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The Boston Globe

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In trying times for news dailies, college papers pick up slack

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In January, residents here learned the news that the senior place-kicker for the University of Michigan’s football team had been permanently “separated” from the college for violating its student sexual misconduct policy. In addition, the violation, what the authorities said was a sexual assault, occurred in 2009, when the kicker was a freshman, and his punishment was not determined until his athletic career had ended this past winter.

The article describing all of this, based on documents reviewed by two reporters, stated, “It’s unclear why sanctions were not decided in this matter until recently.”

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It was a shocking revelation, but almost as surprising was the origin of the report: The story was not broken by the local professional news organization, The Ann Arbor News. Instead, it was uncovered by The Michigan Daily, the college’s independently run student newspaper.

The Ann Arbor News changed in July 2009 from a daily newspaper to a Web-first model that produced a print edition only twice a week. Since then, The Michigan Daily has been the only Monday-through-Friday print publication in town.

As daunting financial pressures force newspapers around the country to shut down or severely trim staff and budgets, a new model has emerged in many communities in which college journalism students increasingly make up for the lack of in-depth coverage by local papers.

In January, the journalism school at the University of Kansas began a wire service, with reporters covering legislative sessions at the State House for newspapers across the state.

Samuel Weinstock, president of The Harvard Crimson, recounted the breaking news his paper has covered extensively in the last two years.

In addition to the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, he cited a bomb scare at four Harvard buildings in December; an investigation into a student cheating scandal; and a controversy in which school administrators secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans. “We consider every local and national publication our competition,” he said.

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