Student newspaper at Ohio U. overcomes reporter turnover in coverage of Sheriff’s corruption charge

OHIO — Student journalist Alex Stuckey had a hunch.

When Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly declined to share drug seizure records with her, she kept digging. Finding discrepancies between oral and official police accounts of seizures and forfeited property, Stuckey penned “Drug Under The Rug” for her student newspaper, exposing lax oversight of police departments throughout Ohio and potential corruption surrounding Kelly’s department.

“I could have just dropped the story on Pat Kelly because he was being difficult and I was trying to finish school,” Stuckey said. “But he was making me mad, so I kept pushing back.”

Stuckey graduated, but months later, the Ohio Attorney General’s office reached out to her to ask questions for their own investigation.

Nearly three years after Stuckey’s investigative story ran in The Post, students at Ohio University picked up where Stuckey left off, covering Kelly’s February conviction on 18 counts of theft and corruption and his March sentencing to seven years in prison.

By both producing current news stories and highlighting Stuckey’s prior work, Post reporters provided their readers with comprehensive coverage as the case progressed through the criminal justice system. However, due to the nature of college newsrooms, which gain and lose reporters and editors each year, long-term coverage is often difficult.

“With student journalists, the turnover is unbelievable,” Aimee Edmondson, a journalism professor and mentor to Stuckey, said. “The students at The Post, who were here when Alex wrote that story, they’re all gone. They’re off in different states for the most part.”

In addition to posting coverage of Kelly’s trial with reference to Stuckey’s story, reporters at the student newspaper conducted an interview with Stuckey, linking to her initial article.

“When we were covering former Sheriff Pat Kelly’s corruption trials earlier this semester, some of the younger folks were asking where they could see Alex’s story,” Jim Ryan, editor in chief of The Post, said. “We were able to pull it back from our website and represent it nicely for our readers.”

Ryan, who was a freshman when Stuckey published “Drug Under the Rug,” said the piece represents exemplary student journalism for Post reporters. Stuckey now works as a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“I remember reading some of this stuff and thought that in many cases, that was the level of reporting that you should be able to do by the time you leave college. She set a high standard for folks here at The Post in terms of what it means to really dig into a topic,” he said. “It goes to show the good work that journalists that happen to be students are able to accomplish.”

Edmondson said that mentors and advisers can play a vital role in prompting students to continue coverage of stories over a period of several years. Edmondson reminded student reporters at The Post about Stuckey’s story in response to new developments in the Kelly case, since she was concerned that the student journalists lacked the institutional memory to recall the piece on their own.

By turning to their adviser and keeping records of the ongoing proceedings, the student newsroom maintained consistency and memory despite an ever-changing reporting staff. Connecting current events with past reporting, The Post was able to utilize the work of a student journalist whom many current reporters had never even met.

Edmondson said that continuing student press coverage of investigations is especially important since they can drag on for years before coming to a conclusion.

“I think initially after the story ran, Alex felt like a lot of people were talking about it but nothing was happening. And that happens a lot,” she said. “ It took a number of months and even years for the state to build its case through its investigation of Sheriff Kelly. So, once we started to see results, that was very exciting.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Elaina Koros by email or at (202) 974-6317.