JEREMY MULFORD Digital Editor in Chief
“ I want to write for the student newspaper. Sounds like a great outlet,” says every English major. However, writing for a collegiate press outfit is not for the faint of heart. There are deadlines, high pressures, ego-crushing critiques, the constant fear that you’re writing is going to be shit, but it gets into your blood and soon you can think of nothing else. Your course load now seems to be a nuisance because it’s taking away valuable time on campus; you are completely hooked.
If you want to make your life easier, you will live by your deadline. Imagine an engine. The pistons fire in a particular order. If one misfire, you feel that car slip and the performance is compromised, “Putting out a student paper requires dedication, persistence, and perseverance. As well as a staff that values the same things and is there to assist you along the way to make things happen, said Ixia Johnson, Managing Editor/News Editor of the Highlander, University of California Riverside’s student news source. Teamwork is important because the other troops are depending on you. When you miss a deadline the entire process grinds to a halt. Everyone down the line feels it and morale inside the team weakens. Now others will have to wait on you to do your job so they can do theirs. This hurts because nothing is more valuable than time in the newsroom.
The process is a like a hamster wheel. The beginning and end point drastically overlap and there are times I don’t know where to jump on or off. For staff writers, the work begins when they receive assignments. Immediately reporters need to set up interview dates with contacts needed for the content of the piece. “I have a deadline” is the most important four words you need to know to write for any paper. If you wait for a convenient time for your interview or photo, your deadline may be long past. Now you are on your news team’s most wanted list, but you can’t hide; they are journalists.
You must now write the article or produce photo/video which is a whole different art in itself. Forget about waiting for the inspiration to strike because there is no time for that. My advisor put me on the hot plate and told me to add 50 words to an article that had already been edited because during layout the day we going to press and there was white space left. Fifty words you may think is no problem, well you have five minutes to do it and it better be good. If you are writing for a print edition, there is no second chance to make corrections.
After articles are due, it is now copy editing time and this is where a lot of folks fall off the merry-go-round. Artists and writers are all sensitive ego-driven personality types. News, features, opinion pieces are all very different animals than anything you will ever come across in an English essay or a creative writing class. There is seldom time to guide a writer through their creative journey. There are plenty of hard honest insightful critiques to go around and it comes from every angle. I have found this process to be very important to my growth as a writer. I highly recommend being open to it if you want to learn to write. If learning to write is your goal the newsroom is the place you can do it fast.
Writing is not the only thing you can add to your toolkit either. Web design and WordPress are a must learn to step into the digital editor’s seat. For photography and print edition layout, you can hone your skills at Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and the rest of the Adobe stable. You can learn the whole multimedia family in the newsroom in most colleges across the U.S. You can really classify it as free education if the program is independent and you don’t have to pay for units.
How we receive our news and information continues to evolve, “There’s a lot of opportunity in the next few years to re-evaluate what a student paper is. As more traditional media outlets give way to online news outlets like Vox or The Daily Beast, there’s a huge opportunity for college newspapers to meet students halfway and focus on digital media only,” said Gabriel Schneider, Editor in Chief of the Triton student news source of University of California San Diego.
Your digital edition has to look and feel modern as well. The platform has to be in the same ballpark with the pros or credibility is gone as soon as the page loads. Most college students will bypass a newsstand because it can be accessed on a mobile device. I recently asked my media advisor, with decades of experience, if she still reads her news in hard copy. The answer I received backed up Schneider’s assessment.