From Seth Haack: My student newspaper is why I switched from political science to journalism

Name: Seth Haack

College Newspaper: Branding Iron (Laramie, WY)

I have been working at the student newspaper, the Branding Iron, for the past four years, my entire college career, and through my experience, I have gained many traits and skills. I am a journalism major, but the student newspaper is what piqued my interest and made me switch my major from political science. In my time at the Branding Iron, I have become fairly adept at AP Style, learned how to write both news and feature stories, developed as a leader, inspired other aspiring student journalists and hosted an event with more than 200 attendees. My experiences have been invaluable and I wouldn’t want to have that taken away from anyone who is questioning their future, wondering where life will take them or seeking a career in the field of journalism. Student newspapers provide an opportunity to students to develop important skills whether they are aspiring journalists or students pursuing other careers, and these opportunities are important for ALL students to have access to.

From Ryan McAdams: I wouldn’t trade my experience in high-school journalism for anything

Name: Ryan McAdams

My mother offered my sister and me the opportunity to leave school early for a family vacation the following day. My sister, who was a junior and disinterested in school, told her that we could not leave until after Mrs. Hill’s class. This piqued my interest and I enrolled in journalism class the following fall.

I was a reporter my sophomore year, the sports editor my junior year, and Co-EIC my senior year. I remember interviewing an alumnus over the phone when he was hired as a high-level college basketball coach. I remember interviewing Ron Kovic for an opinion piece and writing the cover story on assembly when he visited our high school and spoke about his book Born on the Fourth of July and what his community missions were.

But what I remember most were the paste ups. The late nights (during the week!) when trying to meet our deadline. I remember working side-by-side with others from various walks of life, but just as passionate about journalism and giving students a voice. I remember the comaraderie we felt and the pride we had when the final product was printed. I remember the smell of the ink when we would bundle them and deliver them to different wings of our high school. It was so exhilarating and I was so proud.

I remember feeling like I stood for something, even if that was free speech. Something so simple to believe in was cultivated in my time on that high school newspaper. I was young and impressionable and learned from a wonderful woman in class and everyone around me on the newspaper.

That catapulted me into majoring in journalism for my undergrad where I started in print and moved to broadcast. I wrote for the local newspaper on the sports desk for a number years during college, a result of my experience at my student-run publications beforehand.

The decline of print journalism has been very sad, but I strongly support your mission. I am no longer in the journalism field, but I still feel very attached to it. I hope that you are able to gain the experience you need to move forward in the field. I realize I’m not the person you were hoping to get a testimonial from, but I feel very strongly about my experiences with my classmates both in high school and in college. I would not trade those experiences for anything.

From Logan Jaffe: Freelancing for my college newspaper taught me the art of pitching

Name: Logan Jaffe

College Newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator (Gainesville, FL)

Where I Am Now: ProPublica Illinois, engagement reporter

I occasionally wrote for The Alligator and contributed feature photos. I was a photojournalism major at UF, graduated in 2011, and the fact that the Alligator even took “freelance” photo submissions motivated me to carry my camera around, always.

Freelancing for the Alligator gave me an excuse to stumble on stories at any given time, because I always knew I could pitch it to the student paper. And it got me comfortable pitching, too, which is such an important skill for a career in journalism that you can only get better at with practice. So, thanks for letting me practice early and often, Alligator.

From Alex Chihak: I got better at juggling at the Arizona Daily Wildcat

Name: Alex Chihak

College Newspaper: Arizona Daily Wildcat

Where I Am Now: Gannett’s Phoenix Design Studio

I was the copy desk chief at the Arizona Daily Wildcat from 2004 to 2005. Somehow word got out that I could juggle, though poorly. A photographer persuaded me to juggle to the opening theme of the TV show “Night Court,” for whatever reason. I practiced for a while until I got pretty decent at making the balls slap my palms to that bass line. Now it’s the only thing I can juggle to.

From Jensen Werley: My student newspaper gave me a place to experiment

Name: Jensen Werley

College Newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I Am Now: Reporter for BizWest (Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado)

Right before they tore the building down, I made sure to graffiti it in as many places as possible.

There was this urge to leave my mark on every surface of the old building. Ink was soaked into my college experience, and two years after graduating I wanted to leave ink in as many places as possible.

I started as a stringer for the Independent Florida Alligator when I was a sophomore. By then, I had finally garnered the courage to put my name in the ring, to shove my social anxiety aside and call complete strangers and ask for their thoughts on issues like flying home for Thanksgiving break or whether the Gator chomp is one of the best college traditions in the country.

The Alligator gave me the room to do those things. To experiment. To take jobs I didn’t think I would want upon graduating, like editing stories late into the night on the copy desk or shooting photos with a camera I was still learning how to use. It gave me space to get scolded for not asking the right questions by an older student editor, the same editor who would give me a boost of confidence the next week when I asked all the right questions. It gave me the chance to write stories about business, stories that I would write because it was assigned but not because I loved the subject. (Something that makes me smile to this day — every job I have had upon graduating has been in business journalism, a subject I have since grown passionate about.) I learned how to report in my classes. But at The Alligator, I was a reporter.

And so I had left things in that decrepit former fraternity house. I had left cookie crumbs from the bakery next store on the carpet, scraps of paper tacked to the walls with the funny things my friends would mutter to themselves after six hours of editing stories. I had left tears of exhaustion, frustration, anxiety. I had left the moments of joy and giddiness over pizza and States of the Union and discussions of new music. In that newsroom, I forged friendships that stand today and I learned about the industry and I learned how to get good at my job. I also learned what it’s like to have a local group protest your paper for reverse engineering UFOs inside. It seemed to me, with all those students coming through and doing something so pure — the art of coming together every day and putting together a newspaper — that the memories must stay in the foundation of the building, like an afterimage. Even when I heard they would tear the old newsroom down to make room for more Gainesville development, I knew that all that joy and frustration and sleeplessness would stay on the footprint that held it all: ghosts of student journalists past.

When it came time to tear the building down, as we slugged beer and swapped stories, I had an urge to leave more of myself in the building. I took Sharpie and wrote my name on every wall I could find, wrote funny comments about myself hidden in rooms I didn’t even know the building had. For a business forged in ink, I wanted to leave my own marks everywhere.
Later that night, I would keep the urge to ink going, as a group of friends and I walked into the tattoo parlor across the street and I got small “a” tattooed below my shoulder blade.
A for awesome. A for a legacy. A for The Alligator.

From Matthew Sauer: A free and untethered press is essential to the health of a democracy

Name: Matthew Sauer

College Newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I Am Now: Executive Editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

My time as editor of the Independent Florida Alligator (Spring ’92) was one of the single greatest professional experiences of my life.

It came after working my way up through various positions at the independent, student-run newspaper for three years.

I can’t imagine that it would be near as rewarding if there were formal oversight from the University of Florida. That is no insult to my alma mater. In most cases, we had a great relationship with the UF administration.

But independence is as important to a college daily as First Amendment protections are to their bigger sisters and brothers. The American press must maintain its independence to serve as an adequate check on the powers of government, as we have done for more than 200 years.

There are strong reasons why we are referred to as the Fourth Estate, free of the entanglements of the government but equally as important.

If you have any doubt about that, check out a great example that recently graced movie theaters around the world “The Post,” which tells the story of the Washington Post and the New York Times standing up to the power of an administration that desperately wanted to quell the release of the Pentagon Papers.

While the struggles at universities between independent student-run papers and universities are perhaps not as far-reaching, they are no less important because they embody the same principle: that a free and untethered press is essential to the health of a democracy – and, ultimately, to its very survival.

The Independent Florida Alligator left the UF campus based on these principles – an effort to censor what its student reporters and editors were trying to write about – and now, in an age when information if flying so fast and furiously around the globe, that independence and that effort to tell the truth is only more important.

From Amie Just: The lessons I learned are part of why I have the job I do

Name: Amie Just

College Newspaper: University Daily Kansan

Where I Am Now: Montana football beat writer for The Missoulian

I worked for the University Daily Kansan — the University of Kansas’ student newspaper — on and off for four years. Over those four years, my titles included correspondent photographer, sports columnist, softball/swimming/track/volleyball beat writer, special sections editor and sports editor. During that time I had the opportunity to cover an incredible amount of sporting events, breaking news events, write well-researched features and teach younger student journalists things I’d learned. I counted at one point and I reached at least 200+ articles in my four years there. A lot changed from my first semester on staff to my last semester on staff. We reduced from a daily print edition to a twice weekly print edition. We shifted to a digital-first format. At one point, we didn’t have a faculty news adviser. We did several redesigns. Change was hard to get used to, but we learned from it and moved forward. Our reporting was necessary and important. I think that’s something that a lot of student journalists don’t hear, but we were lucky in that regard. We had people supporting us. My last semester at the Kansan as the sports editor was a draining one, but the lessons I learned in that semester are absolutely part of why I have the job I have today. Not everything about covering sports is fun — it sure wasn’t that semester with all the sexual assault coverage, criminal coverage, Title IX coverage, and other difficult reporting topics — but I learned a lot and grew a lot. And all of that learning is why I’m at where I’m at. Student newsrooms are important. They launch careers. They’re learning centers. They serve as inspiration for future generations of journalists.

From Paula Span: ‘Student journalism IS journalism’

Name: Paula Span

College Newspaper: B.U. News

Where I Am Now: New Old Age columnist for the New York Times and Columbia J-School professor

What was there to cover in Boston from 1967 to 1971, when I was a reporter and editor at the B.U. News? Oh, just everything: Vietnam, draft resistors, racism, the gay liberation movement, feminism, national student strikes, SDS, urban education, sex, plus music and art and and and. Student journalism IS journalism, and many of our reporters and editors later turned pro and are at it still. It’s the training ground; it’s boot camp; it’s worth supporting and preserving.

Editorial: We must support, save our student newsrooms

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Student journalists across the country are organizing for a day of action on Wednesday, April 25, to save their student newsrooms from shutting down — and The Nevada Sagebrush plans to join them.

The importance of student-run newsrooms is severely understated. They provide niche coverage on university affairs, help prepare students for the workforce and provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t normally have.

Student-run publications across the country are suffering. Much like professional newsrooms, their budgets are being cut, advertising is at an all-time low and the number of paid journalists decreases every year. All newsrooms must figure out how to stay afloat while transitioning into a digital era. Unlike professional newsrooms, student media must fix their monetary situation by themselves, or risk their editorial independence.

Read the rest of the editorial from the Nevada Sagebrush here

From Ben Brasch: I wouldn’t be where I am today without The Alligator

ben brasch

Name: Ben Brasch

College Newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I Am Now: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hyperlocal Reporter

As I sit in my aged metropolitan apartment listening to what may be a rat in my wall, I thank my college newspaper. It prepared me for damn near every experience so far in my life. When a nocturnal beast fell from the ceiling of the decrepit former fraternity house and into the pit of people designing the newspaper, they ran over to the bar to tell us. The creature was run off and never seen again.

My college newspaper is no longer in that building. Newspapers throughout the industry have been displaced as they shrink to the embarrassment of many. I’ve seen alternating light bulbs unscrewed in a newsroom ceiling. Do you think quality journalism makes for a healthy democracy? Invest in the future. Start at the beginning the right way. Learning a language and culture requires immersion.

In college, I dealt with liars and thieves and pikers — and that was just student government. I saw tempers and cigarettes flare nightly in the newsroom. Errors rented room in my gut until the next mess-up, no matter the size. But the treads and risers were so small that ever story was a triumph in some way. A article about a man who sold potatoes, led to a story about a cop who met his lady after years apart and then they ran a crab shack. In time, articles became stories.

I wouldn’t be where I am today with this annoying rat if not for my student newsroom experience. The people I worked with are so good I shudder to think of us back in the same newsroom. We were all at our worst together in college, but we were getting better and that meant something. It meant long hours for little pay and the love of the game. Journalism doesn’t just happen. We kept our fellow students in mind as we reported on corruption and the day’s news. We were the only watchdog of 50,000 other young adults. Few fall into journalism with grace, it takes time (read: money) and patience to get just serviceable.

My experience as a student journalist taught me a new level of hard work. Me and my colleagues got better that so we could get out and do it on a bigger stage. And many of us made it because of all the mistakes we were allowed to make. As is said: “Cry in the dojo; laugh in the battlefield.” I’m coming for you, rat.