Charleston and the Citadel: Observations from a USA Today College Intern

The Citadel Ring in Charleston, South Carolina

By Dean’s Intern Shannon Scovel at USA Today

When I first started my career as a student at American University in the fall of 2013, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. However, I didn’t fully understand the reality of that title until I started my internship with USA Today College this summer. Suddenly, everything could be turned into a story, I needed sources all the time and my life became divided in 72-hour segments, dictated by my deadlines each week.

As part of my internship program, I submit original pitch ideas to my editors on Tuesday morning and turn in a completed article by Friday at 8 a.m. I spend my weekend searching for news, grilling my friends and colleagues about events around the country and looking for fresh angles on interesting news alerts. When I learned that my neighbor, Haley Bidgood, would be getting paid to play college volleyball next year, in addition to her scholarship, my first story took shape. I then wrote about junior elite triathletes with Olympic aspirations for an article about new scholarship opportunities for women. Several days later, I called college editors around the country to produce a story about the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student paper, shifting to a weekly paper for the first time in 105 years.  Over the last six weeks, I’ve written about Olympic gold medalists, CEOs and average college students, but one article stands out from all of the rest.

In early February, the Commandant of Cadets at The Citadel Military College of South Carolina issued an unprecedented order for all cadets to report any instances of hazing that they had witnessed.  The Charleston Post and Courier reported on the announcement, and when the school confirmed nineteen cases of hazing from the 85 reported allegations of misconduct, Reuters also picked up on the story. While both news outlets shared information about the misconduct cases and hazing allegations, the articles failed to discuss what the school was doing in response. How does an institution regroup when 19 students have been confirmed of  “wrongful striking, unauthorized laying hand upon, threatening with violence, or offering to do bodily harm” to another student? How can a school convince kids to apply after these reports?

The number of application to the Citadel increased last year, according to the Vice President of Communication and Marketing, and the administration anticipates that this trend will continue. I wanted to know why. And so, with my recorder in hand, I packed up a van and set off on a five hour drive to Charleston, South Carolina.

The Citadel sits adjacent to downtown Charleston, a southern city known for its charming boutiques and stunning ocean view. Inside the gates of school, however, tall, gray, imposing buildings encircle the campus, creating a mood of intensity, tradition and service. Earlier in the day, I interviewed a member of The Citadel Class of 1965, and he shared great memories from his time at the school. This individual also serves as a member of The Citadel School of Business Administration Advisory Board, and his insight allowed me to gain a better understanding of cadet life at the institution. Several hours later, I met the Director of Media Relations at the large ring statute that stands at the front of campus, and this ring became the inspiration for the lede in my article. The Director of Media Relations drove me to the Marketing and Communications office, where I had the opportunity to meet with other members of the marketing staff and interview the Vice President of Communications and Marketing. Both individuals provided me with the statistics that I needed to complete my story, and they also offered literature with more information on the school, its history and its hazing policies. I spent the car ride back to North Carolina decompressing from my trip and attempting to sort through all of the facts and figures included in my ‘Citadel’ research folder.

After interviewing a current graduate of the Citadel back in North Carolina, I sat down to write, but the article did not come together quickly. I obsessed over every word. I contacted the Citadel again. I tripled checked every fact. I had never written an article that produced more anxiety for me. By the time I sent my article in on Friday morning, I knew I had put everything I could into this piece, but I did not know how my audience would react. Nine comments and 1.6k views later, and I can finally relax, knowing that my article successfully told the story of the misconduct allegations at the school and fairly represented the institution and the two individuals whom I included in my piece.

Through the process of tackling this sensitive story, I learned that the three core values of the Citadel, honor, duty and respect, apply to journalism as well.  Every source must be treated with respect, but reporters have a duty to inform their readers of a situation, no matter how serious. Honor, my favorite of the three principles, stands at the heart of journalism, and reporters who conduct themselves with honesty and integrity, can be proud of their work, regardless of the feedback a story may get from readers.

In August, I will be traveling with the Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes as the Corps performs in Scotland at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I’m greatly looking forward to my trip, but until then, I have several more articles to write. Stay tuned for a blog post about the Scotland event, and check USA Today College each week for my latest articles.