From Ian Cohen: ‘College newsrooms are the training grounds’

ian cohen

Name: Ian Cohen

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

Where I am now: Reporter at the Palm Beach Post/Palm Beach Daily News

The old Alligator building was my second home.
And then it wasn’t. About two years ago the location was sold and the offices were torn down. Newspapers all over the country were downsizing, and so were we.
We memorialized the building the night before. All of us. Not just the 50 or so student journalists working at the Alligator at the time, busting our asses five nights a week with little pay to put out a newspaper we could be proud of, but Alligator alumni, too. They came to celebrate the decades of student journalists who had worked within those walls, paying respect to a place that had meant as much to them as it did to us.
We all piled into the Alligator and drank champagne. We talked and laughed, we swapped stories and shared memories, we sniffled and smiled and sobbed. We went to pay homage to the place where we learned to do journalism. Where our careers began. Where we made lifelong friends.
That place meant so much to so many people. It meant so much to me.
And it still does. That old building may be gone, but the Alligator found a new one. The newspaper may print three days a week instead of five, but the quality of its content is just the same.
I share this story to show the impact the Alligator had on so many people, and how fearlessly it has endured. I have no doubt there are similar stories about other student-run publications across the country.
And that’s why we have to help save them.
College newsrooms are the training grounds for so many of today’s best professional journalists, and if student-run newsrooms lose their independence, then many of the world’s future reporters will be less equipped to watch over a country that relies on a free and independent press.
The Alligator could not have provided decades of students with the journalism experience that it did without being completely independent from the University of Florida. And it could not have provided me with the friendships and the experience that will last a lifetime.

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.

From Ariana Figueroa: ‘The experience and friendships made there are priceless’

Ari

Name: Ariana Figueroa

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

Where I am now: News Assistant at CNN

I would not be the journalist I am today without my student newspaper. And that’s not because The Alligator gave me an environment that allowed me to learn how to write, edit and make mistakes. All of those skills are valuable, but the reason I am still in journalism is because of those lifelong friends I made at the paper. Those friends were the ones that calmed my doubts about whether or not I’d make it as a journalist and gave me confidence when I needed it most. I would have quit a long time ago if it weren’t for that support group I found at my student paper.

The Alligator gave me the ability to be a leader and grow into the woman I am today, and it gave me a sisterhood I never imagined having.

Student papers matter and the experience and friendships made there are priceless. If student papers don’t get the support they need and deserve, it’s going to put limits on what the next generation of journalists can accomplish.

From Ken Schwencke: ‘It taught me more than class ever could’

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Name: Ken Schwencke

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

Where I am now: News Apps Developer at Propublica

When former a former managing editor at my student newspaper, The Alligator, noticed a map I’d published and asked me to work with her, it was the start of my career.

As anyone reading this knows, the experience at a student newsroom is incomparable: working on deadline, turning ideas on a dime, punching up. You have free rein to decide what’s news and to go after stories you think matter. It’s a freedom you might not get for a decade into your actual career, and a crucial time to try new things and make mistakes.

So for all that, I’m thankful. It taught me more than class ever could, and without it I’d be something awful, like a lawyer.

From Mia Gettenberg: ‘We need to pay attention when student and local journalists speak up.’

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Name: Mia Gettenberg

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

In Fall 2015, I started working at The Independent Florida Alligator as a sophomore at the University of Florida. With some experience in journalism in high school, I began as a copy editor, working late nights with student editors, writers and photographers to put out our best work each day. I later became copy desk chief and then held the position of print managing editor during Summer 2016. I’ve been a columnist at the paper since January 2017, and I will graduate in a few weeks.

Without a doubt, The Alligator showed me firsthand the passion and dedication of local journalists. We need students to continue pursuing their dreams in journalism, a profession increasingly coming under scrutiny in this political age, to hold our elected officials accountable, learn more about the world around us and know where to devote our attention and resources.

I always loved the news, though I never wanted to enter journalism myself. From the start, I knew I wanted to one day attend law school and pursue my interests in educational, environmental and civil-rights issues within the legal realm. However, my experiences at The Alligator and the friends I made along the way helped shape me into the person I am today — academically, professionally and personally.

We need to pay attention when student and local journalists speak up. These people work tirelessly to bring us the news each day, to make us better, more informed citizens who can go out and effect change in our neighborhoods, states and nations. After witnessing the careful consideration and effort my friends at The Alligator put into their work 24/7, I know we need to prioritize our student newsrooms.

From Rick Hirsch: ‘We reached high, worked hard’ at The Alligator

rick hirsch

Name: Rick Hirsch

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

Where I am now: The Managing Editor at the Miami Herald

I worked at the Independent Florida Alligator while studying journalism at the University of Florida. In the summer of 1979, serial killer Ted Bundy went on trial in Miami for the murder of two female students at Florida State University. On a whim, I drove home to Miami to cover the trial, and wrote a long enterprise profile that we published live with his guilty verdict. That story won first place in the William Randolph Hearst competition for general news writing. Only at the Alligator could I have the opportunity to be so ridiculously ambitious. We reached high, worked hard and learned daily journalism from my student peers — many of whom became friends for life.