What do you mean we don’t have any news tomorrow? Our main story is about a road blocked by a mudslide?!
It’s about 6:30 in the evening and we’re 90 minutes past deadline. Reporters are still typing up their stories, others are checking over their copy as the city editors glare over their cubicles and look slightly peeved. (I was both glaring, and very much on the other side of the angry stare)
Our editor’s phone is incessantly ringing with an angry production person on the other end.
“Where are the pages,” they probably asked.
“I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out where the news is,” might have been our editor’s response in some hackneyed attempt to buy us a bit more time.
It was never Sports or Arts who threw a wrench into the pretty unstable gears of our daily student paper – it was always News. Always. Mostly my fault. Usually my fault.
That was the daily grind of our student paper in the US.
For the first three of my four year undergraduate in the States I was some way or another involved in my uni’s daily student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum. First as a writer, then as a news editor, but always as the compulsive smoker who sat outside with the other procrastinators.
We put out a paper to about 18,000 people Monday – Friday. Ours was smaller, page wise, than a lot of student publications in the UK — maybe about 10-14 pages a day.
It was basically one hugely dysfunctional family. There were countless pranks and plenty of drama. None of us really had social lives, we just worked there all the time.
There was a lot we picked up on the job - death knocks, dealing with mistakes, legal issues, but mostly how to operate in a newsroom. What it’s like to have your own desk, how to get along with others, work on stories together and just the general newsroom banter.
Our editors weren’t elected by the student body, but appointed by a publications board. They also weren’t full-time. Well, they were, but not in a sabbatical sense.
We were all students attending classes full-time (when we actually went).
Our days went something like this, with phone or normal interviews somewhere squeezed in between):
- Go to class (usually 3 or 4 a day, for about 90 minutes each)
- Go to the newsroom in between, try to work on our stories or edit the paper
- Go back to class
- Come back to the newsroom around 4 or so to start editing.
- Realize deadline has passed and the story budget looks nothing like it did that morning or the day before
- Frantic meeting with editors around 6
- Finally get the paper settled around 8
- Chinese food and the bar 9
- Possibly going back to fix something 11
- Repeat the next day.
We were paid ($15 an article, editors were paid a flat rate per issue), and paid well enough to make this a full-time job, but it was always a struggle putting out a daily paper with a news staff of anywhere between six and 10 people.
There were three pages to fill each day and each reporter was responsible for writing a minimum of two stories a week – usually around 500 words each. We normally ended up writing maybe three or four stories a week.
We were in a great town to cover and had access to everything. We covered the courts, the city council, all areas of the university, the cops, environment, health and managed to produce some pretty great investigative pieces as well.
Over my three years there we tackled murder trials, corruption and scandal within the University, countless crime stories, features, celebrity interviews and state,local and national election coverage.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not you need to get a vocational degree, an academic degree, whether or not you should major in journalism and all of that.
I think it’s a lot simpler though. If you’ve got a student paper, pour all of your time and energy into it. Treat it like you work at a real paper – whatever you’re studying.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look