In the midst of Penn State’s child sex-abuse scandal, an unlikely student hero has emerged: 6ABC’s Jim Gardner. In 140 characters or less, the Philly news anchor has taken to Twitter to connect with PSU students, many who feel misrepresented by rioting knuckleheads with a blind faith to a coach who covered up an alleged pedophile.
For Philly-raised students in Happy Valley, Gardner is a familiar face they first watched in childhood living rooms to see if they had a snow day.
“It was really simple for me and didn’t take much creativity,” says Gardner, who mostly tweets from his WPVI office computer. “But it was a way for me to connect to people at Penn State and connect alumni to what was going on.”
Through Twitter, Gardner asked questions and re-tweeted responses, including during last week’s student-run vigil that students organized to recognize Jerry Sandusky’s alleged victims.
“I found that 140 characters suits my ability to articulate,” Gardner jokes. “It seemed like the kids really connected to that process.”
Connect they did, especially when Gardner made sure that W6ABC live-streamed the student-run candle vigil to honor the boys of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged child molestation. Gardner says he first started tweeting during the Democratic National Convention in Denver and said Twitter has become the platform to break news. (This interview was obtained by tweeting at the news anchor.)
And while Gardner has garnered appeal, students have denounced several prominent media outlets—more recently, CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Cooper bussed more than 100 students from State College to New York City for what was billed as a chance for students to talk about their complex emotions and how they’ve united to raise awareness and funds to fight child abuse and sexual assault.
But according to several students who attended, they were encouraged to cry and shout and were mainly asked about whether JoePa should’ve been fired.
In contrast, Gardner used Twitter to show the many sides of the debate.
Says Penn State senior Laura Nichols, of Delaware County, “He let our voices be heard—whether that was devastation, anger or confusion. And he wasn’t biased in his tweeting.”
Through Twitter, Gardner facilitated a dialogue with students that he described as “touching, poignant and heartbreaking.”
Gardner was one of the first—if not the first—journalists to report that the university’s Board of Trustees had fired Joe Paterno, and he tweeted it.
“I watched from my computer as that tweet traveled around the world,” Gardner said. “It was like the computer screen almost levitated off the desk. The retweet column rolled like a slot machine’s column in a casino.”
Perhaps his ratings will get a boost, too, when those students return home for Thanksgiving break. Then again, who needs an hour newscast when your trusted hometown news guy can give it to you in 140 characters or less?
Kevin Cirilli is a Penn State student who will graduate early this semester. More of his work and credentials can be found online here.