Lessons to learn at a college newspaper

I read two fantastic posts over the last few weeks on the current state of college journalism. They both brought back a lot of good memories. Though I’m not technically using my journalism degree in a news field, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I had great professors and made great friends studying communication. I get to apply lessons I learned in those classes to marketing and the web each day.

Most of these lessons were learned during my time at the Andersonian – our humble student newspaper at Anderson University.

Here’s my advice to those currently working on staff at a student newspaper:

1. Learn what it feels like to screw up. One of my more stressful moments of my college journalism career was publishing a story on a flu outbreak on campus. I had to reassure the campus health director over and over that I wouldn’t misrepresent anything to cause more panic among students. It took 30 minutes of persuading to get her to even do the interview. One of her only requests was for me to avoid the word “quarantine” when talking about a particular group of students who were ill. I used less colorful language in my draft, but before publication the eds. substituted the word in. She was furious. I was embarrassed and upset at myself for not alerting my editors to not reword that language.

2. Learn to take criticism. People will inevitably make fun of the paper that you stay up all night to edit. They’ll find mistakes and laugh. Some of these people will be professors in other departments. When you work really hard on a story and somebody picks it apart, it is really easy to get defensive. Learn to appreciate the criticism and become a better writer. Use it for motivation.

3. Learn to ask hard questions. Get a passion for seeking real news. Most student journalists find their campuses boring, but the best will view college as a place with lots of interesting things going on, not to mention experts on nearly every subject imaginable. I was always taught to ‘follow the money’ with any big story. There’s more money than ever flowing in and out of higher education. It’s a fascinating environment.

4. Learn to make people mad. It will happen to even the nicest journalist during your career. Better get used to it. If you are honest in the workplace, you will ruffle a few feathers…especially if your work shows up in thousands of mailboxes every day.

Writing at a college newspaper is stressful. It’s nerve-wracking, scary and sometimes annoying when you are trying to study for a bunch of other classes. It also teaches you an incredible amount. It turns out things don’t get any easier in the real world, though, so learning these lessons early on will make you more prepared for whatever career path you end up taking.


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