Everyone is familiar – and if they aren’t, they should be – with the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus asks Lucy to give him one good reason why he should memorize his lines for the Christmas play. Lucy tells him, “I’ll give you five good reasons,” then proceeds to curl her fingers into a fist that she shakes menacingly at her brother. “Those are good reasons,” Linus responds sensibly.
1) It’s great work experience. For the beginning journalism student, the college newspaper is the absolute best way to get work experience. Even if you’ve never written a news story in your life, chances are your college paper will be only too glad to have you join the staff. The great thing about a college newspaper is that no one is an expert, and everyone is learning as they go. College papers are where aspiring journalists can learn from the kinds of mistakes they won’t want to make when they become professionals. And the students who get heavily involved with college newspapers tend to be the ones who land internships.
2) You can learn important tech skills. Years ago some college papers were slow to adapt to the brave new world of digital journalism. But now virtually all of the technical skills that professional news organizations need in young reporters can be learned at a student newspaper, from page layout to digital photography, and web design to digital video (to say nothing of blogging and using social media). College papers need staffers who can produce online videos, run websites and use Twitter, which means there are plenty of opportunities to acquire those skills.
3) You get clips. Clips, which are published samples of your work, are vitally important in landing internships and jobs. You can get straight A’s in journalism school but if you don’t have any clips when you graduate you’ll be hard-pressed to find employment. By working at a college newspaper you can build an impressive clip portfolio even before you graduate.
4) You learn what it’s like work in a professional newsroom. If you’re thinking about a career in journalism but aren’t quite sure, there’s no better way to get a sense of what it’s like than to work on a student newspaper. Yes, there are differences between collegiate and professional journalism, but fundamentally they’re very similar. College or pro, reporters must meet deadlines, editors must edit copy, and so on. Many college newspaper staffers already know they want to become journalists, and that’s great. But in a lot of ways joining a college paper is even more important for those who aren’t so certain.
5) It’s a lot of fun. Colleges and universities, especially the larger ones, can be lonely places for students who are away from home for the first time. Of course you want to do well in your classes, but it’s also important to find a niche of your own outside of the academics. When you join a student newspaper you’ll immediately meet a group of people who probably share many of your interests. College newspaper staffers work hard but they also play hard, and their social lives often revolve around the people they encounter in the newsroom.
I can honestly say that some of the best times of my life were spent working on college papers and hanging out with the people I met there. Indeed, many of the friends I made in student newspaper newsrooms are still friends today. Chances are, if you get involved with your student newspaper, your experience will be similar.
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