This is not an exit

Your student publication: enjoy it while it lasts

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

It’s no secret that the print industry is in decline. It has been for some time now. Just take a look at this graph. Or, hey, what about this one? Yes, we’ve all heard that newspapers are dead or dying and that you’d be an idiot to go into print media because you’ll just get laid off and blah-da blah-da blah. But, dagnabbit, I’m still not turned off to the idea of working for a metro daily newspaper. Neither should you, especially if you’re currently on staff at a publication for your college or high school.

For anyone reading this who attends an institution of higher learning, is majoring in journalism and isn’t involved in a student publication: Stop it. Stop what you’re doing right now — your coffee, tepid Ramen noodles and On A Side Note can wait — and get a job.

Because if you don’t get some kind of experience working with your peers on a student-managed newspaper, magazine or ad firm, you’re sure as hell not getting work after you graduate.

Maybe you think The Oregon Daily Emerald stinks to high heaven or that Flux or Ethos publish ridiculous stories, or that you’ll just hold out for something that’s more your style to come your way. Regardless of how you feel about your school’s publications, stop reading and pick up an application for one of the three aforementioned institutions (if you don’t attend the University of Oregon find your school’s newspapers and magazines and apply there.)

Or don’t. There’s a multitude of opportunities, not just at the university but in the community in general, where you can sharpen your skills and do so in an environment that you’ll absolutely love and learn to hate at the same time. The point is, make sure you get as much experience while the risk is relatively low because there’s no safety net once you walk up to your dean in that cap and gown.

The great thing about student publications is that they’re about as risk-free as it gets in this business. At most colleges and high schools, an incidental student fee does quite a bit of funding that professionals don’t have the luxury to fall back on. During my time at The Torch at Lane Community College, we had a high enough budget to print in color every single week. I bought new iMacs for my entire editorial staff. We purchased a Canon 60D. And it was all because the program was subsidized by student fees.

We didn’t have to worry about Internet hit counts, ad revenue or circulation expansion. We took those things into account, but there was relatively little incentive to do anything other than focus on learning the craft. Don’t take this to mean you can print whatever you want without thinking about your audience. Strive to produce professional work and see how it’s received by the students for whom you’re writing. Study your readers. Find out what they want and deliver it in an engaging and meaningful way.

And a note to all of you currently working for your student publication or PR organization: make the most of it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Try something wacky. If it doesn’t sell, you move on to the next project. If that one doesn’t pan out, you come up with something new again. In the real world, a few failures earns you a pink slip. You might get fired from a student group, but your livelihood won’t depend on it.

When I was at Lane, I often spoke with self-proclaimed journalism majors — the college didn’t officially offer that program — who admitted to not have very much interest in working for student organizations as if it were below them. I’ve run into some of that at the university, which is shocking because nearly every professor at the School of Journalism and Communications pounds the importance of internships and other experience into your head.

I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this advice before. If it helps, try to recall some other inspirational speech you heard in another medium and use it for motivation. And once you get on staff somewhere, work your ass off. It’s tough to quit once you start.

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