Nick Buchta bounded into the room with a pizza box in one hand and a laptop in the other. He had quite a story, he told the other student editors crammed into an office at the headquarters of the Daily Pennsylvanian: Football coaches from the eight Ivy League universities voted to ban tackling at practice.

"I'm the one who told Penn Athletics this is happening," Buchta, 21, the senior sports editor, said recently, his voice rising with excitement. "They didn't know."

Buchta, a senior political science and communication major from Cleveland, said he saw the story in the New York Times and quickly got it confirmed and posted a story to the school newspaper's website.

"Other than the Times, we're the only ones that have it right now," he said.

Lauren Feiner, 20, editor-in-chief, praised him: "That's awesome. Glad you got that up."

The story would get front page play in the next edition, the nine student editors decided, along with a story about Super Tuesday election results, a feature on "sexual awakenings" at summer camp and a piece on a yoga club.

Life at the Daily Pennsylvanian, the DP for short, had moved on. It had been about a week since the student journalists found themselves at the center of a national media storm.

Seven DP staffers had gone to South Carolina to cover the Republican primaries, an ambitious assignment for a college newspaper. The DP posted a video with incorrect subtitles that made it look as if candidate Marco Rubio had mocked the Bible. Controversy ensued when the communications director for the campaign of rival Ted Cruz reposted it.

Cruz fired him, and local and national media called on the DP to answer for its mistake. It eventually did, publishing details on how the error occurred.

For the students who are passionate about their work - some said they toil more than 50 hours a week there while taking an intense academic load - the incident hurt.

"We're just really trying to move forward from it," said Feiner, a junior communication major from New York City. "It's not representative of everything else we do here. We are a group of people who really care and we made a mistake and we acknowledge that."

Feiner said the paper will bring in alumni for a detailed post mortem and a look at ways to improve. The staff intends to generate an internal report and write a story about it.

"It's not something that's over," said Colin Henderson, 20, the paper's president. "The first wave of being held accountable, we're probably past that, but it's not an excuse to stop looking at it or learning from what happened."

Students were comforted by an outpouring of support from alumni, including Peter Canellos, executive editor of Politico, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes magazine. One alum sent a cookie cake. The message?

"Keep our heads up but recognize where we made mistakes," said Henderson, a finance and marketing major from Nazareth.

Canellos, who had spoken to the staff at its journalism boot camp in January, also offered a comforting anecdote. It wasn't the first time the DP faced national notoriety.

After Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, a student columnist wrote that he wished the president would die and that frustration with the political system could be reason enough for someone "to use a bullet to cancel out the ballot." The comments angered Nancy Reagan and brought the Secret Service to campus to question the student writer.

"We were like, well the Secret Service didn't come, so. . .," Feiner said with a smile.

The DP is a feisty student newspaper that has left some Penn administrators privately expressing concern about mistakes and fairness. "With terror," said one when asked how administrators regard the paper. Neither President Amy Gutmann nor Board of Trustees Chair David Cohen would offer comment.

But Barbie Zelizer, a professor of communication at Penn's Annenberg School, said the students do important work, particularly when they link Penn to larger issues as they did by covering the primaries. They shouldn't be judged by one mistake, she said.

"They were doing their job as student journalists," she said. "They did the best they could."

The DP is completely independent from Penn, unlike most college papers that either get funding or space from their schools or have a staff adviser.

"There are very few that are getting nothing at all," said Kelley Callaway, president of the national College Media Association. "It allows you complete editorial independence. And on the university side, they have no legal connection to you."

The DP operates on an annual budget of $800,000 and has a $3 million-plus reserve. About 250 students work on the paper, most unpaid. Editors and managers get stipends of less than $1,000 a year.

Its three professional employees include a general manager who has been there since 1981, but they don't oversee content. That job belongs to students who come in as freshmen and learn from upperclassmen, who go on to serve as editors.

"It's passed down from generation to generation," said Eric Jacobs, the general manager.

The students also get editorial advice from alumni who come twice a year for training and regularly critique the paper, he said.

Penn does not have a journalism major, though it does have a minor. But not all students take journalism courses and some have no interest in a career in journalism.

"This is nice, for now," said Julio Sosa, 20, a biology major from Miami who is the news photo editor.

But whether or not they want to be journalists, students say the paper is perhaps their most defining experience as a student.

"This is the most important experience," said Feiner, an aspiring journalist. "If I get a B-plus instead of an A-minus [in a class], that really doesn't make a difference to me."

The newspaper's office, just off campus on Walnut Street, comes to life after 5 p.m. most days as students arrive to put out the paper. Its sports office is covered in pictures and has a blue "Puck Frinceton" T-shirt over a chair from the annual Penn-Princeton football game.

On one door hangs a paper plate noting: "APstylebook.com your newest BFF." The newspaper has a storied 131-year history, spawning prominent alumni now working at the New York Times, the Today show and other major media outlets. It's also where the infamous Stephen Glass got his start as well as Sabrina Rubin Erdley, author of the discredited Rolling Stone story about rape on a college campus.

Feiner said her staff is proud of its work, including continuous coverage of campus suicides and mental health services.

"We've tried really hard over the last two years to cover that every way we can and get the administration to pay attention to it," she said, noting that Penn created a mental health task force. "We were also there when students were criticizing the task force for not having enough student representation and that changed."

More recently, Dan Spinelli, city news editor, wrote about poor campus maintenance.

"A lot of people got really mad at me," said Spinelli, 19, a sophomore from Lansdale who wavers between journalism and pre-law. "But when a story like this comes up and you have 20 maintenance staffers telling you they are instructed to delay requests for maintenance help to save money, you have to write about that."

Jessica McDowell, 20, enterprise editor, covered the Paris attacks for the paper. She had been studying there at the time.

"That's the thing I'm proudest of," said McDowell, a junior political science and history major from Wilmington, Del.

Covering the South Carolina primaries made Caroline Simon, 19, campus news editor, want to go into journalism even more "because there's nothing that would make me feel as good as this."

The controversy gave her pause.

"But on the whole," said Simon, a sophomore English and communication major from Oreland, "benefits outweigh the cost."

Students said they plan to continue covering national politics, certainly the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.

The controversy, they said, brought them closer.

"We were able to handle it internally and stand with each other," Spinelli said, "and not name call or play the blame game."

They also gained new perspective on what it feels like to be on the other side of the news.

"That will make me and probably all of us more sympathetic moving forward," Feiner said.

They were happy to see their story fade. The day after the blog post blew up, a homeless man entered Penn's library with a machete. No one was hurt.

"I was like, thank God, there's breaking news," Feiner said.

Spinelli agreed: "Anything to get us out of the news cycle."

ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693@ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq