Virginia Tech Paper Rises to Challenge

As reporters from around the world descend on Blacksburg, Va., one publication stands out: Virginia Tech's student newspaper, Collegiate Times, is doing a truly remarkable job of covering the story.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Some survivors of this week's shootings at Virginia Tech are already thinking how they move beyond the incident. Doctor Ishwar Puri lost two professors in the department he heads. But he says professors believe so strongly in their research, they are already asking how soon they can get back in to Norris Hall.

ISHWAR PURI: People have their lives' works, their libraries. There are graduate students who have laboratories with millions of dollars worth of equipment. There are Ph.D. students working on their dissertations. If they don't finish in time, where do they find the support to do their research?

INSKEEP: For now, the building is a sealed-off crime scene. Thousands of journalists are covering the story in Blacksburg, Virginia. But nobody has covered the story quite like the reporters and editors at Collegiate Times; that's Virginia Tech's student-run newspaper.

NPR's Larry Abramson reports on them.

LARRY ABRAMSON: It's Tuesday morning. Collegiate Times editor-in-chief Amie Steele has gotten little or no sleep in the past 24 hours, but she's still on fire.

AMIE STEELE: I'm waiting to try to get in to the conference room to read stories to our reporters that were in there for the news conference. I need to get in there to read it, copy-edited, so it can get it on the Web as soon as possible.

ABRAMSON: Steele joins her colleagues here at the nerve center of the story. The stars of the journalism firmament have alighted here. But this petite, 21-year-old junior is the busiest and the most popular. Her pink cell phone seldom leaves her ear.

STEELE: I'm getting a cell call, let me call you back in one second. Ryan, hello, this is Amie.

ABRAMSON: A lot of the calls are from the dozen or so Collegiate Times reporters working to update the Web version of the paper. But just as many come from news organizations from all over the world that have turned to these students for information.

Some are doing features on the plucky student newspaper. Others want to tap the minds of these students covering a crisis on their own campus. Collegiate Times staffers really know how to mine Facebook, the social networking site. But freshman reporter Kevin Anderson has also learned to approach this source with some skepticism.

KEVIN ANDERSON: And I was just on Facebook a minute ago. They said there was a rumor stating that he had a Facebook with pictures of him and some guns, but I doubt that that rumor is true.

STEELE: You might want to like explain more about the person of interest, and just make it clear that it's like a different person.

ABRAMSON: In between discussions with Katie Couric about a collaboration the students are doing with CBS News, Amie Steele edits some copy. The paper version of the Collegiate Times comes out four times a week. But for this story, the Web version is what matters. That's what's grabbing international attention and requires constant care.

Unidentified Man: There's people in camouflage down by (unintelligible) with what appear to be machine guns.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, there is a lot of security down there.

INSKEEP: So I think we should definitely have something about security being tightened.

ABRAMSON: Back at the campus office of the paper, the push is on to keep the story alive, to analyze any changes in campus security. Meanwhile, online director Christopher Ritter is whipping the latest Web page into shape.

CHRISTOPHER RITTER, Byline: (Unintelligible) byline's at the top (unintelligible)...

ABRAMSON: Ritter talked a mile a minute. He's showing signs of sleep-deprivation. He admits working on this story is the best grief therapy he's found.

RITTER: I tell my parents, you know, like I'm not going to sit down right now and go, think about this, because I don't want to ever have to provide any bias to the story. I want to think about this as an outsider.

ABRAMSON: Kelly Furnas, the editorial adviser for student media at Virginia Tech, says he's told students if they feel they cannot work on this story, that they need a break, they should take it.

KELLY FURNAS: Without a doubt, there are students who feel better just being at work and doing what they do best.

ABRAMSON: Some reporters worked on the paper as a hobby, and have other career goals, but many have chosen journalism as a career. And this story has clearly rededicated them to the profession's loftier goal. No matter what, they all seem aware that covering this story from the inside has changed that.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

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