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Student Journalism

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Student newspapers are an excellent place for aspiring journalists to gain exciting, firsthand experiences under deadlines. And they're not just for future journalists! Future photographers, designers, editors, advertising and marketing executives can all practice their craft on student newspapers -- at high schools and on college campuses.

Working on a student newspaper can teach a variety of skills. Elaine Yaw is a professor of journalism at a college. She lists some of the duties that could come up at her campus's paper: students plan, write and edit articles; cover news and feature events; take photos for publication; design newspaper pages; and sell and design ads.

"The student staff has full control over content, design, and distribution," Yaw says.

Erin Millar serves as president of a nonprofit press cooperative owned and operated by more than 70 student newspapers. She's known as the "chief administrator" and mainly deals with the business and legal side of the newspapers.

Millar says that through her work with campus newspapers, she has not only developed her writing and editing skills, but has also learned how to work with people, meet deadlines, plan and execute projects, and handle challenges under time pressures.

Students can also acquire technical skills. Newsrooms have become increasingly high-tech. At Yaw's campus paper, the newsroom includes a digital media area.

There's also a PC lab and a Mac lab. That Mac lab is networked with a Mac lab in the art department. The newspaper pages are designed with a graphic design software program. Some of the staff members have taken graphic design courses through the art department to learn how to use the program.

Reporters are beginning to experiment with using digital voice recorders and are learning to create and edit audio files. At some college newspapers, students are paid for their work, while at others they're volunteers. The work areas are set up like professional newsrooms, with desks and computers. Millar says that the workspaces are always alive with activities.

Cheryl Pell is the executive director of a press association. She also teaches at a school of journalism. She says college and student newspapers will remain on campus for many years.

"Their audiences are 'captive.' It's easy for students to pick up a newspaper on the way to class or in the dorm or wherever," Pell says. "College papers provide information at students' fingertips that they might not be able to have access to as they go about their day."

On and off campuses, newspapers must continuously rethink the traditional approaches to attract and keep readers. More student newspapers are beginning to produce papers that can also be found online.

"We're pushing our students to write for both print and online and to think of multimedia elements for their articles," Yaw says. "Reporters can't simply expect to go do an interview, come back and write the story and be done. They need to have a digital recorder and sometimes edit the audio files to complement a slide show of photos or video. They need to be able to write in multiple styles."

It will be also be important for newspapers to do "alternative story formats." This means telling stories in new ways, breaking down complicated stories and focusing on the essential information for the reader.

"We are a 'I want it now' society, and trying to work one's way through a 20-inch story isn't going to cut it for the reader," Pell says.

Learning to adapt to today's market is just one of the skills that can help journalists later in their career. When Millar completes her duties with the press association, she plans to pursue a career in freelance writing with the contacts she has made.

Students who have experiences with campus newspapers can consider careers in newspapers, magazines, and other media. They can work as reporters, copy editors, photographers or designers. Other possible related careers include: sales for marketing and advertising jobs, web design, and public relations.

Getting Started

Student newspapers operate on university, college and high school campuses throughout North America. Have a look around the school paper's office: does it seem like a place you'd like to work? Read your school paper with an eye for whether your writing or other work (graphics, photography, etc.) might fit in well, or maybe you could bring something new or different to the paper. There may be an established "beat" you might be interested in, like music or sports. Or you might think up a new area that the paper doesn't cover yet that you'd be great at writing about.

Let the editor or staff supervisor know your areas of interest and indicate any useful experience or skills you might have, whether it's in writing, photography, design, art or computers. You might already have samples of your work to show or you could create some especially as a "portfolio" to get the job!

Society for excellence in journalism

Poynter Institute
"Everything you need to be a better journalist"

Society of News Design
Learn about visual journalism

Society of Professional Journalists
Network with others in the field

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