When considering colleges, look at student media

In March 2012, an email message arrived from a familiar sender, so I opened it immediately. “Hi Mr. Aimone,” it read. “This is Henry Rome, and I’m now the editor in chief of The Daily Princetonian.” I remembered Henry as a standout editor of The Spoke newspaper at Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania. He carted home a stack of plaques he and his staff won from the National Scholastic Press Association — for writing and multimedia as well as a national Pacemaker Award for general excellence and as 2009 National High School Journalist of the Year.

Now, as a college newspaper editor, Henry was interested in replicating some aspects from his successful past. Like many others, Henry wanted to see his peers at The Daily Princetonian recognized for their excellent work, so he sought membership in NSPA’s college branch, the Associated Collegiate Press. He’s not alone in wanting to continue his passion.

Among the most rewarding and fun aspects of my role as executive director is recognizing outstanding high school journalists and watching them become outstanding collegiate journalists. Some, like Henry, move into leadership roles at daily papers. Others work as reporters, photographers, designers, Web managers or in advertising.

Students who have a passion for storytelling — no matter the platform — should find a way to pursue it beyond high school. One of the components of NSPA’s mission is to foster careers in journalism, but a small number of high school journalists will find a career as a journalist. But they can extend their career as a student journalist a bit longer by finding a college media program that fits.

College media organizations come in many shapes and sizes. Universities with an established journalism school will likely offer multiple student media outlets. For example, Indiana University has a daily newspaper with a website, a features magazine, a yearbook and both radio and television stations.

It doesn’t take a big journalism school to have strong student media. Community colleges provide excellent opportunities to get involved right away. Most have a newspaper in print or online, and the staff is usually a loyal and motivated group. The selection of courses might be limited, so students with skills are essential. Experienced students from high school programs can jump in and participate fully. California has many strong community college journalism programs.

While most high schools offer yearbook journalism, many colleges don’t. Standout yearbook programs like at the University of Oklahoma or the University of Miami in Florida operate successful businesses based on producing a record of the year. Specialty magazines programs require similar skills. Drake University in Iowa and the University of Oregon are two schools with outstanding student-produced magazines.

Some college media organizations operate independently of the institution. The University of Missouri’s independent newspaper, the Maneater, is completely student-run, as are Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota and the Daily News at Yale University. These staffs don’t even have an adviser.

Finding the college that fits means discovering a school where students can participate in student media organizations from the first days on campus. Visit the newsroom and learn the available positions and requirements to join the student media staff. Some colleges require a couple years on campus before students can join the newspaper. Others may hire first-year students, but the process may be competitive. Large schools with daily newspapers will need many students to fill all positions, including specialized beats. Schools with a weekly paper and a daily website will require covering broader beats.

Consider the student media organization’s campus presence. In addition to a newspaper in print and online, many will have a magazine as well as yearbook and broadcast media. Students who worked on a high school yearbook staff may discover a special-interest magazine would be a good place to work. Designers and photographers could work for multiple media, and the skills developed in making high school broadcast or multimedia projects could lead to the campus radio or television station.

Finally, what role can a student can play in the student media organization? The smaller the staff, the more hats an individual will be required to wear. Some students will like the variety of duties and ability to work on all aspects of production. Others prefer to specialize.

Working on collegiate student media can be enriching, rewarding and fun. It can also pay the bills. Large schools will pay editors, reporters, designers and photographers, while small schools might pay editors but rely on volunteer staff. Most will pay advertising sales reps a commission.

Ask questions to help understand how to continue a passion in college. Doing so will lead a student to a college that fits.

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