VT newspaper staff deserves applause

Last Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech were horrific; like other tragic events, the images will rest in people’s minds for a long time.

The images, and the realization of what actually happened, are most vivid in the minds of those who were in Blacksburg that day.

A week later, national news media from CNN to NBC to USA Today have covered the shooting and its aftermath from multiple angles; they’ve covered the shooter and the victims.

But it was Virginia Tech’s own student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, that really covered, and even scooped, the tragedy the best.

As the tragedy was unfolding, the Times‘ Web site was overrun with visitors: More than 1 million people visited the site Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. That’s just a little more than the site’s average of 5,000 to 6,000 hits.

Actually, the site’s server crashed and CollegiateTimes.com redirected viewers to collegemedia.com so it could handle the visitors.

The Collegiate Times has since nearly abandoned a normal Web structure in order to account for the amount of traffic and the demand for updates it is now getting.

The site was updated frequently throughout the week with an almost stream-of-conciousness style. The first update last week was at 9:47 a.m. It simply reads: “Shots were fired on campus in West Ambler Johnson Hall in the early morning hours.”

They reported the information as it was available: “A gunman is confirmed loose…All classes are canceled…At this time, one death and one injury have been confirmed…Virginia Tech police have confirmed 22 fatalities resulting from the campus shootings today. The gunman has also been confirmed dead.” These updates ran from 10 a.m. until 12:23 p.m.

By 2:13 p.m., the paper had confirmed 32 deaths.

Many of the early updates were similar to those that national media were receiving, but it was the later updates that the Collegiate Times should be commended for.

The paper was among the first to update readers and Virginia Tech students on class cancellations and memorial services.

It was also the best source for local, student reaction stories. One of its reporters was also among the first to ask university administration why it didn’t warn students after the first shootings in the dorm.

More than anything, however, the Collegiate Times‘ coverage showed why local news media is important.

Virginia Tech students could turn to the Web site for up-to-date information about their own obligations and campus safety. Parents and alumni could turn to the site for coverage CNN couldn’t provide.

But that’s what a news organization is supposed to do. So what makes the Collegiate Times special?

The paper’s reporters, unlike so many others who covered the tragedy, are students at the university. They, likely, were personally affected or connected to victims, and may have even known the shooter.

The staff has been able to put its own emotions aside for the good of the Virginia Tech community.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.