2018 The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Large Newsroom finalist

The Perfect Storm


About the Project

As long as Courtney has worked at The Eagle, American University’s newspaper, our finals week publishing freeze came with a caveat: unless something outrageous happens.

On May 1, 2017, the first day of finals week, a classmate delivered news that sent her racing back to our newsroom.

“Security found bananas hanging from nooses,” he whispered.

Someone had scribbled racist slurs on bananas and hanged them from string tied like nooses on campus. The slurs targeted the school’s first African-American female student body president and her historically African-American sorority. The FBI later labeled the banana incident a hate crime.

In the immediate aftermath of the hate crime, the University garnered national attention. Yet no one comprehensively covered how that day fractured the school’s black community, frightened the admissions department and pushed administrators to deeply examine how racism taints the college experience of black students.

She decided to devote her senior project to these topics. Courtney spent four months interviewing nearly 40 people, mining school records for data, collecting photos and recording audio to complete the reporting portion of the project. John Watson and Chris Young, The Eagle’s advisers, provided advice as needed.

Jack Stringer, The Eagle’s web editor and a data science major, designed the project site as an assignment for Bei Xiao’s class. He took Courtney’s reporting and designed the entire page, including audio features, information graphics and animations. He even made last-minute changes when major breaking news needed to be added to the project on launch day.

Together, Courtney and Jack produced The Perfect Storm, which ran on The Eagle’s site on May 1, 2018. The Eagle posted on Instagram and published a preview video on Facebook and Twitter prior to the project’s launch. The day of the launch, the paper published an email news alert, Facebook post, tweet, Instagram story and Instagram post.

We typically see about 10,000 unique page views per week. The story received 1,104 unique page views the week of its launch. The average time spent on the page was 7:51.