Mr. Shahin said. "I think we truly
have the pulse of the town."
The editor of The Ann Arbor News, Paula Gardner, declined to
comment. John Hiner, vice president of content for MLive Media
Group, said, "I respect all the student newspapers across the state,
not just The Michigan Daily. I tip my hat to them when they get a
big story like the Gibbons story, but it is not as if I worry about
them as competitors in our business planning -- their niche is
campus, and we cover a lot of other parts of the community beyond
the university, as well. …