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Vol. 49, No. 2 • January 2012 • .pdf version
Shining moments found in glare of Penn State negativity
By MALCOLM MORAN
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The words do not come easily these days. Not here, at Penn State, not since Nov. 5, the Saturday that a university was changed forever. Not elsewhere, when I would cross paths with friends and colleagues in a lobby, or hallway, or elevator, and an awkward conversation would begin.
"I can't imagine," I would hear.
"Neither can I," I would say.
How could we have imagined the allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the searing heat that resulted and the numbness that followed? Several years back, while discussing the Duke lacrosse scenario that smothered a campus community more than five years ago, I offered a description for a News Media Ethics class in an effort to bring the story closer to home. Try to imagine if every network was represented by reporters delivering their standups each morning in front of Old Main, the administration building. Try to imagine seeing satellite trucks everywhere you looked, day after day after day. I won't have to offer that description any longer.
When the trucks left, temporarily, before Thanksgiving, I realized I had forgotten what College Avenue looked like without them. They will come and go for a long time.
Sara Ganim, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter whose story on the grand jury activity last spring offered the first hint of the scandal, offered a chilling observation recently during a panel discussion organized by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. Ganim was asked how long she expected the legal fallout to last.
"Twenty five years," she said.
During that first week, when the developments shifted hour by hour and the community appeared to spin out of control, the best advice I received was that it was time for the faculty to listen. Between the riot on that Wednesday night and the candlelight vigil on Friday, students began to describe the realization of an overwhelming conflict.
They came here to become journalists and pushed through sleep deprivation to separate fact from fiction.
They had also come here to become Penn Staters and were dealing with the pain the facts they unearthed were creating. Some of them felt their work was contributing to the demise of the place they had embraced.
"Watching the tragedy of this week unfold from the vantage point of a student journalist, not just a student, has left me a little torn," one student wrote. "In a lot of ways, I feel guilty for feeling like I've barely processed this at all – I'm numb to it, and I'm bracing myself for the moment when my emotions finally get the best of me … You have to stay completely tuned into what's happening, but a lot of the time you end up feeling like you're insulated from the impact of it all."
With all that going on, students and recent graduates distinguished themselves when more than a few professionals did not. They knew where to go without having to ask for directions. They knew who to ask and who to trust. Mark Viera, Class of '09, wrote so frequently for the New York Times that competitors were shocked to learn he was not a staff member. Andy Colwell, who spent last summer as a photography intern at the Harrisburg Patriot-News, captured the initial image of Sandusky being led off in handcuffs on Nov. 5. Audrey Snyder became a regular contributor to USA Today. Jake Kaplan, who began to write for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the summer, became even more valuable. Emily Kaplan reported for the Associated Press. Karisa Maxwell maintained her professionalism when a sports-talk radio boor named Craig Carton registered his disagreement with her reluctance to rush to judgment by calling her stupid and saying that she was raised by animals.
Alexandra Marzella found a home. She is an executive producer for PSN-TV news, a campus outlet. In a week that held so much pain and confusion, Marzella found clarity. The experience helped her decide this was going to become her career.
When the first protests broke out downtown and at Old Main on Tuesday, I did not know exactly what to expect, but I ran with a camera downtown to film anything that took place and interview students on how they were feeling. The adrenaline running through my body was so overwhelming that I did not even have time to process what was going on so close to home. As the events of the week broke out, my schedule and my life changed ...
In the beginning of the game when (Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown) was saying the prayer, I followed the rest of the media that ran to the center of the field to hear what he had to say. I know it was just my job to get any key footage on film, but I couldn't help but cry as I held my camera in one hand and got to actually hear and take part in the speech. I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity without being a journalism student here ..."
Marzella's words were part of an essay that accompanied her application to join the Curley Center.
The application deadline had passed.
Some deadlines were meant to be revised.
Malcolm Moran is the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.
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