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UNC COVID-19 cases are ‘cluster@#$%,’ student newspaper says

A growing number of coronavirus cases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has drawn the ire of students and faculty alike — perhaps none more so than the editorial staff at The Daily Tar Heel.

On page three of Monday’s print edition, the student newspaper’s editorial board declared: “UNC has a clusterf**k on its hands.”

UNC Chapel Hill has recorded four COVID-19 clusters and 130 new cases on campus since classes started last week, prompting university officials to announce Monday that all classes will move to online instruction beginning Aug. 19, The News & Observer reported.

The clusters — defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases — are at three residence halls and an off-campus fraternity, according to The N&O.

UNC allowed students to return to campus at the behest of the UNC System Board of Governors.

But according to The Daily Tar Heel’s editorial board, that doesn’t mean campus administrators can shirk responsibility for students’ health and safety.

“The administration continues to prove they have no shame, and the bar for basic decency keeps getting lower,” the editorial board wrote, concluding with “one thing’s for sure — this roadmap leads straight to hell.”

Paige Masten, the DTH’s opinion editor, shared the editorial on her personal Twitter account Monday. It’s been liked 2,700 times and garnered a slew of feedback — mostly positive, so far.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC Chapel Hill’s independent student newspaper, wasn’t holding back in an editorial published Monday, August 17, 2020, criticizing the university’s administration after four COVID-19 clusters were reported on campus. Editor’s note: Letters in the headline were blurred by McClatchy News. The Daily Tar Heel

The online version’s headline reads “Editorial: We all saw this coming,” accompanied by the definition of a “clusterf**k.”

“Nothing brought me greater joy than putting this on the home page of the website,” Will Melfi, the newspaper’s online managing editor, said in a reply to Masten on Twitter.

The Daily Tar Heel has been a separate legal entity from the university since 1989 and operates as a nonprofit that receives no student fees — “making it both fiscally and editorially independent,” according to the paper’s website.

About 10,000 print editions of the newspaper are published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the website is updated daily.

The decision to run Monday’s editorial — curse words included — was entirely up to the students, according to Erica Perel, The Daily Tar Heel’s general manager and newsroom adviser.

“I work to train and mentor the student journalists. I don’t have a day-to-day role in overseeing content,” Perel told McClatchy News. “If they seek my advice or ask my opinion about something, I share it. The student media model of journalism education is students learn the best when they are responsible for the choices they make.”

Though the students didn’t ask for her input, she said the DTH and other student publications “have a long tradition of using profanity.”

“We’re not bound by a lot of the constraints of being a ‘family newspaper,’” Perel said. “Our target audience is younger.”

Outside of its “colorful language” on the editorial page, Perel pointed to work the DTH staff as a whole has done on public service and accountability journalism in the midst of a global health pandemic.

“The role of independent student media has never been more important,” she said.

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Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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