The Surprise Benefits of Student Newspaper
As a poet working for a student paper, I didn’t think there was much to learn.
By Bri Griffith, Carlow University
I’m a poet, not a journalist, but I do appreciate working on my university’s newspaper, “The Carlow Chronicle.”
I was asked to be the Editor-in-Chief last semester, and although reluctant to say yes, I eventually decided to give the experience a chance. Immediately, though I was forced to write in an unfamiliar style, I started to realize a lot about myself as a writer. I quickly discovered my strengths and weaknesses when it came to producing content fit for a university newspaper.
I expected to learn how to successfully edit written work, ask better interview questions and write more focused and concise articles. But, fulfilling my new duties as Editor-in-Chief continuously exposes me to the importance of troubleshooting, communicating and honesty.
Here are some of the interesting lessons I’ve learned since agreeing to be a part of my university’s newspaper team.
Being in Charge Is Hard
Surprise! Leading a group of people is a difficult task. What’s most exhausting is assuming others care like you do, when sometimes they just don’t. I’m constantly checking in with writers who don’t share their story ideas with me, and reading work that’s obviously not been proofread. Note: Unanswered emails are not cool and tend to make me angry.
There are writers who don’t turn in their work on time, don’t come to the weekly meetings (but fail to notify me in advance) and editors who don’t put in the effort needed to make a written piece better.
Of course, when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, work becomes exciting—you’re eager to learn more, all the while avoiding feelings of boredom.
What frustrates me is trying to keep other people interested, because it’s tiring, annoying and something I didn’t know I’d have to deal with.
I will say, there are definitely perks to being in charge, but the gig is a much more difficult one than I originally thought it’d be.
“Don’t forget to be assertive today,” is something I need to hear every morning, preferably in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s voice (that’d be pretty sweet). Sometimes, I need a reminder (or twelve) to not let other people walk all over my face. Surprisingly, “The Carlow Chronicle” weekly newspaper meetings are essentially assertiveness workshops, in their own unique way.
A deadline’s a deadline. Personally, I’m okay with work being late every once in a while (depending on the circumstances), but for the most part, a contributor should have their work turned in on time, along with the rest of the team. I didn’t expect to spend so much time reminding “The Carlow Chronicle” contributors to do their work. I thought it was a no-brainer: If you’re choosing to be a part of a team, you have to commit and remain dedicated.
Being assertive is necessary, I know, otherwise there’d be no university newspaper. I’m more than okay with letting team members know, “Do the work, or don’t be involved in newspaper discussions.” Sometimes, it has to happen.
Still on the assertiveness train, here’s a funny story: I went an entire semester without getting paid. Apparently, the Editor-in-Chief of “The Carlow Chronicle” earns a little extra money each month, because a lot of work goes into putting the entire newspaper together. Newsflash: No one told me. I found out through a random conversation with a Carlow alum, and nearly threw up. I contacted the Director of Campus Life, and essentially demanded the money no one seemed to know anything about. I didn’t stop bothering them until I got the money I earned.
Relevance Is Key
I love poetry because you can literally write about anything you want, as long as what’s being mentioned works well within the poem. Writing for a newspaper is much different because: Relevance is key.
For example, if I wanted to write about the University of Pittsburgh football team (the underdogs) beating Pennsylvania State University at Heinz Field on September 10, 2016 (their first match up since September 16, 2000), well, the game’s old news now. Could I include this in a poem? Absolutely. As far as a newspaper article goes, anyone curious about the game has already read about the football upset somewhere else.
When writing for a newspaper, you have to be quick, depending on the topic(s) of your article(s). If you’re not on top of things, an article (or several) can (and will) slip through your fingers. At first, I thought the process was more like, “Write about whatever you want,” but I’ve learned: While that advice definitely applies to poetry, journalism is much different.
I’m not a detective, but sometimes writing for “The Carlow Chronicle” makes me feel like one. Last semester, a former Carlow student wrote an article for the newspaper about our new university president. The student exposed the president’s willingness to make drastic changes to the university without notifying students. “The Carlow Chronicle” isn’t afraid of controversy.
Another member of the newspaper staff wrote an article about sexism in the residence hall, and issues they had with the university’s website. This led to them meeting with the Dean of Students, to discuss the content of their piece, and to brainstorm ways to make the campus better and safer for everyone.
I’ve learned: Doing your research is incredibly important. As a member of the newspaper staff, you want to be as accurate as possible, and you can’t write about what you don’t know. Don’t misquote people, embellish the truth or make assumptions, because you can get yourself in trouble. “The Carlow Chronicle” has proven to be a great platform for observant students to write about current events, and bring attention to often overlooked problems on-campus.
I definitely have days where I think, “There’s no way I can keep this up,” but working on my university’s newspaper, “The Carlow Chronicle,” is very much a rewarding experience.
Getting everybody in the same room (at time same time), and facilitating discussion isn’t easy, but the finished product is worth the bullshit, to be honest.
Jumping into something I didn’t think I’d be very good at has helped me realize I can be in charge and not fail miserably. I didn’t expect to learn so much, but anything that helps me strengthen my writing skills is a win in my book.