The Mirror focusing on investigative reporting, online presence

FAIRFIELD — When Alicia Phaneuf and Cara Lee, two of the top three editors at the Fairfield University student paper, The Mirror, are asked if they have free time, they look at each other, pondering aloud.

The question is rephrased to ask about how much time they devote to the paper each week.

“I would say about 20 hours and that, probably on the lowest of weeks, is still an underestimate” said Lee, who is also juggling six classes.

Phaneuf, Lee and Deanna Carbone, managing editor, were announced as the top three editors of the paper in March. Since then, they’ve been focused on expanding the Mirror’s online presence and investigative reporting.

Those efforts have already come to fruition.

In early October, the Mirror published a story about the Sept. 25 rainstorm that caused water damage at places like the Barone Campus Center and the PepsiCo Theatre. The piece included interviews with various students and professors, some of them who said there should be more appropriate long-term solutions for water damage.

On Nov. 1, the university began efforts to repair the green roof of the Barone Campus Center and, after that is completed, to replace the carpet, a Nov. 14 follow-up Mirror story reported.

“We’ve seen the difference that (this story) is making,” Lee said. “We’re getting the new roof and commuter students will not have mold in their carpets.”

Ideas for stories come from the very people the editors are writing for: the students.

“We hear students talking about things and so we come back and pitch ideas,” Phaneuf said. “We’re a student-run newspaper for the student body and our biggest goal is to get their concerns and do something through journalism.”

Located in the lower level of the Barone Campus Center, hundreds of students pass by the Mirror’s office every day. Award plaques hang above a whiteboard replete with ideas and pitches. Another whiteboard on an adjacent wall displays reminders about AP Style Tips such as “No Oxford Comma” and “NEVER capitalize occupation.”

All three editors started out as writers for The Vine, the arts and entertainment section of the paper.

“I changed my major my (first year) to digital journalism and started writing for the Mirror,” Carbone, whose dream job it is to write for National Geographic, said via email. “I always had a passion for writing, but never thought it would be a realistic career until I took my first journalism class.”

Though the Mirror has had an online section, the current editors are planning to expand on that with strong articles that cover a broad range of subjects.

“Now we’re releasing new content,” Lee said. “These include news on campus, articles on really big movies, opinion and global affairs.”

The Mirror comes out in print every Wednesday, making Tuesday nights hectic for editors and writers.

“We have to make sure the layout is good because we’re putting out content that we want people to pay attention to,” Lee said as she describes a lengthy list of details everyone has to pore over before the product is sent to the printers in Trumbull.

Phaneuf and Lee reminisced about some of the bigger stories from their previous years, such as the 2016 presidential election and when the popular South Norwalk Johnny Utah’s bar was busted by police in April this year.

Matthew Tullis, an assistant professor of English and digital journalism director at the university, began his role as an adviser to the students this year.

“They’re really good at what they do,” Tullis said. “I’m proud of what they’re doing and they’re doing a great job of representing what student journalists are and should be doing.”

And though the students are heading back home for Thanksgiving break and a paper won’t be out for next week, the editors are already thinking of upcoming stories and ideas.

“I think the best compliment we have received is that more people are talking about our stories and we’re seeing an impact,” Phaneuf said.