From Alissa Smith: ‘I owe the entire life I’ve built to my student paper’

alissa smith

Name: Alissa Smith

College newspaper: Central Florida Future (Orlando, Florida)

Where I am now: News Associate at the Associated Press

On March 30, 2015, the student newspaper at the University of Central Florida changed my life. It’s a day I still celebrate as the anniversary of my first published piece.

The Central Florida Future gave me so much of what I have today: my support system, my career, my hobbies. The Future ignited a passion in me that even I find tiring. I had the chance to ask questions of anyone and the ability to write about; it was a turning point. I majored in business management and entrepreneurship. I realized too late in my college career that my real passion lied in journalism, and I couldn’t afford to change my major. Without the Future, I wouldn’t have had the clips or experience to become a reporter.

On Nov. 29, 2015, I became the Future’s news editor and walked into our small office, decorated with decades of inside jokes and pictures of people I’d never meet but who understood me to my core.

Over the next nine months, I’d cover everything from Pulse and local politics to human trafficking and human interest pieces. I met amazing people inside and outside of the newsroom that made me a better person and writer.

The Future ceased publication after nearly 50 years on Aug. 4, 2016. It broke my heart. The staff poured so much of themselves into that paper. We hated it for the low pay, late nights, breaking news in the middle of classes — but we loved it for all the same reasons.

I owe the Future — and my editors Marina Guerges, Caroline Glenn and Bernard Wilchusky — for where I am today.

I owe the entire life I’ve built to my student paper, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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.

From Mariana Alfaro: ‘I took my first serious steps as a reporter’ at The Daily Northwestern

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Name: Mariana Alfaro

College newspaper: The Daily Northwestern

Where I am now: Incoming James Reston Fellow at The New York Times

The Daily Northwestern has made me who I am as a journalist. I took my first serious steps as a reporter there, met some of my best friends in the world, made errors, learned how to fix them, and had the opportunity to write stories that opened doors in my career.
I know student newsrooms can be flawed. No student newspaper is claiming to be perfect. The Daily is not. But what I’ve found in our tiny newsroom has been a world of learning and support for my career in journalism. The Daily convinced me that journalism is what I want to do in my life, and I’ll forever be grateful to it for all the opportunities it has given me.

From Juliana Vadnais: ‘I learned some of the most valuable leadership lessons’

Juliana Vadnais

Name: Juliana Vadnais

College publication: The Talon ( Edmond, Oklahoma)

Where I am now:  Assistant Managing Editor at Albuquerque Business First

I got into journalism in college by chance. I knew I wanted a major where I could follow my love of writing or my love of listening to people. Between journalism and psychology I chose journalism because it seemed to merge the two better. From my first newspaper class, I was hooked. I fell in love with listening to people tell their stories and then get to turn around and share that story with readers. The people I worked with in the newsroom became my best friends and I learned from them and alongside them. When I became editor-in-chief, I learned some of the most valuable leadership lessons in management and journalism. My student newspaper experience changed my life.

From May Ortega: The Pan American was abolished after 70 years.

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Name: May Ortega

College newspaper: The Pan American

Where I am now: Public Health Reporter with KUNM News

I worked at my college paper, The Pan American, for three-and-a-half years — my whole college career then. I and the rest of our amazing staff won countless statewide awards along the way. But just after our 70th birthday — when I was EIC — we learned TPA would be abolished. Our paper never had many run-ins with the administration, so we didn’t have any protections in place for this kind of stuff. We tried to push back, but in the end, we had absolutely zero control and that was that. The website is gone, as are the awards our newsroom won over the decades. A new paper has been put in place, totally controlled by the admin, and students working there have said that things have not changed for the better. Every day, I wish we would’ve been better prepared.

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 Glenn Rohrbacker: ‘I owe my life to my newspaper’

Glenn Rohrbacker

Name: Glenn Rohrbacker

College newspaper: Current editor-in-chief of The Charger Bulletin (West Haven, Connecticut)

When I was in high school, I hated writing. I don’t know if it was because I was writing about books I didn’t read or topic I didn’t care about, but I loathed English class. But in my senior year, my teacher had our class write an album review as an exercise. I picked an album I liked, wrote about it, and then moved on.

Upon reaching the University of New Haven my first year, I decided to go to the club fair, and then I decided to walk up to the newspaper table, and then I decided to ask if I could write about music, and then they decided to let me.

It was this interaction, and the hundreds that came after it, because of it, that changed my life for the better. Walking into my dorm on the first day of classes, I thought I was going to work in the music industry the rest of my life, but through the Charger Bulletin, I found my real passion. I made friends that I’ll never forget. I won awards, broke life-changing stories, had dreams come true, and did it all without ever calling it a “job” even though I was paid.

These opportunities to know what you want in life don’t come often, and mine came when I was 20 years old. I owe my life to my newspaper, and I would bet that I’m not alone.

From Pascal Albright: Student newsrooms need to stand together.

Pascal Albright

Name: Pascal Albright

College newspaper: Arts & Life Editor at the Arizona Daily Wildcat

A student media newsroom gives you experience that you cannot gain elsewhere. For me who eats, sleeps and breathes journalism it is important to keep these organizations around. They give you that hands-on training outside the classroom. It is a culture within itself on a college campus. Being able to take part in a free press organization that practices the skills of Journalism is very important to me. You build relationships, learn what your campus is like and get those skills needed for a career. We are just as professional as any big or small paper and need to stand together. We are students who produce content daily on-top of our busy lives and practice all that Journalism is. You build a bond and still get the skills needed to compete in the professional market.

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

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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.