The Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper affiliated with Colorado State University, scored a scoop this week with a devastating story about CSU police chief Dexter Yarbrough, who's been on administrative leave since last month, when he became the subject of what's been termed a "personnel investigation." The centerpiece of the tale, which spurred a follow-up piece this morning in the Rocky Mountain News (as well as a Denver Post item sporting McSwane's byline), involves a recording obtained by the Collegian in which Yarbrough makes a number of startling statements to a class, including the assertion that cops might pay off an informant with "ten of those crack cocaine rocks."
The author of the Collegian salvo? J. David McSwane (pictured), who's had a more eventful and noteworthy journalism career while attending school than many veteran reporters manage over decades in the trenches.
When McSwane was still enrolled at Arvada West, he conducted an undercover investigation for the high school's newspaper, The Westwind, in which he posed as a wannabe soldier battling drugs and alcohol -- and he discovered that Army recruiters were more than happy to help him hide his problems if it meant convincing him to sign on the line that is dotted. McSwane recounted this tale in "An Army of Anyone," a 2005 piece he wrote for Westword, and he also collaborated with Channel 4 on a television version of the report. The latter earned the station, and him, a prestigious Peabody -- an award often described as the TV equivalent of a Pulitzer.
In 2007, while serving as editor of the Collegian, McSwane made a different kind of headline when he authorized the publication of a two-word editorial that read: "FUCK BUSH." As documented in the Message column "Buck Fush," the reaction from local and national media was swift and often merciless. However, McSwane stood his ground, and in the end, he was allowed to retain his position at the paper. (See the blog "David McSwane Remains Editor of CSU Paper" for details.) And this past May, McSwane was named one of the top 100 student journalists in the United States.
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The Yarbrough story confirms this judgment. There are many reasons for hoping that some remnant of the journalism business survives, and McSwane is among them. Can't wait to see what he does if and when he gets the chance to become a fulltime reporter.