ARIZONA— News broke Friday night that Kurt Volker would be stepping down as U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine after appearing in the recent whistleblower complaint involving President Donald J. Trump and a telephone conversation with the president of the Ukraine
But this report didn’t come from the usual national players; rather it came from The State Press, the student newspaper at Arizona State University, Phoenix.
Namely, it came from managing editor Andrew Howard, a junior who’s worked at the paper since his first semester on campus. He first reported Volker’s resignation on Sept. 27, beating the heavyweights of the Trump-Ukraine coverage — The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Howard told the Student Press Law Center that the State Press broke the story through basic, determined reporting as he and his crew found both international news and a local angle:
The process for how this scoop came to be wasn’t much different for Howard, who said by sticking to their reporting instincts, The State Press could get the story first.
“We saw that Volker was a director, or is still a director of an ASU program — the McCain Institute, and so we just decided to pursue the story and began asking the university what his future would hold here at the school, or at the State Department, and that was really it,” Howard said.
“We knew something was there and we wanted to find out what it was,” Howard added. “We just pursued it the same way as we would do any other story, and I think that’s why we were successful, because we didn’t try to take a different approach, because it was a big story or because we thought it had the potential to be a big story, we did it because we were trying to serve the community.”
A couple things popped into my mind when I read about this:
- This took guts. It’s not every day a major angle of an international story shows up on the doorstep of college students. When it does, I’m guessing it’s almost like, “Wait, am I being Punk’d here? Did we really get this and beat everybody?” While it’s the dream of every journalist I’ve ever met to be first, there is also somewhere between a tinge of fear and a full-blown panic attack, thinking about publishing something like this and maybe becoming the laughingstock of the world if you’re wrong. To get the story, believe in the story and publish the story is courageous.
- This had to be thrilling. When I worked at student papers and advised them as well, the idea of beating the crappy local daily to a story felt like the greatest thing in the world. I have no idea what it’s like to be on a story like this and be first, but it must have made the staffers feel like Rocky on the top of the steps.
Usually, when student media is in the middle of a big story, it’s a tragedy, like the shootings at Virginia Tech or Northern Illinois or a dozen other places. It’s hard to celebrate or be thrilled about being on a big story when your classmates are victims. This time, it must have been just pure elation.
- This serves as Examples A through Z about how to do journalism: Think about all the elements that Howard listed here that professors preach every day.
- Know your audience.
- Stay local.
- Report the hell out of things.
- Publish when you’re sure.
- Tell a good story.
Congratulations to the staff of the State Press. This one is a keeper.