Editors at UNC-Chapel Hill’s The Daily Tar Heel responded to multiple COVID-19 clusters on campus with an unprecedented editorial. The headline: UNC has a clusterfuck on its hands.
We emailed Anna Pogarcic, editor-in-chief of The DTH, to find out the story behind the unforgettable headline.
Since in-person classes began on August 10, coronavirus cases appeared in a residential hall, a fraternity house and private apartments. On Monday — one day after the editorial — UNC announced that all classes will transition to remote, effective Wednesday, August 19.
What prompted the ultimate decision to run this headline? Did you have any discussions or consultations about it?
Pogarcic: My opinion editor suggested it to me, and I thought it was the perfect way to describe what’s happening. There were so many questions surrounding the announcement of the clusters this weekend, which wasn’t helped by the University’s lack of transparency about exact numbers, that we felt this editorial warranted something outside of our usual style. I mean, people’s literal lives — our safety, our health — are at stake because of the decisions this institution and the UNC System are making.
I was unsure at first if it perhaps was too unprofessional, but it’s not our job as journalists to sugarcoat what’s going on.
What were some of the other contenders?
Pogarcic: Honestly, there weren’t any others. It was kind of one of those magical moments where an idea comes to you. Paige Masten, our opinion editor, was working on the piece when she shouted the idea across the newsroom, and we were pretty much all on board immediately.
Was this the first time that the DTH has used profanity in a headline?
Pogarcic: As far as I know, we’ve never used profanity in a headline before, but we have used it in articles or other elements of our coverage.
How has the reaction been on campus from students and faculty? What about online?
Pogarcic: I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction, and everything I’ve seen so far has been positive. We’ve heard from current students, alumni, faculty and other readers on social media congratulating us for holding the University accountable. This editorial has by far been our most popular piece today and in recent memory.
Can you share why the headline is different for the online version?
Pogarcic: The online and print headlines were always different. We’ve gotten a few questions about it, and I want to make it clear that we didn’t change the online headline based on feedback. It’s our paper’s standard practice to have different headlines for print and online, and we thought we could switch it up for online by using a subhead instead.
What impact has this reporting had on donations to the Daily Tar Heel?
Pogarcic: We have gotten a few donations today based on the editorial and our other coverage from the weekend! I don’t have specific numbers, but our General Manager Erica Perel sent the editing staff a note this morning with about 10 comments from our donors.