The Future Looks Bright(er) For Student Journalists
“Optimism” and “the future of journalism” don’t often go together, but I believe it’s appropriate here.
I just spent three days with student journalists from colleges and universities across the country, and I came away encouraged by the prospects for the future of the profession.
The students I met — close to 80 of them — were selected to attend the Campus Coverage Project conference, put on by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). The event, now in its third year, is sponsored by the Lumina Foundation and hosted by the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. (EWA, along with the Student Press Law Center, are collaborating partners.)
In addition to sharpening their investigative skills with hands-on workshops on computer-assisted reporting and open records requests, journalism professionals will provide the students with ongoing support when they return to their respective campuses.
One of those professionals is Jill Riepenhoff, investigative projects reporter at the Columbus Dispatch. She and I both had the chance for one-on-one sessions with some of the students to talk about their work and aspirations.
When asked for career guidance, Riepenhoff’s advice was straightforward: Do as many internships as you can, and do the very best you can at the job. Arrive early, stay late and take every opportunity to learn.
“Internships are a job interview,” said Riepenhoff, who added that her own paper has a strong track record of hiring its interns for full-time positions. “Today’s interns are tomorrow’s reporters.”
Riepenhoff also noted that editors are looking for “cheap, raw, talent.” I’d agree with that, and I’d throw another descriptor into the mix. Editors also want the “one-man band,” a reporter that can edit audio, shoot photos or video, and write for diverse audiences across multimedia platforms.
Many of the students I met at the Campus Coverage Project possess most of those skills. They are proficient with multiple web platforms, and routinely use social media to assist in their reporting. They are full of enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism about how their campuses operate.
What many of them don’t have, and are worried about getting, are off-campus opportunities to showcase their talents.
To be sure, the forecast for many newsrooms is better than its been in recent years. Some big-name papers, along with powerhouse regional publications, are slowly coming out of multi-year hiring freezes. There are also a fair number of internships to be had, but unfortunately too few of them are actually paid positions.
Another unfortunate reality: many local newspapers no longer offer internship positions of any kind.
For some students, like a junior I met from South Carolina, a lack of paid internships at local news outlets will make it tough to find journalism work this summer. She can’t afford to accept an unpaid position out of state.
At the same time, she remains enthusiastic about her future career goals, and believes she’ll land a full-time job when she graduates next year. I hope she does.
Some of these students are already doing remarkable investigative work at their campuses. I’m expecting to see more of it in the coming months, as they put their new training into action. I’ll share their stories with you here.