Discover Studying Abroad

The Student Journalist

Young Americans interested in journalism get a jump on their careers by graduating from high school or college already equipped with work experience and published articles, photographs, radio broadcasts or Web pages.

Adam Weiss has been working as a journalist for a year. Now he’s the managing editor of his high school newspaper, which prints 5,000 copies a month and has a staff of roughly 50 people. When deadline time comes, he often works until 10:30 at night, editing stories and approving final layouts. At 16 years old, some might think that is too much responsibility. But for Weiss, it’s all part of his passion—and his academic experience.

“Honestly, at home, the newspaper takes over my life. I love it. It’s what I do,” says Weiss, who moved up from a reporter position to his new post for the 2010-2011 academic year.

In high schools and universities across the United States, student-run newspapers cover the news surrounding the institution in the same fashion as a regular daily newspaper. These papers are the training grounds for the next generation of American journalists. Some of the staff members are paid small stipends, but many do it for free. What they get in return is real work experience, and in some cases academic credit, as well as the chance to compete for national awards and honors.

Working on the Cypress Bay High School newspaper, The Circuit, in Weston, Florida, Weiss registers for the newspaper class and is graded on his work. Students apply for editorial board positions and do all the writing, photography, design, editing, as well as making printing decisions and selling advertisements. “I’ve learned how to be a leader,” Weiss says, “how to deal with people who don’t get along, how to deal with professionals and businesses and be a professional myself—even though I’m a high school student.”

For students on the 2007 staff of The Circuit, being in newspaper class also meant that they were featured on an MTV reality series titled, “The Paper,” which chronicled their lives. The paper’s faculty adviser, Rhonda Weiss (no relation to Adam), was one of the show’s stars. “I’m called the adviser and try to really live up to that that they learn the right rules and hopefully will make the correct decisions themselves,” she says.

Bigger budgets and audiences
While The Circuit’s operating budget is about $14,000 a year, the figure at university papers is usually higher. The 130-year-old Cornell Daily Sun at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has a budget of roughly $750,000 a year for 5,000 issues every weekday. Not all college budgets are in triple digits, though. A smaller institution, such as Evergreen State College in Washington, publishes its paper, The Cooper Point Journal, just once a week with a yearly budget of about $60,000, says its adviser, Dianne Conrad.

George Washington University’s GW Hatchet was once not that far behind Cornell, with a budget of about $600,000. However, it too has been hit by the economic slump. Ad revenue, which provides about 95 percent of its budget, is down significantly, and the budget for this academic year will be $400,000 to $450,000, says former general manager Howard Marshall. “With ad sales down you can’t print as many pages, which reduces editorial coverage,” he says.

Having its own budget means that The GW Hatchet is independent from the university, located in Washington, D.C., though the paper does use part of a university building at a discounted rent. This also means the students are free from any editorial interference from professors or administrators, and make their own decisions. One university professor from the media school does sit on the board of directors, but serves in an entirely advisory role. Alumni, students, lawyers and journalists also sit on the board.

With the budget cuts in recent years, The GW Hatchet, along with many other college newspapers, is changing the way it reports the news. Says Marshall, “We’ve been expanding our blogs, we’ve done a lot more Web-only stories, we’ve added videos and podcasts to our Web site.... Whatever is not appearing in the newspaper is thriving online.”

Becoming digital
At The Missourian, the push for digital news has led the publication to completely revamp the way the newsroom functions. This paper is unique in the United States: Though it is a student-run newspaper it is the only daily newspaper that serves its town, Columbia, where the Missouri School of Journalism is located. The paper is directed by professional editors but entirely produced by more than 300 student journalists.

In 2007, the paper moved to a “Web first, print second” model. “We have changed just about every aspect of our news production to meet that goal, and the evidence shows in the products we offer,” says Tom Warhover, executive editor for innovation and an associate professor at the journalism school. The transition has been a multi-year process. This summer, it led them to upend the normal way of doing things and directly publish stories to the Web once a city editor had gone over them, making copy editing changes after the stories have already been posted. This way news gets out faster.

Lauren French talks to Christopher
Gregory, senior photographer

Lauren French, editor in chief of The GW Hatchet, is busier than your average college student. Every day she supervises a paid staff of 28 and 250 unpaid writers, photographers, artists, etc. “I wake up at 9 o’clock and I don’t stop until 3 o’clock in the morning,” she says.

Her average day involves attending classes in the morning, using breaks to do homework and reading, going out to lunch with friends and then working in the newspaper office late into the night. Until recently, she also held a part-time job. “A lot of people say that once you get on staff your [grade point average] goes down,” says French. She admits that the work does put pressure on her academics, but she believes the experience she gains as editor is just as important for her future career.

French is also compensated financially. Most college papers have some sort of pay for their editorial staff, though the amounts can often be minimal. At The Hatchet, staff are paid from $12.50 to $65 an issue as a stipend, with two issues per week.

In order to receive a stipend at Evergreen State College’s Cooper Point Journal in Olympia, Washington, student editors are required to turn in weekly self-evaluations which detail their goals for the week, what they achieved, and their goals for the next week.

“It’s a great equalizer in this way,” says The Cooper Point Journal’s adviser, Dianne Conrad. “When you don’t have some kind of source of money to participate in a student activity, often a student can’t afford to, because they have other commitments. But if they’re getting a little bit of something, it allows more people to participate.”

- —S.J.

Keenan Weatherford, editor in chief of The Cornell Daily Sun in Ithaca, New York, recently oversaw expansion of the paper’s Web site and the creation of a new iPhone application. The physical paper itself also points readers to the Web site to read more and see exclusive content. Weatherford admits that it hasn’t been easy to adjust to a more Web-focused office, saying that it is “a very confusing, difficult process, but worthwhile nonetheless.” Even the business side is changing to encourage the sales of more Web ads, he points out.

High school newspapers are also moving increasingly online. The Circuit started producing some Web-only content last year, and this year will have a brand new set of Web editors. At the Georgetown University summer journalism program for high school students, course director Danna Walker has changed the curriculum to include more multimedia reporting. “My goal was to introduce the students to the revolution that is going on in journalism right now, and also to teach them how to do it.” During the week-long course, they learned how to blog, shoot video, and met with some of the top political journalists in the U.S. capital.

The goal of the program is for the students to learn more about journalism “and decide if they might want to go into it.” If they decide they do not, Walker says that the course can still provide value by teaching them to “be good journalistic consumers—to learn about media and how to consume media more intelligently.”

Choosing a future path
For Christopher Gregory, The GW Hatchet’s senior photographer, being part of his college newspaper changed his entire career path. Now a junior, he started shooting during his sophomore year after meeting other staff photographers at his job in the campus darkroom. “Photo journalism always interested me but I didn’t really understand how it worked,” he says.


During his first year, he covered exciting breaking news events, like the election of a U.S. Senator in Virginia. “I was shooting next to Washington Post photographers and the New York Times,” he gushes. These unique experiences influenced his thinking. “I went into journalism wanting to write. And now I’m going to graduate wanting to take pictures, all because of The GW Hatchet.”

Bill Douthitt, senior editor for special editions at National Geographic, had a similar experience when he was in college and deciding on a future career. He worked for The Daily paper of the University of Washington in Seattle from 1973 to 1975. “I just wanted to try it out,” he says. While there, he learned to work quickly on deadline and create a usable photograph from whatever situation he was placed in—even if the light was terrible or the space was crowded.

At the time, he had experience in fine art photography but felt shy when photographing people.

“What the paper did was give me a reason to go approach people,” he says. “It gave me a huge amount of confidence.” After a year of working at The Daily, he got a tip from a professor about a part-time job at a local newspaper. “I had a portfolio of pictures from my student newspaper work,” he says. “If I’d tried to walk into those jobs without any experience, just based on class work, I would have had a really bad time.”

Now, when Douthitt looks to hire recent graduates, an applicant with experience working on a high school or college newspaper draws his attention. He knows that they will already be used to many duties they will perform in the workplace. “It’s a mark of credibility,” he says.

Photo and Text by: Sebastian John

Courtesy: SPAN Magazine



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