From Kari Williams: Student newsrooms are a haven for aspiring journalists

Name: Kari Williams

College Publications: The Alestle (Edwardsville, Illinois)

Where I am now:Associate Editor, VFW magazine

I started working for the Alestle, SIUE’s student-run newspaper, my first semester on campus. Without that, I guarantee I would not be where I’m at. I learned how to build rapport in a community, work a beat and cover controversial or sensitive topics with grace.

I was fortunate enough to serve as editor in chief my final semester. That opportunity gave me a world of knowledge about writing, editing, managing a diverse staff and working with reporters who need a little more guidance — all things that have transferred over to my professional career.

Our adviser, Tammy Merrett, and writer’s coach, Jill Cook, are people I still turn to when I need advise or guidance. Had I only taken journalism classes at SIUE, I would not have had the real-world experience that I truly needed to move into my first job after college.

In general, student newsrooms are a haven for aspiring journalists. They allow us to learn and make mistakes on a smaller scale so that we’re as prepared as possible to enter the “real world” after college. They are vital to the journalism industry.

From Connor Spielmaker: Why you should care about #SaveStudentNewsrooms

Name: Connor Spielmaker

College publications:  UNF Spinnaker (Jacksonville, Florida)

Where I am now:  Content Producer at CNN

Student journalism, or journalism as I like to call it, is the single most-important student-operated entity on a campus. Of course, this is easily true for a communications or journalism student, since it gives them on-the-job experience in a real-stakes environment. All my friends that I know from college just wouldn’t be where they are today without student journalism. But that’s easy, right? Of course student media is important for kids that want to be journalists. But why should a random education major, or engineering major, or faculty member, or staff member, or parent care about journalism coming from their campus?

Because it’s their community. And nobody else is going to cover it like the people living, working and learning it every day.

In being asked to write this editorial, I thought back to some of the bigger moments while I was involved in Spinnaker, and how some of the biggest stories to come from campus simply wouldn’t have broke without the Spinnaker.

Take the 2013 change-in-stance on UNF adding a football team. Early in the Fall 2012 semester, a Spinnaker journalist interviewed Athletic Director Lee Moon about UNF adding a football team.

It was essentially a firm no. Over Christmas break, a different Spinnaker journalist covering an Osprey’s away game (you read that right, during Christmas break) happened to be sitting near Moon when he was asking some pretty interesting questions about a college football program for someone who wasn’t thinking about it. The journalist was able to combine those notes with other notes from Spinnaker journalists involved in other areas of campus and boom – confirmed, there was a conversation happening about bringing football to UNF. That story took the campus, and Jacksonville, by storm. All from Spinnaker journalists.

Sports not your thing? How about public corruption? In the summer of 2013, thousands of Spinnaker newspapers were taken from campus racks and dumped – an effort to prevent the community from reading something in it. At face value, nobody cared. The papers were “free” (not really but that’s a separate editorial). The police weren’t helping, the State’s Attorney didn’t care, and someone was going to get away with it. But then a break – sources familiar with a few Spinnaker journalists that covered the campus crime beat got in touch and said the PD knows a bit more than they’re letting on. After a few more conversations and some bread crumbs, a Spinnaker journalist was able to connect the dots and broke the news – A Florida State Trooper was the one who had taken the papers, and he did it in an effort to prevent people from reading about a friend of his that had been arrested on campus for recording people in the bathroom.

This story was picked up by every Jacksonville media outlet, many other outlets around the country, and even the world.

These are just two examples. The vast majority of stories that were picked up by the rest of the world were reported after the Spinnaker broke the story. Stories that likely wouldn’t have been told if not for a Spinnaker journalist.

Beyond big stories with big headlines like that though were the day-to-day stories of life in the UNF community. Teachers getting awards, sports teams winning or losing, features on other members of the community, big names coming to campus, keeping an eye on how the campus’ money was spent, doing justice by those who were lost to tragedy, and offering comfort to their memory.

So yeah, sure, had I not been a ‘student journalist’ I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. And that’s important to me of course. But that’s not what is really important. What should matter to you is that without those ‘student journalists,’ things might be different. Your campus’ successes may go untold. Your community might miss out on something great. Your story may not be told.

Support journalism. Support journalists. Support community.

From TyLisa C. Johnson: At my student publications, we made something out of virtually nothing

ty

Name: TyLisa C. Johnson

College publications:  The Famuan, Journey magazine (Tallahassee, Florida)

Where I am now:  Incoming Lenfest Fellow, Reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer

When I became editor-in-chief of Florida A&M University’s Journey magazine, we had the tiniest budget in recent memory; about $1200 a semester. It was a moment that left me grappling with an industry-wide question: How do I make more with less?
Two years later, by way of creativity and finesse, I had overseen the publishing of six magazines — most printed, some exclusively digital. So early in my career, I learned about the issues plaguing the journalism field, but also of the field’s importance. Time and time again, my staff and I made something out of (virtually) nothing and then took that something and made it award-winning. I gained my deepest friendships and most cherished memories working until 4 a.m. in the magazine office to make deadlines, or reporting on a three-hour Board of Trustees meeting for our student newspaper, The Famuan. Reporting for The Famuan taught me bravery, compassion and the importance of having someone to hold the “higher powers that be” accountable. It was truly a highlight of my college career. The nights spent on my makeshift bed (office couch) are what eventually led to bigger journalistic opportunities for me, a black, female reporter. Outside of what wonderful things these newsrooms do for students, everyone should support student newsrooms, because those newsrooms help shape our country’s future. Those newsrooms are the foundation for people who will go on to write the news stories of tomorrow, potentially changing the culture or the country with their words. So please, support student newsrooms and continue to encourage young journalists to be the brave journalists our country needs.

From Ben Conarck: The Vermont Cynic ‘reaffirmed my commitment to the profession’

ben conark

Name: Ben Conarck

College publication: The Vermont Cynic ( Burlington, Vermont)

Where I am now: Investigative Reporter at The Florida Times-Union

As an undergrad, I went to a school without a formal journalism program (the University of Vermont). In my sophomore year, I decided I needed an extracurricular activity and, due to my interest in journalism, decided to start volunteering for the student-run newspaper: The Vermont Cynic. I learned some of the basics of the craft and began reporting. Within a semester, I was editing other students. I would have never entertained the idea of a career in journalism without the ability to try it out myself in a low-stakes, low-risk environment. This reaffirmed my commitment to the profession and helped inform my career decisions post-graduation.

From Daniel Funke: ‘The independence of college media isn’t granted — it’s earned every single day.’

DanielSM

Name: Daniel Funke

College publication: The Red & Black (Athens, Georgia)

Where I am now: Fact-Checking Reporter at Poynter

When I started at the University of Georgia in 2013, I immediately knew I wanted to join The Red & Black. I remember walking from my freshman dorm to an open house in the newsroom, where I was intimidated but determined to meet the editors. I became a general assignment reporter, writing stories in between — and often during — classes. The place quickly became my life, and I worked there in almost every capacity over the course of three years.

I learned more at The Red & Black than I did at any of the internships I had while attending the University of Georgia. It’s where I learned how to write, report, take photos, edit stories, execute strategy and become a newsroom leader. It’s where I met all my best friends and made some of my favorite college memories. It’s the reason I got several internships and a fellowship in college before landing my current job at Poynter. It’s the reason I love journalism.

Thinking about The Red & Black without its financial and editorial independence is impossible. As editor-in-chief my junior year, I regularly impressed upon younger editors the importance of doggedly covering both Athens and the university. I told them about The Walkout in 2012, when, rather than ceding editorial oversight to a permanent adviser, the top student editors quit the paper in protest. I talked about how, in the 1990s, student editors sued the state of Georgia over an open records request — and won.

Those stories are important. The independence of college media isn’t granted — it’s earned every single day. It’s late nights in the newsroom writing breaking stories, cutting classes to go to press conferences and learning how to cover death and grieve simultaneously. It’s not giving up when a university official calls you on your cell phone and complains about a story, or when someone threatens a lawsuit via email. It’s doing the best work you can with precious few resources.

Support student newsrooms. Donate money. Give them clicks. Subscribe. Be loud on social media. Pressure your alma maters. Know that our mainstream press is only as good as our independent student press.

Exactly a year ago, I graduated from UGA. But I really feel like I graduated from The Red & Black — and it’s made all the difference.

From Anna Hyzy: ‘If we lose the newsroom, we lose the stories’

anna h

Name: Anna Hyzy

College publication: Indiana Daily Student (Bloomington, Indiana)

Where I am now: Design Editor at The New York Times

The Indiana Daily Student was, without even a moment of hesitation, the best part of my college experience. It was in that newsroom that I found what I wanted to be and it was in that newsroom that I found friends and a community that pushed me to become that. I experimented, I made mistakes and I grew. I watched older students pass through who went on to be leaders in our field just a few short years out. The IDS gave us the tools we needed to be effective, discerning journalists.
Without student newsrooms, and even without those newsrooms being independent, we lose not just a training ground for future journalists, but an area of coverage. It has been the Indiana Daily Student that has held Indiana University responsible for Title IV violations, the Indiana Daily Student that has tirelessly covered student deaths, sexual assaults and University decisions. I was proud to be a part of that newsroom every day I walked in. If we lose the newsroom, we lose the stories and we absolutely cannot afford to do that. We also can’t afford a generation of journalists who haven’t had the opportunity to develop skills like news judgement, which I certainly think independence makes much easier to learn. The experience of working in a trial-by-fire independent student-run newsroom is what I needed to keep up with the trial-by-fire workplace that most professional newsrooms are.

From Lauren Patrick: ‘Every minute I spent in our newsroom was incredible’

Name: Lauren Patrick
College Newspaper: The Red & Black
Where I Am Now: Editor at PrettySouthern.com
Being the Editor-in-Chief of The Red & Black was a dream come true. Every minute I spent in our newsroom was incredible. Those were truly my glory days at UGA. Being an independent student newspaper is so critical to have a truly free press un-thwarted by university administrators. We held the university accountable for its actions, challenged the president (with whom I had more than one uncomfortable meeting) and gave students a voice who might otherwise not have had one. #SaveStudentNewsrooms