From Adam Lichtenstein: I wouldn’t be who I am today without The Alligator

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Name: Adam Lichtenstein

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

Where I am now: Sports Reporter at Palm Beach Post

I didn’t get to college dreaming of being a journalist. I wanted to work for a sports team in some capacity. I had worked on my high school newspaper, mostly to bolster my college resume. But after half a semester at the University of Florida, I realized I missed writing and that I really didn’t have a career path in sports. So I figured I’d give journalism a shot.

After a couple semesters in the journalism program, I basically idolized The Alligator. The writers, particularly in the sports section, were insightful, witty and, most of all, really good. After a few tries, I was hired onto the staff. I spent my last two years of college working for the paper, and they were an amazing two years. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I certainly wouldn’t be the journalist I am, without The Alligator.

From Colleen Wright: ‘There’s nothing like producing professional work with your best friends’

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Name: Colleen Wright

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

Where I am now: Education Reporter at the Miami Herald

I credit my time at the Independent Florida Alligator as not only a springboard to four internships and a job offer in college, but also as the cornerstone of my entire college experience. I grew as a journalist and as a person in my three years at the Alligator. In addition to providing real-world opportunities at the student level, it gave me a social scene and a support group. I’ve made friends for life at the paper. There’s nothing like producing professional work with your best friends five nights a week. Student newspapers are the real college journalism learning experience, ones that employers look to for real-world and leadership skills. They are the biggest asset to budding journalists everywhere. #savestudentnewspapers!

From Katelyn Newberg: ‘Student journalism is hard but we do it because we’re passionate.’

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Name: Katelyn Newberg

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

Where I am now: Incoming intern at the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Las Vegas, Nevada)

When you tell others about your experiences at a student publication, you don’t normally talk about the bad stuff.
You say that it was the best four semesters of your life. You gush over the life-long friends you met and the important stories you were honored to write down. You laugh when remembering the late-night coffee runs and scrambling to make deadlines.
But in all honesty? Student journalism is incredibly hard. It’s not fun to try and balance homework, studying, exams, keeping up relationships and just maintaining your life when you spend all your time working for a student paper. You probably don’t get paid well. You’re lucky if you get paid at all.
So why do we do it? For me, I spent four years at the Independent Florida Alligator because it ignited a passion for journalism that no class assignment could. I barely knew anything about journalism when I stumbled upon the paper in a dilapidated fraternity house in Gainesville, Florida. But over the next three years I would go on to serve as a staff writer, university editor and, finally, editor-in-chief.
Student journalism gave me the chance to tell stories I never dreamed I would be able to. I’ve talked to survivors of sexual assault, a U.S. senator, an Olympic ice skater and protesters in Washington, D.C. I’ve seen everything from student government scandals to a white supremacist on our campus, and I’m incredibly thankful for the chance to cover all of it.
More on that white supremacists: I have never seen a group of college students working so hard on a common goal than when Richard Spencer came to UF. We were there with the national newspapers and the professional journalists from across Florida. We chased after groups of protesters, never knowing if the situation was going to get dangerous. We made a paper that I was incredibly proud of and covered the story from the perspective of our audience, the students at UF. That’s what student journalism can do.
So student journalism is hard but we do it because we’re passionate. Unfortunately, passion doesn’t always cut it. As editor in chief in Fall 2017, I oversaw the paper from printing five days a week to three days a week for the first time. My staff had pay cuts to their already bleak paychecks. I was afraid that if I really screwed up, the paper would suffer even more. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to print at all.
Student journalists need help, and sometimes we have to admit we can’t save ourselves. So next time you see an article online that looks interesting, give it a read. Pick up a copy of the paper on your way to class. Get a subscription if one is available. Donate to your local student publication if you’re able to. We’re the future of journalism and while we’re not going anywhere, we really could use your help.
Looking back on my time at the Alligator, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. I probably wouldn’t have an internship when I graduate in less than two weeks without it. All I can hope is that when the next nervous sophomore walks into the paper’s office, they will have the chance to learn and grow as much as I did.

From Emily Cochrane: ‘Independence meant you fought for every story and challenged every authority’

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Name: Emily Cochrane

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

Where I am now: News assistant at The New York Times

It was the first day of class, and I already felt behind.

The professor took an informal poll to determine everyone’s journalism experience. Hands shot up: newspaper editors-in-chief, yearbook editors-in-chief, freelancers for the local paper.

Me? I had two weeks of journalism camp and a gut feeling that journalism was what I wanted to do. But I didn’t have much more than that.

The Independent Florida Alligator was the first place where none of that mattered, where engineering majors could become masters of AP Style and age was only a problem when the election watch parties were in a bar. It only mattered that you worked hard and wrote the truth.

I lost track of the sunrises I watched from the back parking lot, the ones I caught because I was there so early, or stumbling out so late. I knocked on doors, figured out how to read police reports and attended funerals for strangers so their names were more than a line in a press release. I found my best friends in a blur of late night transcripts, deadline coffee runs and election night pizza.

Independence means you get to experiment. Cover the women’s golf team for a semester? Go for it (and realize you never want to do it again). Experience college football games from the photography sidelines (and have your family watch on TV when a linebacker runs into you by mistake). Keeping the paper from going to print until the moment when you can slip the final election results? Do everything in your power so the newsstands carry the full story.

But most importantly, its independence meant you fought for every story and challenged every authority. Questioning professors and the administration doesn’t jeopardize your education. The student government leaders become politicians and lawyers, and they do so knowing what it’s like to have a press holding them accountable.

To borrow a phrase from one of my mentors, the Alligator was the place where I fell in love with journalism and with its people. Independence, outside of a classroom, is what made that possible.

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

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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’

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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.