Reporter at Campus Progress Publication Gains National Recognition
For many students at Claremont McKenna College, the news earlier this year that the school had manipulated students’ SAT scores was cause for confusion, distrust, and outrage.
But for senior Jeremy Merrill, a reporter for the Claremont Port Side, it was just another day on the job.
In the aftermath of the announcement that fraud had taken place in the admissions department, the student-run progressive publication became the primary news outlet pressing for details and uncovering just how serious the scandal was.
“Jeremy and a handful of other senior writers handled the breaking story with excellent professionalism and enthusiasm,” said Alyssa Roberts, editor-in-chief of the Claremont Port Side, a member of the Campus Progress Journalism Network. “We were the only outlet with the capacity and dedication to provide an in-depth analysis of the scandal, cover the community’s response, and hold the administration accountable.”
Merrill said the process of unraveling the story began with “good old-fashioned reporting.”
He gathered with several of his colleagues in a dorm room shortly after the news broke to develop a game plan for pursuing the extent of the fraud. They found out, through talking with several sources, that students’ test scores had been manipulated for nearly a decade.
So Merrill quickly crunched the data and published a bruising article on the Port Side’s website that revealed how an employee (or employees) in the admissions office intentionally flubbed the data. The article states that the average SAT scores for the incoming class were inflated into the 700-range for both the Critical Reading and Math sections—a move that placed Claremont McKenna College higher among national college rankings, like those compiled by U.S. News & World Report.
Shortly after the Port Side revealed the extent of the fraud, Merrill and his colleague Sam Kahr scored an exclusive interview with CMC President Pamela Gann. Despite extensive coverage from national outlets, her conversation with the Port Side would be her only media appearance on the scandal.
Merrill acknowledged, in retrospect, that it’s important for student journalists to pursue potential scandals in order to hold leaders accountable.
“Journalism needs to be in the public interest,” he said. “Knowing when your leaders aren’t telling you the whole truth and then exposing that can only benefit the community.”
Hailing from Durham, N.C., Merrill is a double major in Philosophy and Linguistics. He was motivated to write for the Port Side due to its joint commitment to local news reporting and a progressive analysis of national and international news.
The Claremont Port Side, which was founded in 2003, received national recognition for unraveling the SAT scandal. The publication’s coverage was featured in and cited by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The national recognition was obviously cool,” said Roberts, the editor. “But our organization benefitted the most from how our coverage elevated our status on campus and among alumni. Students, professors, and alums turned to us for updates on the story, and they have continued to come back and read our non-SAT content.”
The Port Side has several exciting features in its April edition, including one that examines how recruiting tactics at the Claremont Colleges favor industries such as finance and consulting over non-profits and smaller companies. Check it out here.
Graham White is a journalism intern for Campus Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @GrahamWhiteNY.