As the McDaniel Free Press discussed this issue’s story budget last week, the Northern Illinois University shooting came into the conversation. It was decided that someone should write a commentary about it, and initially I declined, reasoning, “I wrote about the last school shooting.”
Then I stopped and reflected on how sad a statement that is.
Many were at a loss for words at the Virginia Tech tragedy last spring, and in my last column of the spring 2007 semester, I attempted to convey that. Now here I am, almost a year later, writing about another disaster that no one saw coming, and everyone wishes they could have stopped.
It makes me sick to my stomach. I’m sure you all feel the same way.
But it’s important to look for hope, even when it seems there is none.
For both the writers and readers of the Free Press, the stories are often happier, whether it is a fundraising campaign or a successful concert.
The less-than-happier stories often revolve around internal prob?lems or smaller incidents concerning students. We laugh at the juvenile acts in the Lighter Side and pose diverse questions to ourselves in 60 Seconds. We write the paper because it’s important, but we also enjoy it. You read it for the same reasons.
But covering the death of five students on campus has never crossed our minds before.
And it likely never crossed the minds of the writers and editors of the Northern Star, the school news?paper for Northern Illinois Uni?versity. Yet that was the reality for these students one sad Thursday afternoon just two weeks ago.
One of the students killed was an ad representative for the paper. All of a sudden, the staff wasn’t just covering the news; one of them was a part of it in the worst way pos?sible.
It’s human nature to grieve, as they likely did, but not every school paper would have or could have immediately started reporting these events the way the Northern Star did. A visit to the paper’s web?site, www.northernstar.info, confirms this.
The image of five crosses surrounded by heaps of flowers and cards is the first thing to stand out on the site. Scroll down a bit, and the archive of coverage of the tragedy lists over 30 separate stories over the past week, ranging from cam?pus updates to family interviews to editorials.
Many of the stories contributed offer more in-depth reporting than local or national papers.
The stories are not only well-reported but tastefully written. These student journalists saw the worst that humanity can offer and responded with the best.
They did their jobs because at a time like that, information needs to be shared and reflection needs to occur.
The students of NIU returned to class on Monday, February 25, though they likely did not return to normal.
That will take much longer, if it ever happens at all. But despite the tragedy, the Northern Star should be proud of the work they did, because as hard as it no doubt was, such horror shouldn’t be ignored.
And just dedication shouldn’t be either.
They lost five students, including one of their own, and while no one envies them, the prayers and respect of the McDaniel Free Press as well as the rest of the college lay with their paper and the rest of NIU’s student body.
(Peckham speaks on behalf of the entire staff here at the Free Press. The Northern Star has exemplified the upstanding purposes of journal?ism during the toughest of times. -M.W.H.)