The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 29th

In-depth reporting harder for students

The hardest part of running a student newspaper is that students leave.

No matter how dedicated no matter how talented every staff member at The Daily Tar Heel is gone after four or five years. Many are gone far sooner than that.

As a result the folks writing about long-term complicated issues — tuition hikes enrollment growth" crime trends in Chapel Hill — generally have limited experience with the particular topic.

""It's always challenging to find people who" in their four years cannot only learn enough about an issue but also develop the sources to report it and really dig at the heart of the matter" said 2006-07 DTH Editor-in-Chief Joseph Schwartz.

That makes it all the more unfortunate that the paper finds itself without a fully formed Projects team going into the new semester. Projects co-editors Brendan Brown and Lindsey Naylor have quit the paper, citing disagreements with management and a desire to explore opportunities in public policy.

Studying journalism and working at the DTH ultimately was an opportunity for us to learn a lot about the things that we're now interested in pursuing as a career"" said Naylor.

The Projects desk, also known as the Investigative or I-Team, has existed at the DTH only since 2003. It was designed as a way to give experienced writers and editors the chance to work for long periods on important stories.

DTH Editor-in-Chief Allison Nichols plans to sit down with other editors this week to map out a future for investigative work at the paper.

It's crucial to The Daily Tar Heel's watchdog mission that we be making regular records requests to gain information we can't get from press releases or voluntary news tips"" Nichols wrote in response to e-mailed questions. The ideal investigative team should be fluid with the rest of the newsroom and should not be trying to protect sources or information from being used by all.""

Most of the paper's investigative content last semester came from the daily news desks" and I hope that whatever new structure emerges for the Projects team involves collaboration across the newsroom.

But a good Projects team should also have the independence to develop sources that are not necessarily available to the entire staff.

At a paper where turnover naturally runs high and editors change on a yearly basis" a good Projects team should cultivate source relationships that can last years.

It can be difficult for the daily news desks to create those kind of writer-source relationships for the simple reason that writers move on so quickly to new responsibilities.

""The best writers become editors"" Brown said. It just gobbles up your time.""

I hope Nichols and her staff will try to counteract that problem as they map out a new Projects team.

Requests for records and data are certainly useful" and many solid investigative stories rely on unearthed documents and smartly crunched numbers.

But it just as often comes down to the human touch" and that's something you can't get through the public records law.

ERIC JOHNSON
PUBLIC EDITOR
DTH alumnus and contract
administrator at a Raleigh law firm.
E-mail: ericjohnson@Unc.Edu


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