From Isabel Bonnet: ‘Student journalism teaches you what school can’t’

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Name: Isabel Bonnet

College newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator (Gainesville, Florida)

Where I am now: Founder of The Amsterdammer

I arrived at 1105 W University Avenue for the first time in early 2016. I went to the old Alligator office without prior notice, wanting to apply for a photographer position. Luckily for me, the only person who was able to understand me in the office was the photo editor, who gently gave me the position — when honestly he had no reason to do so. I barely knew how to speak English, and for several months I was unable to even write the captions for my pictures. Two semesters later, I became the photo editor of the paper.

For many, joining a student newspaper while at university is like joining a student association to meet people who share the same interests. However, it is much more than that. At The Alligator, I not only learned how a newsroom works, but I had the opportunity to cover events I never thought I, as a student, could do. While being the photo editor, I experienced the U.S. presidential elections from the first row, assigned events to cover to the photographers and assigned them to myself too. I have to admit it was not easy, but my parents have always told me that “if something is easy, it is because it is not working.” And they are right. Being part of a student newspaper is not easy, but it works.

At the Alligator I was able to take pictures of former President Bill Clinton, and current President at that time, Barack Obama. I covered devastating news such as the aftermath of the Pulse shooting in the city of Gainesville, and joyful events such as a DJ Khaled concert. It seems like there was no limit. It is not because we were students that we weren’t able to do a good coverage of the local news. My coverage at the Alligator taught me how to report the news through the lens of the camera, a workshop that I now give at my university to the students.

I arrived at 1105 W University with nothing but experience in citizen journalism, and I left it with an acceptance to do an internship in the French newspaper Le Monde in my mailbox. Exactly one year later, I created a student-run newspaper myself in Amsterdam, The Amsterdammer, that uses the Independent Florida Alligator as its model. Every university should have a student newspaper, and if they don’t: do it yourself. Student journalism teaches you what school can’t, and introduces you to the practical journalism right away.

Without the Alligator, I would have never had the opportunities I had. And not only when I was part of it, but the ones that came later. During my internship, I was prepared for what was coming. I knew what a photo editor does. I know how a staff meeting is done. I know what a copy editor is — which is not often talked about at university. But essentially, I would have never had the idea, or been able, to create a student newspaper myself. I will be forever grateful to the Alligator for giving me a place to learn without letting language be a barrier.

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