A guest post by Tim Worden
I spotted our photographer in the crowd. He was sprinting. I ran, following him to the crime scene, a car crash at the doorstep of the Cal State Fullerton campus.
A helicopter blazed overhead, a dozen police cars surrounded the scene and officers with M16s were setting up a perimeter. Five robbery suspects had fled onto campus to hide, and at least one was armed.
About five reporters from the newspaper were watching, myself included. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper, the Daily Titan at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California, asked me to go back to the newsroom to post tweets and write a short article to be posted online about the situation.
The night wore on as the entire campus was put into full lockdown. Our reporters phoned in to give updates, stuff like two snipers just crossed the street and the SWAT team was clearing the third floor of the building where the armed suspect was allegedly hiding, as I sent about 40 tweets. It became the hit story of the Los Angeles-area evening news and our website got 50,000 views that night.
But this was a fluke.
With the exception of that night, our website does not get many views and the newspaper’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are hardly used, except to occasionally put an advertisement out.
Covering the police lockdown taught me one thing: Our newspaper needs to have a stronger online presence.
The Daily Titan, an eight-page student-run newspaper for Cal State Fullerton, a 36,000-student school, is known as a good college newspaper. I agree. But Cal State Fullerton’s journalism program is just OK.
The essence of journalism is in a flux as the Internet has elevated the focus of technology and websites for newspapers. Study after study has found people are getting their news online, and college students are leading the pack. More newspapers are instituting a digital-first perspective to the newsroom, meaning they will put a finished article online before it goes to print. Social media makes journalism personal as readers can join a conversation with a newspaper.
But Cal State Fullerton’s journalism program is still focusing on an increasingly outdated model. A journalism student at the school is actually getting a major in “communications.” The program is divided between a print and broadcast track. The print track, for example, only requires one broadcast journalism class.
The department may consolidate the print and broadcast journalism programs as early as this year, but so far that rumor has not been confirmed.
Lower-division journalism classes suck
Among journalism majors, there is a consensus that the lower-division journalism classes suck. The classes are: Comm 101, writing for the mass media; Comm 201, reporting for the mass media (print); and Comm 202, reporting for the mass media (broadcast). The tree classes give students little to no actual reporting experience.
Fortunately, the upper-division classes are better. There are classes like editing and design, opinion writing and magazine writing and production. The capstone journalism class is Comm 471, news media production, where a student becomes a staff writer for the school newspaper and is expected to write two articles per week.
Many students get to this class, supposedly the culmination of a journalism bachelor’s degree, completely unprepared. When I took the class in spring 212 I was hesitant—scared, even—to write real news stories and cover my beat of state news.
I learned almost all I know about journalism from my on-the-job experience writing for the newspaper.
As the semester progressed, I became more confident in my writing abilities and learned how to report on local government. I wrote two big stories about the city mayor, interviewing her for 20 minutes for the first and attending a formal speech she gave for the second.
I moved up to copy editor for the newspaper, my current job, something that propelled my writing ability to professional quality. As copy editor, I make sure everything is perfect: grammar, spelling, people’s names and facts. Critically looking at my peers’ writing taught me how to improve my own writing. Many beginning journalism majors lack this foundation and their writing shows it.
One of the editors this semester told us that it is our job, as student editors, to teach and mentor our peers. At the final staff meeting at the end of the semester, he reminded us of our success as students—most of us 20 to 22—to write professional-quality stories. In fact, our goal is to write a newspaper that rivals the New York or Los Angeles times.
“You guys are so good because you taught each other. Your teachers didn’t have a damn thing to do with it,” he said.
You can learn a lot studying journalism in the United States. But most of what you learn comes from your peers and on-the-job experience. I have two recommendations for young journalists:
- Read and write. Read as much as you can and write as much as you can. And edit as much as you can.
- Get experience. Get involved with your college newspaper before you think you are ready. The experience will teach you as you go. And a real-world internship is essential.
- Pretend like you’re a professional journalist. Because the more you imagine it, the more you will realize that you are a professional journalist, just without the name recognition or fancy credentials.
Back to the lockdown event on campus, the editors have noted the value of using social media and the website for the newspaper. Changes are being made, I am told, for the newspaper to adapt to a digital world.
Tim Worden is a senior journalism major at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California. He is a copy editor on the school newspaper, The Daily Titan, and starts an internship with a local newspaper in February. He hopes to become a copy editor and magazine writer. © Tim Worden 2013
Now: spit this and write right
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English
“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand