As student journalists across the country gear up for another academic year, it’s worth looking at the most impressive feats of the last year in college media.

Over the past academic year, student news teams put together a number of editions — in advance and spur-of-the-moment on deadline — geared toward remembering or highlighting major anniversaries, athletic achievements, campus icons, big events, and even s-e-x.

They appeared as full-blown print issues, pullout sections, digital-only PDFs, digital-print hybrids, and temporary special websites.

Below is a sampling of the most high-profile, controversial, editorially impressive, and aesthetically innovative 2011-2012 student press special editions. They are listed in order of their publication or posting, beginning last fall and stretching to late June.

9/11 10th Anniversary Issues

Near the start of fall semester, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, many student newspapers published special editions or sections. The papers used the milestone as motivation for a look at how the country and their campuses have changed. They also provided glimpses into the lives of current students, who comprise what is being called the 9/11 Generation.

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As Indiana Daily Student editor-in-chief MaryJane Slaby wrote to readers on the front page of the first of two related IDS special issues, “We are Generation 9/11. For the last 10 years, 9/11 has shaped our lives and the world around us. Most students on campus have lived half or more of their lives since that day in 2001 and barely remember life and world events before it.”

Iowa State Daily Football Edition

Last November, the Iowa State University Cyclones staged a double-overtime, come-from-behind win against the then-undefeated, second-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. The historic victory included a narrowly missed field goal, a batted-intercepted OT pass, a calm-cool-collected redshirt freshman QB, fans storming the field and singing “Sweet Caroline” — and a special digital edition of The Iowa State Daily, ISU’s student newspaper.

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As the paper’s editorial adviser, Mark Witherspoon, recounted in a post-game message on a popular college media advisers’ list-serv, roughly 20 staffers gathered to create the seven-page PDF “football edition.” As he wrote, “The game was over about 11:30, they filled the newsroom by midnight, and worked until at least 5 or 6 a.m. … to get the special edition out. It’s filled with wonderful photos, wonderful stories, an editorial eating crow on the sports guys’ wrong predictions, photo blogs, and digital highlights of the game.”

Daily O’Collegian Honor the Four Issue

Late last November, The Daily O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University responded to a sudden campus calamity with a touching 10-page special issue. Articles, a poem, and a photo tribute focused on various details and reactions to a plane crash that killed the head and assistant coach of the women’s basketball team — along with an OSU alumnus and his wife.

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In the issue, the O’Colly also reported on the tragedy through the prism of a similar one that affected OSU a bit more than a decade ago: a plane crash that killed 10 members of the Cowboys community. The memorial rallying cry for that event: Remember the Ten. The commemorative declaration this time around: Honor the Four.

Daily Orange Fine Mess Edition

Over this past Thanksgiving break, Daily Orange staff at Syracuse University quickly pulled together a special edition focused on a sex abuse scandal involving its men’s basketball second-in-command, Bernie Fine. The eight-page issue detailed the allegations, the circumstances surrounding Fine’s sudden firing, student, player, and alumni reactions, and the inevitable comparisons to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University.

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A front-page editor’s note shared, “The Daily Orange publication calendar did not include a paper for the Monday after Fall Break, but because of the developing story about Bernie Fine … the editors at the D.O. felt it was important to have one. No advertisements appear in the paper to focus on content.”

Collegiate Times At a Loss Issue

In early December 2011, a midday shooting and campus lockdown at Virginia Tech University brought back memories of the horrific 2007 shootings that killed 33 people. During that episode, The Collegiate Times, VT’s student newspaper, provided tireless, innovative coverage unmatched by the outside media hordes that descended upon Blacksburg, Va.

Nearly five years later, on a late-semester Thursday, the CT again stepped up. As rumors and reports circulated about a fatal shooting and a gunman on the loose, staff turned to Twitter to tell the world what they were seeing and hearing and the trusted information they were receiving. They also interacted in real-time with students and other observers.

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The next day, the paper published a much-lauded special print edition. As the edition’s lead story confirmed, “Yet again, Tech is shaken. Two lives are lost. And although life will go on for Tech students all too soon, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the heartache this campus has endured. It is worth taking a moment to think about how we move forward.”

Baylor Lariat Heisman Issue

Also in December, The Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper at Baylor University, produced a special “Heisman Issue” to commemorate the selection of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the recipient of college football’s highest honor.

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The four-page edition included highlights from RGIII’s historic season, reactions from Baylor students and alumni, and a glimpse at the Heisman voting results broken down by geographic region. As one of the three standout quotes featured prominently on the front page related, “This is a forever kind of moment.”

Crimson White Championship Issue

In January, The Crimson White published a special 20-page edition to commemorate the University of Alabama’s historic 14th national college football championship. The standout write-up in the issue: “Zero Hesitation,” a rundown of how little outsiders had believed in the Tide a few months before the title run and how big the team played when the moment mattered.

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As the piece began, “Zero. This word now has a special meaning for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many believed the Tide had zero chance to make the BCS National Championship game after its loss to LSU on Nov. 5. Those same people pointed to the number of touchdowns scored between the two teams in their last meeting. However, when the clock struck zero, the only zero that mattered for the Tide was the one beside LSU on the scoreboard as the Tide shut out the Tigers 21-0.”

Daily Collegian Paterno Edition

Near the start of spring semester, in the wake of Joe Paterno’s death, The Daily Collegian published a special commemorative edition honoring the longtime Penn State head football coach. Related pieces touched on Paterno’s upbringing and early coaching career, his devotion to family and charities, the reactions of his former players, and the scandal that overwhelmed his final days.

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A number of the pieces were topped by quotes from Paterno. Among them: “If you don’t want to be the best, then obviously you shouldn’t be associated with Penn State football … To live the good life, we have to make sure that others have at least a decent life … With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Pitt News Sex Issue

Timed for release on Valentine’s Day, the fourth-annual sex issue by The Pitt News dove with gusto into body issues, birth control, pornography, celibacy, first dates, and, as one staffer excitedly proclaimed, “lady boobs!” The overall perspective, embodied by a line in a featured column: “Human sexuality is as diverse as human beings.”

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In a letter to readers, editor-in-chief Michael Macagnone wrote, “The horizontal tango, making love, doing the deed: There’s no doubt our society has many means of talking about — and around — intercourse. And for most of the year, that is what society focuses on: the act itself, leaving the vast majority of its effects and implications unstated. Today though, with the naked intent of Valentine’s Day in promoting Hallmark sales, last-minute flower purchases, and romantic gestures all around, we’re going to talk about sex.”

North by Northwestern Dance Marathon Site

The lone digital outlet on the list: North by Northwestern. In early March, in honor of Northwestern University’s uber-popular Dance Marathon, a 30-hour philanthropy party, the online news magazine created a special site. Updated in real-time throughout the event, it featured photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, crowdsourced responses from the student dancers, haiku poetry, and a tracking of one student’s heart rate while dancing and another student’s calorie intake.

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As outgoing NBN top editor Nolan Feeny said, “DM provides us with an opportunity to do what we do best. We are able to be there the whole weekend and find ways to tell stories that we couldn’t necessarily do with a traditional news format. It also allows us to show off our personality and our voice. The Daily Northwestern is a great paper, but I don’t think they would be asking Dance Marathon students whether they would rather have sex or a shower four times that day.”

Daily Free Press April Fools’ Issue

In early April, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press at Boston University was forced to resign following the publication of a print-only April Fools’ issue that received immense reader criticism.

Spoof stories in the issue, dubbed The Disney Free Press, discussed Cinderella’s alleged involvement in a prostitution ring, BU frat brothers slipping Alice in Wonderland LSD, and the dwarfs from Snow White participating in a group rape of a female BU student.

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Critics condemned the content for perpetuating a campus rape culture and mocking victims of sexual assault. BU has been especially attuned to such issues due to recent campus events, including a high-profile scandal involving sexual assault charges brought against a pair of university hockey players.

In a letter posted to the Free Press website soon after the issue premiered, the newspaper’s board of directors wrote, “We cannot apologize sincerely enough to all those who were offended by the inexcusable editorial judgment exercised in Monday’s annual print-only April Fools’ Day issue of the Daily Free Press … Considering the events of this semester and the increasingly vocal, constructive climate of conversation about sexual assault and many other important issues on campus, much of the content of Monday’s issue was incredibly harmful, tasteless, and out of line.”

Daily Cardinal Anniversary Issue

In April, The Daily Cardinal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrated its 120th birthday with a resplendent special issue reflecting on its past and predicting its future. As the paper confirmed, “Since the 1890s, the Daily Cardinal has been a lens through which Wisconsin students have seen their world … For the past 120 years, students have produced the Daily Cardinal through wars, protests, and tragedies.”

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Among the issue’s highlights: a Q&A with an alum who edited the paper in the early 1940s (following an all-staff strike in the late 1930s over the firing of the executive editor for being Jewish); a full-page, two-story tribute to former staffer Anthony Shadid, who died earlier this year in Syria while reporting for The New York Times; and a piece from current executive editor Kayla Johnson headlined “The Next 120 Years.”

Crimson White Tornado Reflection

In late April, a year after “one of the deadliest, costliest, and most widespread tornado outbreaks ever to hit the United States” struck Tuscaloosa, The Crimson White at the University of Alabama put together a comprehensive multi-platform news package reflecting on the storm’s impact and the challenges CW staffers faced covering it.

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The three-pronged effort: a temporary special homepage featuring content from a year before and the present, including 10 new web-only articles and a few multimedia projects; an ads-free commemorative print edition with more than 20 storm-focused features; and a 15-minute documentary video outlining the staffers’ natural disaster reporting experience. The doc’s title: “Harder Than We Thought.”

The print edition included individual spotlights on how different communities are coping with the long-term aftermath; reports on how other areas hit by tornadoes in recent years are coping with their recoveries; and a story mentioning that pieces of an art professor’s sculpture caught within the swirl of the tornado have been found as far away as Georgia.

University Press BOT Special Investigation

In May, The University Press at Florida Atlantic University unleashed a special issue that oozed investigative awesomeness and revealed some unsavory, ironic truths about those in power at the Palm Beach County public school.

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The issue’s aim: providing the down-low on the FAU Board of Trustees, the 13-member body that holds ultimate sway over the university’s infrastructure, finances, and future. UP staffer Karla Bowsher unraveled “so many bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, liens, and lawsuits in our trustees’ pasts that I needed another researcher [James Shackelford] to get through it all — and an entire issue of the newspaper to cover it all.”

Ubyssey Return Yearbook

Also in May, The Ubyssey at the University of British Columbia published a commemorative yearbook for 76 Japanese-Canadian students who were forced off campus and held as “enemy aliens” during World War II. It provides a fascinating history about both the school and the affected students.

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Page after page after page features people whose lives were forever altered by a decision made during a moment of “frantic military mobilization.” Timed to appear at a UBC ceremony presenting the former students — living and deceased — with honorary degrees, it was titled simply, “Return.”

Daily Emerald Revolution Site

The web address: future.dailyemerald.com. The one-word header atop the homepage: Revolution. And the tagline just beneath it: “The Oregon Daily Emerald, reinvented for the digital age.”

The student newspaper at the University of Oregon — best known for its five-day-a-week print edition — is morphing into a more wide-ranging, digital-first “modern college media company.” On a special site that went live in late May, publisher Ryan Frank and top editors outlined a number of major new initiatives that will be rolled out in full force this fall.

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Among them: a print issue that will appear twice per week, with new size, design, and content specs; the creation of an in-house tech startup and a separate marketing and event services team; and a ramp-up in “real-time news, community engagement, photo galleries, and videos on the web and social media.”

As Frank shared in a MediaShift post soon after the site premiered, “We’re about to close the book on the Oregon Daily Emerald. After 92 years, the University of Oregon’s newspaper will end its run as a Monday-to-Friday operation in June. Yes, it’s the end of an era, and we’re sad about that. But it’s also the start of a new era, the digital one.”

Daily Collegian Sandusky Issues

In mid-June, a special issue of The Daily Collegian appeared on newsstands across PSU and State College, Pa., focused on the criminal trial of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Due to the reduced summer publishing schedule, Collegian staffers were not planning to put out a print edition until month’s end.

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In a note to readers, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Casey McDermott, wrote, “Call me old-fashioned, sure — but I stand by the idea that there are certain moments that deserve to be documented beyond narratives told in 140-character bursts or minute-by-minute updates alone. This is one of those moments … Until now, our coverage of the Jerry Sandusky trial since the end of the spring semester has been online-only. This has its advantages … [b]ut we also wanted to note the start of this trial — an event that’s been preceded by seven of the most pivotal months in university history — in a way that could serve as an all-in-one reference as the trial unfolds.”

Along with recounting various aspects of Sandusky’s first day in court, the issue featured a rundown of the main prosecution and defense arguments, individual glimpses at all the trial participants, a timeline of events, and pieces on the courtroom’s social media ban and the withholding of the identities of some of the alleged Sandusky victims who testified.

Soon after, at the trial’s conclusion, the paper published a separate special issue documenting the story behind — and the implications surrounding — the guilty verdict. In its front-page summation, the paper rightly hinted that the story is still undoubtedly far from over. As the piece stated, “Seven months since the first arrest, eight days of testimony, 10 stories of abuse, 21 hours of deliberation, and one verdict. What’s next?”

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Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His textbook Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age is due out in early 2013 by Routledge.

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