Student Journalists Make Headlines

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Madeleine Carr is interviewed via Skype by a news organization.

Pepperdine University junior Madeleine Carr planned on attending “College Night” at the Borderline Bar & Grill on Wednesday, Nov. 7, as part of a scheduled activity for other students in her dormitory.

Her roommate wasn’t able to attend—too much homework—so she decided to stay back as well.

“I did my pages for the newspaper and was about to go to bed when I get the text about the shooting,” Carr—the news editor for the campus newspaper Pepperdine Graphic—said, in a phone call with The Malibu Times. “And so I knew at that point, no matter what, that we had girls from my dorm that were there.”

She met up with the newspaper’s adviser, Dr. Elizabeth Smith, and two other student reporters, who later went out to Thousand Oaks to cover the shooting overnight. 

By early Thursday morning, Nov. 8, Carr said, “I knew at that point that Alaina [Housley] was the only one they hadn’t been able to contact from the get go because I texted my RA [residential adviser] right away.”

Everyone else had been accounted for—one girl was hiding in the bathroom—and there was no answer from Alaina. 

“I had come up with a list of possible reasons why she wasn’t answering,” Carr explained, adding: “I’m from Boston and so with the Boston bombing, there were several instances where we had friends of friends, where they just ran and their phone was left behind.”

Later that day, it was confirmed Housley was one of 12 victims of the mass shooting.

The gravity of the situation didn’t fully hit Carr until later that morning, when more students arrived to help with coverage.

While a few reporters covered the prayer service held for Housley on campus, others were in the newsroom following and sending out updates on the incident.

After talking to her father and hearing his concerns, she came to a realization: “The best thing I could be doing for myself was what I had already been doing, which was reporting.”

Just hours later, the fire coverage began.

“So, at that point, I got back from lunch to find out we were covering suddenly two wildfires that popped up in the one hour I had gone to lunch,” she described.

On Friday, Nov. 9, as the fire made its way into Malibu, students, faculty and staff were put under Pepperdine’s shelter-in-place protocol, where they are required to remain in designated areas on campus.

Around 9:30 p.m. Friday, a miscommunication between the sheriff’s department and Pepperdine officials prompted students to begin packing for evacuation; a moment which sparked adrenaline in Carr.

“I was with Dr. Smith and her family … We were trying to get the mask onto her four-year-old, who had just been sleeping,” she described. “There was this huge moment where I was trying to play with the little four-year-old, trying to be like ‘Oh, this is fun. We’re going to put on masks like doctors,’ but in the back of my head, [I was thinking] ‘Oh my gosh, like my car is up where the fire is. I can’t go anywhere.’”

Like dealing with the shooting, Carr continued to push out information online through the Graphic.

The next morning, when students were allowed to leave, she said her friend described the scene as something similar to Tatooine from “Star Wars,” where “everything is like a desert and the sun is just a haze”—the ocean wasn’t visible from campus.

“What was really interesting, as being both a student and reporter, I realized how important our role as student journalists is because it’s easy for, I think, other people to put student journalists down,” Carr reflected, adding, “They don’t understand how important it is until it comes to moments like this. It was really affirming in that way that what we’re doing is important.”

Speaking on Monday, Nov. 26, she said the students haven’t had enough time to process things as a community, especially those with the Graphic—the journalists (who were located in several different time zones) worked on a special edition over the Thanksgiving break.

As for Pepperdine’s relationship to the greater Malibu community—especially in light of the controversial shelter-in-place protocol—Carr said, “I know that people were really irate with Pepperdine but I think there was so much miscommunication about what we were doing … it saved lives in that you didn’t have the 3,500 of us on the roads, preventing the rest of Malibu from evacuating.”

She later added: “So I just really hope that we can grow together and see that everyone right now has suffered a loss, between everything our community has gone through and the Malibu community has gone through.”

Content from the Pepperdine Graphic’s special edition—titled “In the Midst of Tragedy”—is available online at bit.ly/PepperdineGraphic.