The Pennsylvania community loves to talk about football – unless it’s Jerry Sandusky.
This is what the students at The Daily Collegian learned while working on their own semester-long project, Sandusky’s imprint.
I spent Labor Day weekend in Happy Valley, a title State College, Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania State campus spreads across beautiful scenery. I trained about 20 undergraduate students, then worked with them on a weekly basis to pursue their project. Their work culminated on December 6 in an online presentation presenting their work to their colleagues, department staff, and Poynter’s leadership.
The Poynter College Media student journalists were selected through a spring 2021 submission process that asked them to propose an investigation focused on a problem or issue facing the campus. Dozens of student media applied, and seven were selected for the program, which provided custom project planning, ongoing support from Poynter staff and a host of distinguished speakers. Among them was a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Barstow, writer for the Atlantic team Ed Young And Sarah Ghanem, who broke Sandusky’s story as a young reporter.
The project was supported by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.
Jade Campos, editor-in-chief of the Penn State Daily Collegian, presented her project to webinar participants by identifying Sandusky—”since we were all about ten” when a grand jury alleged that the Penn State Defense Coordinator had groomed and then sexually assaulted him and He abused male children for decades.
“We really wanted to look at not only the narrative of all the events but also how the university has changed,” Campos said. Has the university learned this lesson since then? Has society changed much since then? So a lot of our stories aren’t just about recapitulation.”
It was important for the team to examine how university management had changed, and whether there were different policies for reporting sexual harassment.
It has also been prominently featured on their website resources for sexual assault survivors.
“One of our other goals[was]… to give voices to some of these survivors of sexual assault and how they feel about showing up in the university (the community) – how much their lives have changed and been affected by it,” Campos said.
She said she was especially proud of the video “How the Patriot News broke up the sexual abuse case of Jerry Sandusky,” An effort that won a Pulitzer Prize for Patriot News by reporter Sarah Ghanem.
“It was a very difficult process,” Campos said of reporting on this project. “There were many times during the semester where it was like, ‘Well, is this actually going to be possible? Because people care a lot about football in Pennsylvania and so this is a really difficult topic for a lot of people.
“And since we were all very young, and we probably don’t come from Pennsylvania families, you don’t really understand the impact on people who were there who live at a public college or work in Pennsylvania now.”
Campos said a lot of people expressed anger because the students were writing about it. A reporter contacted 23 shopkeepers about how things have changed at State College in the past 10 years; Three were ready to sign up.
The vitriol continued after the stories were published.
“We’ve had many people say, ‘This is a really good report,'” Campos said, “but most of our response has been really negative.
I gave this advice to other students trying a controversial project.
“You have to be really confident in what you’re doing in order to stick to it, because we’ve got a lot of people telling us we’re wrong and we shouldn’t. But I think we’re really confident in our mission statement: to educate the current Pennsylvania community that probably doesn’t know much about what happened, (and) making sure the university doesn’t just sweep this up because it’s like, after all this time, they just want to forget about it, but it shouldn’t be something to be forgotten.”
It’s also important to practice the basics of journalism, Campos said, so when those hateful comments come in, reporters will know they’re right.
“Be really confident about why you did something, why you go ahead with something. Stay consistent with that because there are going to be a lot of people who will criticize you.”
Other students participating include Andrew Porterfield, digital management editor and web page designer, Campos said. Becky Marchenko, Managing Editor; Ben McClary, videographer and graphic designer; Carson Schultz, Page graphics designer; Lily Larijina, photographer and photo editor; Reporters: Will Aguirre, Courteney Benedetto, Ella Castronovo, Phoebe Sikosky, James Engel, Olivia Strait, Jeremiah Hassell, Julia Mertz, Max Ralph, Spencer Rebczyk, Megan Swift; Reporting contributors are Seth Engel, Colton Lucas and Justin Morganstein.
“I know we’re only college students, but we’ve worked hard and we know what we’re talking about.”