Web Publishist

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The news and online journalism industry through the eyes of a young Web publishist.

Writing for your college paper is not enough

Before I started writing for my alma mater’s student newspaper, Central Michigan Life, I started a newsletter in my dorm called The Kessler Chronicle, which borrowed its name from the hall’s name, Kesseler Hall. It wasn’t all that successful, but I did have a writing staff and we did put out a consistent product.

I also did the occasional piece for a publication that one of my professors ran, a monthly news-magazine based in Canada that dealt primarily with the goings-on of the African communities in North America.

Eventually I made my way into the newspaper’s office. I’m glad I did because I had some fantastic experiences there. I’m really proud of a lot of the work I did, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help me get some of the jobs I’ve had.

But after two years I reached a point where either I needed to make a greater commitment to the paper or forge ahead on my own and see what opportunities I could find on a freelance level. I decided to go it alone.

It was a difficult decision because I had a lot of friends at the paper. Not being around meant I was no longer part of “the club.” But I quickly found that my decision was the right one.

Not long after I quit the paper, I started my first magazine. And while I was developing the magazine, I took a job as a beat reporter covering Mount Pleasant Public Schools for the city paper,  The Morning Sun. Also I was filing occasional stories for Reuters’ Detroit bureau, which I had started working for during the previous summer.

As the semesters passed, I found myself writing for more and more professional publications. By the time I graduated my by-line had appeared in nine different newspapers and magazines across Michigan, in addition to work I’d done for news wires and radio. I’d also completed four internships.

Many of my classmates had a very lackadaisical approach to their journalism degree. They treated it as though they were getting a degree in a heavily-academic field: go to class, do well, get job.

And that’s so incredibly wrongheaded.

The time when you’re a student is when you should do as much freelancing as you can. Get your name in as many publications as possible. Don’t worry about not getting paid for it — if journalism is your passion, you need clips more than you need money. I’ve gotten paid writing jobs by cold-e-mailing publications offering to write for them for free. And don’t be afraid of being told no — it happens. Come back to them in a month or two and see if anything has changed.

It’s important to appear that you’re passionate about journalism and that you want to prove yourself. In those four (ok, or five) years of college, you’ve got a chance to network and build up a great portfolio — outside of the classroom.

Filed under: student journalism, , , ,

Newspapers need interns now more than ever

By Ben LaMothe

When I was working on my undergrad in journalism, I became aware of this special window of time each year known as Internship Season. It begins in October with application deadlines and ends in March and April, when papers made their decisions about who they’d like to take on as an intern.

During this time all of my fellow classmates were operating at maximum stress levels because they were, in effect, planning for their summer. It’s a precarious situation because often newspaper internships were unpaid. However there were paid ones out there and if you were fortunate enough to get one, it meant you had steady income during the summer months.

So you send in your CV, do an interview or two, and find out that, despite your obvious talents, they couldn’t take you on as an intern.

Been there, done that.

This was a few years ago, back when the industry was shaken, but not as badly as it is now. Thinking about it again, it makes me wonder why the papers couldn’t take on a greater number of the talented people they came across. Even if the internship was paid, it was usually a few hundred dollars a week for essentially 40 hours of work. You’re getting the output of a professional journalist at a fraction of the price — but, no, only take a handful.

Things have changed. The industry has changed. Newspapers, if they want to survive, need to take more interns. There’s a sea of talented students in j-schools across the country who bend over backwards for the opporutnity to show what they’re made up and to get some experience. There’s no reason not to hire more.

And I hear the argument that no one is spending money right now, etc. If your paper can’t afford to hire an intern and pay them a few hundred dollars a week to work full time, then you probably shouldn’t be in business.

Interns will come into your newsroom — the good ones — and want to prove what they’re made of. They will want to leave an impression. Sure, there’s a learning curve — but with the better interns, it’s not very big. And before you know it, they’re teaching you. Especially now, when the industry is trying to figure out how the Web works. Hire some young people who grew up in the Internet age, but who also happen to be journalists.

In newsrooms across the U.S., 2009 should be known as The Year of the Intern. Because they’re young, Web-savvy, inexpensive, dedicated, and hungry for a chance to prove themselves.

How can any editor turn that down?

Filed under: student journalism, , , ,

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