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Value of College Newspaper Experience

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Eagleboy, Nov 5, 2006.

  1. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    'Tis true that you're going to encounter petty bullshit anywhere you go. That's what happens when any group of people with varying attitudes and agendas work together.

    But the college paper experience has limited appeal when you're sending out clips ... unless you're working for a college daily. Otherwise, the fact that you may have had three days to work on a story is factored in.

    Get the daily clips wherever you can.
  2. I agree with the poster who said that it's fine to keep a foot in the college newspaper world, but that real-world experience is more important in the long run.

    I worked for three out of my 10 or so semesters in college at the school paper, and the clips from the college rag helped me get internships at major dailies. After getting that first internship, it was easier for me to get the second and the third, etc., etc. Experience at the college paper didn't really matter much for career growth after getting "real" internships.

    College paper experience can be beneficial if you are writing daily or close to it and covering a beat, so I don't knock it at all. But I saw lots of people, who, like BYH mentioned, made the college newspaper their lives for most of the time they were in school and never got any internships in the real world. Then they wondered why they weren't competitive for professional gigs right out of college.

    The ones who put in their time at the paper and then moved on usually did significantly better in the post-college job hunt.
  3. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Just a clarification: I never wondered why I wasn't starting at a bigger paper. I knew it was my fault. And I've done OK since then, but I know I'd be higher on the food chain if I had more balls in 1996.

    I guess knowing it was my fault puts me ahead of the other dorks in my J-101 class who never stepped foot in the school newspaper office but said, completely serious, that they expected to end up at The New Yorker after graduation.
  4. ballscribe

    ballscribe Active Member

    I never worked for the college newspapers. My best friend was the EIC of one, my husband was the graphic designer on the same one (she introduced me to him; the rest is history). They both spent far too much time for their own good over there.

    Best friend stayed in the biz, but on the editing side.
    Husband never worked in the biz and makes a lot more coin.
    I ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do.
    I used clips from one-week internships the program set up with the local daily to apply for internships. And that was enough, at least for me.
  5. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    I wrote a single story for my college newspaper.

    They cut it in half, from the bottom, with no editing, so it basically ended in the middle of a thought.

    I said screw that and got a job answering phones and writing preps, mostly off those calls, but out in the field a little bit, for the local newspaper.

    I'm positive those clips did better for me than those college clips would have.

    There's no need to put up with petty bullshit in the college thing; leave, and just for fun, tell 'em why you're leaving (OK, not all will agree with that).
  6. Kaylee

    Kaylee Member

    Never wrote for my college paper. Never even attended a single journalism class. Why? I was too busy working at an actual (albeit tiny) paper.

    Really, I don't think you'd be missing much. The only thing I regret about not doing more at the college level is that I didn't get to experience the internships and connections that come with the whole deal. Sometimes I wonder if that's held me back, but on the whole, I'm doing all right for myself. You get to a point in life when you realize that your advancement, or lack thereof, usually has more to do with you than what you had or didn't have starting out.

    As for the office bullshit...

    You'll learn that the cool thing to do as a sports writer is to become jaded toward those you work with, the nature of the job, management practices, etc. Bitching is the spit tobacco in the baseball team of journalism...you're not a "real ballplayer" until you develop a habit, so to say.

    Yes, what you're dealing with sounds like crap. And yes, chances are good you'll encounter the same when you start off, especially if it's at the small level. But guess what? The same applies if you decide to become a teacher, insurance salesman, glass blower or dildo molder.

    Every job has incompetent assholes, clueless bosses and less-than-warm colleagues. I realize I've taken the on-ramp into a rant, but the persecution complex of some sports writers is just about my least favorite part of the business. I'm not naming names, but I read the posts of some on here, and they seem to act like theirs is the only line of work where there's stupidity and bad business and buffoonery and favoritism.

    These things you're dealing with now, you're going to encounter them in some measure wherever you go and in whatever you choose to do. The earlier you learn how to transcend that sort of stuff and rise above it, the happier you'll be...in ANY job.
  7. Appgrad05

    Appgrad05 Active Member

    I worked at the campus newspaper for three years and wore as many hats as there was. Reported news, sports, took photos, was summer editor-in-chief then news editor and finally, production editor.
    I had to do it. The only paper in the area was a three times a week shitrag with no need for stringers.
    But I didn't get my current job because I went to games and hung out with the beat guys. I broke serious news. I wrote compelling features (and made sure to include the local shitrag's verbatim story a month after mine went to print).
    I also didn't have the greatest leadership, so I understand where you are coming from.
    Definitely do the internship and there is a lot of value in that. But I wouldn't sacrifice the chance to kick ass on the football and men's basketball beats and get yourself noticed that way to take prep calls and do agate.
  8. Eagleboy

    Eagleboy Guest

    Thanks a lot for all of the help, everyone. I enjoy writing and reporting and breaking news the hard way, whereas I'm 99 percent sure I'll never be an editor again. To me, writing is the real fun, and it's the way I plan to attempt making a living for myself.

    I was sure there was petty crap in every job, but the incopetence of these individuals just has me steamed. I'd like to think that future editors and higher-ups have some kind of qualifications for the job, but at least we'll cross those bridges when they come by.

    At this point, I'm thinking I'll finish out my obligation to the paper for the year and see if I can look outside the box senior year. It's probably the only way I can keep myself afloat.

    If anyone has anything else to say, feel free to chime in and help out. Otherwise, thanks for all of the help to this point.
  9. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    There is no one true path to success, either through your college paper, or through the internship at the major metro, so don't necessarily listen to everyone here when tell you with absolute certainty that your college paper experience is bullshit and you'd be a moron if you stuck around.

    For all the posters above who gave the middle finger to the college paper, signed up as an agate clerk, and worked their way up the ladder -- and credit all of their success to that decision -- I'm evidence that you don't have to do it that way. I worked at my college paper for three years. I had one summer internship, and one semester I worked for both the local paper and my college paper, but the most foolish thing I could have done was ditch the college newspaper entirely and jump right into the professional field.

    Why? Because when I applied for jobs during my senior year, it was clips from my college paper that got me a job at a major metro, not my professional clips. But if you stay at the college paper, you have to push yourself like you wouldn't believe. Write like your next rent check depends on it. Instead of staying comfortable at my college paper, I took risks. I wrote feature stories like I expected them to run in Sports Illustrated. I tried magazine-style narrative writing, and even though I crashed and burned sometimes, occasionally I hit home runs too. I couldn't have done that writing 10-inch high school football game stories and answering phones at the local rag.

    Everyone's college newspaper experience is different. If yours sucks, and the people around you are insufferable fools, then perhaps getting out is the right call. But the people I worked with remain some of my best friends to this day. The camaraderie we developed staying up to 3 a.m. putting the paper together is something I would not trade for any amount of money or the job of my choice. For some people, skipping the college newspaper experience is the right call, and I don't begrudge them one bit for that choice. But for those out there reading this thread who are not Eagleboy, and are having lots of fun at their college newspaper but are wondering if they should get serious about their career, let me at least say this: You have the rest of your life to work. 40 hours a week for 40-plus years is a long fricken time. And as DyePack pointed out, there is bullshit at every level, and incompetence everywhere you go. In college, I wrote because I loved the thrill of storytelling and because I believed I could change the world. As a professional, I still love the craft of storytelling, but a lot of days I do it because I have a mortgage payment and a grocery bill to pay.

    Not everyone benefits from charging like a bull directly into the work force, folks. In fact, some people burn out quicker that way. I'm a firm believer that if you have talent, and you're willing to pick up and move, you'll succeed in this business, regardless of your starting point. It's true, some employers will scoff at your college clips, and say there is no substitute for real life experience. Others, no so much. Anyone who tells you one path is absolutely better than the other is kidding themselves.

    Whatever you decide, take advantage of the opportunities college presents. Take English literature classes. Take history classes. Take American Studies classes. Hell, take science classes. Soak up as much information as you can, because it's always going to be that much harder to find the time to do it once you start having real life work obligations. The people who I admire the most are the ones who write like they're crafting sentences that will stand the test of time. Some of them learned to write like that by writing for their college paper. Others learned by going to graduate school. Plenty others honed their style by writing for a newspaper every day since they were 17. A chosen few read SportsJournalists.com every day. Everyone is different.

    The only universal truth is this: College papers almost always have slutty arts or features editors, and most harbor a secret desire to make out with the sports editor that only reveals itself after ingesting copious amounts of cheap alcohol. Take advantage of this while you can, even if you're one foot out the door. This, I will not argue.
  10. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    I will add this, although it obviously hasn't been Eagleboy's experience.

    The best part of working for my college paper was that it was thoroughly fun putting out a paper with my best friends. Which they were ... my junior/senior year when I was managing editor, my roommates included the editor-in-chief and features editor. And I was dating one of the sports writers.

    The paper turned out to be my socializing agent in college, where as a townie, I was able to immerse myself in the college community. Otherwise, I have my doubts I would have ever been anything but a townie.
  11. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Good stuff, DD.

    I didn't realize the piling-on would be so immense here, but the value of my college newspaper experience was nearly nonexistent, as it seemed to be for many.

    That's not the case for everyone. Good to have other viewpoints and stories on this thread.

    There's no universal path to success and/or happiness. To each his own.
  12. DrewWilson

    DrewWilson Member

    Really good post DD.

    For me, I worked at the college paper for all four years, three as an editor. When I wasn't at school, I was working for the hometown paper stringing or getting an internship.

    I think the college paper experience all depends on what you make it. If I would have just taken stories once a week, I wouldn't be where I am today. It's all about making yourself better by pushing yourself to the limit (but remember to have a social life). When I left, I had the paper's modern record for most stories ever written. I also got tons of design and editing experience.

    Beat experience is usually easier to get through the college paper than stringing for the local rag. My freshman year, I told the SE I wanted to cover women's basketball because I knew no one else wanted it. Best move I ever made. I covered the beat all four years, learned how to cover a beat and made contacts that got me several stories that scooped several local papers and broke news in several sports.

    However, if you can freelance for the local rag and they'll give you more opportunities than stringing gamers here or there, it might be a good option.

    Go with what is the best opportunity for you.
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