On reporting on the Kirk Nesset story

While this blog will, in the future, be about my experience reporting on ASG, I thought it would be important and enlightening to the campus community about how I went about reporting on the Kirk Nesset story. 

I heard about the story around 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday that Professor Nesset had been charged with something surrounding child pornography. I heard it through word of mouth and had other things going on so I didn’t think much of it. About half an hour later I had gotten out of the shower to about 30 different notifications on my phone of texts, emails, and Facebook messages asking me if I knew about it and what The Campus was going to do about it.

After I read the story, I called Professor Cheryl Hatch, The Campus’ adviser, to see what we should do. My initial plan was to put out a small blurb online and social media to acknowledge that it happened and drive up to Eerie the next day to get the official complaint and affidavit. Thanks to Hatch, I was able to get the documents within the hour thanks to some assistance from an AP contact. We had enough information for a story, but after some coaching from Cheryl, we realized something was missing. We had an opportunity to scoop both the Meadville Tribune and the Erie Times-News.

Nobody had actually gotten a comment from Professor Nesset himself, and considering he lives a couple blocks up from campus, we figured we’d give it a shot. Meghan Hayman, a photo editor, and myself marched up North Main Street, hearts pounding, wondering what would happen. I rehearsed to her probably 10 times the questions I would ask and probably asked her another 20 times if she was 100 percent sure about the address. Considering federal and state law enforcement agents had been there less than nine hours ago, we had no idea what to expect. We didn’t know how Professor Nesset would react, if he would even come to the door, how we would handle the situation. There were 8000 things crossing our minds as we stepped up the stairs to his front door.

I knocked three times. I heard him come to the door and open it, with his dog Ryan in hand. He was surprisingly polite. He said hello and asked us how we were doing.

“Professor Nesset, in light of recent events, can you comment at all on what’s been going on?”

He denied to comment based on advice from his attorney.

“The school said that they are expecting your resignation in the morning, can you confirm your that?”

Nesset said that he was unaware of any details about his resignation and was in communication with the provost, but said he couldn’t comment anymore. We thanked him for his time and left, and that was it.

By 8 o’clock, we had a story online. While it was the beginning of a long journey, we didn’t really know what would happen next. The next day, I wrote a story about student and faculty reactions, including the fact that classes were canceled, again getting the scoop on the Meadville Tribune and the Erie Times-News.

While I had no personal desire to attend the forum meeting on Friday, I learned that President Mullen would be there and that the Meadville Tribune had set up an interview with him after, so I decided I would stick around and wait so we could potentially beat them to the punch and get our article online before them. That’s exactly what happened. Because the meeting went longer than expected, the reporter had to leave for the office to start writing his article. I was able to hang around until after the meeting to get a comment from the president. That night we had an article online with reactions from the president, faculty, and students.

Over the course of the week many people have asked me if it was a difficult story to write and how I felt about everything. And as the week went on, my answer kept on changing.

Was the story difficult to write? To be honest, it wasn’t.

— Sam Stephenson

 I felt I had a disconnect from the actual event because I had never met Nesset or had a class with him and from a journalistic perspective, that was probably a good thing. In addition, it was easy for me to put on the “reporter hat” and just report the facts.

The great thing about being a student reporter for this story is that as a student, I had access to much more knowledge than other reporters because I myself am a student and am much more cognizant of what was going on on campus, who to talk to, and when things were happening. I had other reporters from both the Tribune and the Erie Times-News asking me who to talk to and what was going on. Knowing it was such a horrible story, I was well aware that this was also my first breaking news story. So it was bitter sweet. It’s a story nobody wants to happen let alone have to tell, but I felt, and still feel that The Campus is more than ready for the task. We have a staff full of passionate student journalists who understand how important professionalism is, especially during such a trying time.

Not only do we understand how important the story is on campus, we understand that this isn’t just a breaking news story, humans are involved and we are reporting on their lives. It’s a difficult position to be in.

While the ripple effects of the event will continue to affect the students, faculty, staff, and local community as the year unfolds, I can personally ensure nothing but professionalism and the facts as we continue to report to the campus community.