Greg Alexander

The next generation of journalists

Baltimore Sun, September 19, 2006

It seems as though that each quarter some disheartening news comes from the newspaper industry about declining revenue and circulation numbers due to increased competition from online and cable news outlets and the realization that some Americans simply think that they do not have enough time to read a newspaper every day. Luckily, there still remains a need for print journalism, and pursuing a career in the field is still a wise choice for college students. Competition for these jobs after graduation is increasingly tough, and those with experience working on a college newspaper staff and with real “clips” to showcase their work definitely have a leg up on the competition.

“There is just nothing like working for a newspaper. The impact newspapers have is amazing,” says Brian Stelter, editor-in-chief of The Towerlight, a twice-weekly newspaper published by and for students of Towson University, however, remains independent from the university. “No student fees go to the paper, and we pay for our own equipment and printing costs. We are completely supported by advertising revenue.” Stelter says that being independent from the university helps with The Towerlight’s coverage. “We are lucky that we are independent and that we publish so often. For example, earlier this year, when we heard that the university president was a finalist for the job at Temple University, we were able to break the story right before we went to press and e-mail him for a comment at 11 p.m. I don’t think we could have done that under different circumstances.” Stelter adds that The Towerlight aims to add more “online exclusive” stories to the Web site to keep up with students’ desire for electronic media.

Stelter admits that having editorial control can irk school officials, though. “We can make people angry sometimes. When we decided to run a sex column – ‘Between the Sheets’ – it was very controversial, and administrators were very concerned about what we were publishing. When we’ve covered a rape story that lands on the front cover, administrators may not like it, but if it’s news, it needs to be on the cover.”

While Towson’s paper is independent from the university, other school papers are interwoven within the academic curriculum, including McDaniel College’s paper, FreePress, which is offered as a newspaper practicum course and publishes bi-weekly. “Many small, liberal arts schools work within this model, as it helps with recruitment and helps fill the slots we need to produce a paper,” says Chanan Delivuk, who was the art editor last year and returned to the paper again this year. “It’s a great way to build your portfolio. We get to come up with our own story ideas and learn how to write headlines and captions.” Delivuk notes that the paper has a faculty advisor, but the students are responsible for making editorial decisions. “Learning how to write well is so important, no matter what field you go into; it’s an art form,” says Delivuk, a double major in art history and art studio who plans on attending graduate school at Maryland Institute College of Art and earning a master of arts degree in community arts.

Like McDaniel College, Villa Julie College’s student paper, The Villager, also is part of the curriculum and publishes bi-weekly. English writing majors are required to take two semesters of journalism classes their sophomore year, at which time they serve on the paper’s staff, says Jessie Merryman, editor-in-chief of The Villager. “Each semester you write four articles, which guarantees that you’ll have eight clips by the end of the year for your portfolio. When you are interviewing for a job after graduation, nothing can replace the actual newsroom experience and having the bylines helps.” Merryman, who served as co-editor last year, takes the reigns as editor this year and looks to make more changes to the paper’s content.

“We redesigned the paper recently because it focused too much on news that was of more interest to the faculty, instead of the students,” says Merryman. “Now we have a music column, relationship column and sports column that speak to the students. We decided that a sex column was too racy for Villa Julie, so we developed a relationship column, which is more appropriate for us. You can’t run a paper by always worrying about offending people, and we are lucky that we have such a supportive school president.”

Chip Rouse, faculty advisor for The Villager, echoes Merryman’s thoughts. “President Manning supports freedom the press, and students are careful about their language and approach to stories. We do not get funding from the school for the paper – although we do use school equipment – and there is no prior review of copy by administrators. The students choose what they want to write about, and I believe there is an inherent value in that,” says Rouse, who has been the advisor for 15 years. “As an advisor, I am there to crack the whip when it comes to deadline time,” she laughs. Rouse adds that students are required to sell ads to help support the paper. “Most of them hate it, but every once in a while, a student will discover that sales is his or her passion.”

Meanwhile, at Goucher College, the bi-weekly campus newspaper, The Quindecim, operates as a club, and, hence, receives funding from the school. “Since Goucher does not have a strict journalism major, working on the paper has provided me with important journalistic training,” says Erica Green, a communications major who has worked for the paper for three years. Green says that she sees the paper’s role is to inform students on the happenings and news on campus. “We cover Goucher well in the mold of a traditional campus paper, but recently we started covering external issues that affect college students everywhere, not just at Goucher.” Green adds that the paper does have an advisor – David Zurawick, television critic for The Sun, which also helped Green secure an internship at The Sun. “We consult with him on story ideas and the paper’s organization, but we have complete autonomy with the content.”

William Smedick, faculty advisor for Johns Hopkins University’s The Newsletter, concurs that his role as an advisor is not to decide content. “Students decide 100 percent of the content of the paper. I’m very adamant about freedom of expression,” says Smedick, who notes that the newspaper is not part of a course. “We talk about each issue after it publishes to see where we can improve, not before it publishes, as I want the students to decide what stories to run It is tough sometimes, for example, when there is a campus ‘open house’ for prospective students and we have a negative headline on the cover, but the paper’s role is to inform students on what is going on and to build community on campus. I believe that the work done by the staff is sometimes taken for granted by other students. It’s a daunting task to produce a weekly, but it’s important because it really opens up their eyes to what it’s like to work at a paper. It’s hard work.”

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