On summer and exploring my options

September 1, 2009 by Jessica DaSilva

I’ve been sparse this summer because of a tough no blogging policy at my press internship with Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) office. But now that it’s over and I’m back in school for my final semester, I’m ready to chat about the lessons I learned.

Having a non-journalism internship was a new experience for me. I realize it might seem strange that a student so dedicated to journalism would take a government relations internship, but these past few months, I’ve been watching all my friends graduate … and not find jobs.

There are a select few who found internships or jobs at small newspapers, but many of them have gone to law school, grad school, PR firms or back home to their parents because they can’t find anything. When I got rejected from 24 internships, I realized I needed to explore the other options that are available to someone with a journalism degree.

It was definitely not as bad as I was afraid it would be. The press shop I worked in consisted of four full-time staffers, and to my surprise, they all loved journalism. They pored over newspapers every morning, joked with reporters on the phone and lamented the state of the journalism industry. They didn’t try to avoid questions and they weren’t slimy people. Yeah, they were obviously trying to promote the senator, but they weren’t evil.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons about government relations, mainly to be straightforward with reporters and to “make news, don’t fake news.” They were comforting lessons that made me realize that there are PR professionals who love and respect journalism as much as those working in the industry.

It reminded me of something my old professor Richard Benedetto once said about being a political reporter, “To be a political reporter, you must love politicians.” Well, from what I could tell, to work in government relations, it seems you must love political reporters.

So where do I go from here? Well, this semester I have internship with the city of Gainesville’s press office, overseeing their social networking and Web presence and doing a little bit of video work. These two internships haven’t deterred me in the slightest from pursuing my dream to be a reporter, but if for some reason I couldn’t reach that goal, I know I’ll be OK.

And as for where I’m headed after graduation, I’ve enthusiastically accepted a six- to nine-month internship with the Las Vegas Sun. I’m considering this my big break and at this point, I’m pretty much counting down the days until I can head West. Great things lie ahead, and I can’t wait to live it up.

Blogging tips for beginners

March 25, 2009 by Jessica DaSilva

I was reading an old high school friend’s blog today and shaking my head thinking about all the cardinal sins of blogging she was committing: her posts were about a dozen of paragraphs long and boring to the point of seeming completely pointless.

Then I remembered some of my earliest posts. I made those mistakes at one point, too. And that’s when I realized how truly far I’ve come as a blogger.

It was only a year and half ago I began this blog. It seems so much longer, which I can only attribute to having learned so much during that time.

What I’ve learned has obviously worked for me since I now have a decent following and am getting paid to manage another blog. If I were closer to this acquaintance, I would share some tips. Because I’m not, I’ll just post them here for any beginners facing the same problems:

  1. Keep it short. Don’t draw things out or people get bored and leave.
  2. Don’t be so formal! Having people visit your blog is like having friends over for dinner. You want to have fun and intellectual conversation, but if you sound like Frasier, people might be less inclined to come back.
  3. Leave your posts open ended. If you cover every angle of a story, you leave no room for discussion.
  4. Learn how to read your analytics. Analytics are super cool, and it’s easy/fun to get hooked. What posts are getting the most hits? What search terms are they using to find your site? Where are they from? All these answers will give you a better understanding of what kind of topics you should cover and who your audience is.
  5. Have a good “About” page that tells people who you are and why you have a blog.
  6. Don’t be too incendiary (unless you’re into that kind of thing). It seems to lead to arguments instead of constructive discussion.
And that’s pretty much it for beginners. If you follow those tips, I’m pretty sure I set you ahead by a few months. 😉

Looking back and ahead

January 26, 2009 by Jessica DaSilva

It took a few weeks, but I’ve finally settled into my new life. And after settling in, I’m ready to reflect on my semester as editor and look ahead to my new life.

I know my editorship at the Alligator was not perfect, but in the end, I accomplished what I set out to do. The Alligator is switching its content management system from TownNews to WordPress, and the editorial department’s needs are finally being recognized by the management and board of directors.

I made some very difficult decisions during my term, but the toughest was by far the decision to publicize the Alligator’s dilemma of not having an editor-in-chief applicant because of internal problems. (Editor’s note: The story did not come out as planned, but in the end, I guess it got the job done.)

Despite receiving a lot of flack, I still stand by that decision, and I am proud of it. It was because of that story that so many alumni got involved (including, but not limited to, financial donations). And the staff this semester started off with up-to-date software, some decent equipment and a positive outlook.

In the end, I’m happy with how last semester went.

This semester, I’ve taken a job at the UF Web Administration, where I’ll be helping improve its blog and doing some (X)HTML, CSS, etc. I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s very laid back and will definitely fine-tune my Web skills.

I’m also working as the Alligator’s ombudsman, a position I plan to use to assist in recruitment and image. I would really like to create a conversation with the Alligator’s audience and implement some of the ideas I mentioned in my State of the Newsroom Report from December. I would like to start an ombudsman blog to make the newsroom more transparent and approachable. I’ll let you know when this happens.

Finally, some of my random goals for this semester include brushing up on my American Sign Language, blogging much more frequently, practicing my crappy photography, and learning Flash and video shooting/editing. Oh, and studying for the GRE (groan). Looks like I’ll be pretty busy! Better get to work.

State of the newsroom report

December 16, 2008 by Jessica DaSilva

After the Friday meeting that selected the top three editors for the spring semester, the Alligator’s board of directors met with the Alligator staff to review the problems discussed at the crisis meeting and take suggestions for solutions.

As the outgoing editor, I summed up the problems/answers I could see in a state of the newsroom report, which I’m sharing here: Read the rest of this entry »

Crisis at the Alligator

December 8, 2008 by Jessica DaSilva

OK, so I posted this response to the Alligator’s crisis on the Alligator alumni Facebook group the other day. I figured I would post it here to see if anyone else out there has suggestions on how we can pull ourselves out of this hole.

Dear Alumni,

Thank you for all the e-mails and messages you’ve sent. However, I think our own story missed the staff’s point, which is our fault.

Let me say this once: This staff is not working here for the money. We didn’t start at this newspaper for the money, and we’re not going into journalism for the money. We’re not afraid of long hours and hard work.

What we’re afraid for is our futures.

Mary is absolutely correct. We are not getting the experience that we need for internships and jobs that are out there.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “You worked at the Alligator? That’s great. What else have you done?”

The truth of the matter is that the Alligator is NOT getting us internships and jobs anymore.

Many members of the staff find their first internships through personal connections with the faculty. Others sign up for programs where you pay to take classes and intern in a big city (the programs guarantee you an internship).

The problem? We’re not a place for innovative journalism anymore. Today, journalism is not just copy and headlines. We’re being expected to (at the very least) know (X)HMTL, CSS, how to gather/edit audio (and sometimes video), build Soundslides and more.

We put out what little we can, but that’s just it; it’s not enough. We don’t have equipment or staff to do what’s necessary to uphold our reputation.

We’ve built bridges with the faculty to get them to encourage students to work here, and they’ve done that. Staffers visited every single reporting lab to recruit new writers. We’ve done everything we could think of to build up our staff, and it hasn’t worked well enough to build up a strong incoming class of staffers.

We had funding for a full staff this semester. As it stands now, we have three writers on the university desk and two on metro. That makes up our entire staff of writers. The rest are freelancers. We have five writers. Five.

Those five writers are covering ALL of our important news. They typically write three stories a day. How are they supposed to gather and edit the audio for those stories and build a Soundslides when they have to write those stories? They can’t learn those new, vital technology skills when they’re making up for a non-existent beat partner.

The skills students need to succeed in today’s journalism industry are not being taught in full at the Alligator. They’re finding opportunities to learn those skills elsewhere, especially in the college, which is constantly upgrading its technology and curriculum and emphasizing the importance of multimedia skills.

And so it becomes a vicious cycle. We can’t attract students because we don’t have the technology or manpower to spearhead the online movement, so the current staff suffers. They get burned out because they’re doing more than just working hard, they are doing the work of several reporters and editors.

Many of you cited that despite the workload, you had fun. I can say that’s how I felt when I started here, but after being part of a staff that has been recycled over and over again, I can tell that no one is having fun anymore. We’re in the same position that all of you who are in newspapers now are in.

The only difference is that working at the Alligator is optional, so people are finally choosing to leave, and they’re leaving heartbroken. They work their fingers to the bone every day only to get Dear John letters back from internships.

So once again, thank you for your encouraging words and testimonials, but for the Alligator to remain the place you remember it to be, it’s going to require much more.

I’ll keep you updated.

Jessie DaSilva
Editor-in-Chief, fall 2008

Since I posted this, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback and suggestions from alumni. We’ve also had an editor applicant, but it doesn’t fix the problems we’re still facing.

As I wrote to one alumna, if I had to boil everything down, I think our two improvements would be:

1. Monthly board meetings – The board of directors, being our publisher, has become far removed from our issues from only meeting once a semester.

The Alligator staff has been dwindling for about five years, and the board didn’t do anything until this semester when the last of our recycled staff decided to leave. If they had heard about our problems on a monthly basis, there would have been more time for brainstorming and alumni outreach.

2. New equipment/software – We’re not asking for top-of-the-line equipment and software, but what we have now is not even industry standard. We all recognize that the problem with technology is that it becomes outdated so quickly.

After 10 months, there’s already something better out. However, we’re working on computers that are 10 years old. It wouldn’t be a problem if it could support our outdated software, but it barely does that. Some of them don’t even have USB outlets for our thumb drives.

Meanwhile, all of our software is outdated. Photo doesn’t even have a recent version of Photoshop, which is a pretty basic need.

So if anyone has any additional ideas, shoot them my way. I have to write a report of our problems and some proposed solutions for our board and staff meeting on Friday. I’ll take as much input as I can get.