UMass Student Journalists Crowd-Fund their Way to NCAA Tournament

Daily Collegian photographer and writers received $5,100 in donations in less than a week

RALEIGH, N.C. – Two sports writers and a photographer from the University of Massachusetts Amherst student newspaper Daily Collegian are currently in Raleigh covering the Minutemen basketball team’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1998, thanks to 124 donors who contributed $5,100 to a crowd-funding campaign the student journalists launched to finance their trip to the Big Dance.

Faced with budget constraints at the Collegian, photographer Taylor Snow and writers Mark Chiarelli and Patrick Strohecker were faced with the possibility of being forced to watch the Minutemen on television 561 miles away in Amherst after covering every game of the team’s season in-person. Instead, they decided in late February to use social media and the website GoFundMe to call for assistance from friends, family, UMass alumni and anyone else who believed they should have the ability to experience such a rare opportunity.

On March 3, Chiarelli, a sophomore sport management major, and Snow and Strohecker, both senior journalism majors, created the “Get the Collegian to the NCAA Tournament” campaign on GoFundMe.com with this message:

For decades, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian has maintained a longstanding, proud tradition of delivering quality coverage to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Now, The Collegian sports staff hopes to continue that tradition at the NCAA Tournament by sending two beat reporters and a photographer to cover an event UMass hasn’t qualified for in 15 years. But due to financial constraints, we’re asking for your help.

Throughout the season, the staff has independently funded travel to sites such as George Washington, Saint Joseph’s, George Mason, Rhode Island and the TD Garden, and plans to attend Brooklyn, N.Y., for the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. But the NCAA Tournament poses significant travel concerns, with potential sites stretching as far as Spokane, Wash., and San Diego. Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Within a week, the students had already hit their $5,000 target, with an extra $100 to spare. Donations had flooded in from friends, family, and the students’ professors, and Collegian editor-in-chief Stephen Hewitt had reached out to alumni who worked with the Collegian during their years at UMass. Among the former Collegian staffers who contributed were Boston Herald sports writer Steve Buckley and Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel.

“We reached out to a lot of former Daily Collegian alumni and alumni in general and they were all very supportive to the idea of starting the fundraiser,” Strohecker explained. “We never thought that it would take off like it did, so it says a lot about the alumni and how they support current students, and I think I can speak for everyone involved with how thankful we were for everyone’s support.”

“We’d like to extend our gratitude and appreciation for all the help and support over the last week or so… This is a really exciting time for all of us and we’re so grateful for the support in making a NCAA Tournament run possible,” Chiarelli posted to the GoFundMe site on March 9, after reaching their goal.

“A trip to the NCAA Tournament has been in the back of our minds all year, and as sports journalists and college basketball enthusiasts it’s an incredible opportunity for us to be here covering the games,” Snow says. “The alumni response to our GoFundMe page was unbelievable—contributing a few thousand dollars after just two days—and we all appreciate their interest in helping us out financially, and we will repay them by producing an outstanding product.”

The funds, Chiarelli says, will cover their flights, hotels and rental car in Raleigh, but the trio will still be paying for their meals and other incidental expenses out-of-pocket. The students have all received confirmation of their credentials for the Minutemen’s Midwest Regional games at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, and arrived at their hotel Wednesday morning.

“One of our goals was to honor the tradition of decades of tremendous Collegian coverage by continuing it at the NCAA Tournament,” says Chiarelli. “To see the amount of support we received, especially in the very beginning, was inspiring. We’re motivated to provide the best possible coverage and to see the amount of people who support us in that mission is a great feeling.

Should the Minutemen win their first two games, Chiarelli says they will see how much of the their crowd-funds remain and determine what steps they then need to take to travel to Indianapolis, site of the regional semifinals and finals known as the “Sweet 16” and “Elite Eight,” respectively.