How the state of the industry is affecting my college newspaper

I can’t speak for college newspapers across the U.S., but The Independent Florida Alligator is in a position quite different from the professional journalism industry.

From my understanding, the paper is on very solid financial ground, though I won’t get into specifics. We have enough money for a full staff, which is more than many newspapers can say, and I’m very thankful for that.

However, here I am, with seven weeks left in the semester, and there is still a drastic shortage of writers.

Our budget allows for five university desk writers, three metro writers and one features writer. Right now, we have three university writers (one who was just hired within the past two weeks), two city writers and no features writers (just freelancers).

It doesn’t seem too bad at first. These are shortages we normally face. But let me put this into context.

We started this semester off with almost a full staff. University had a desk of five strong writers, leaving metro with the opportunity to have its pick of the freelancers.

Within a month, four of those writers quit, and only one had a valid excuse (16 credit hours). Meanwhile, barely any of our freelancers seem to be interested in staff positions.

We were not given any warning or reasoning as to why three of them left. I won’t lie. I was angry. But I thought we would find replacements relatively soon, especially as freelance writers started sending in assignments for their reporting classes. Not so.

I’ve been at this paper going on three years, and I can say recruiting has never been this difficult. For the first time, I’m hearing students turning down staff positions because they have to keep their GPA up just in case they have to choose a backup career if journalism doesn’t work out.

My hypothesis is that journalism students are jumping ship. They see the numbers, and they’re scared. I think we can’t find student writers because students may be switching majors or using journalism to prepare for law school. I plan on speaking with the college to see if enrollment data reveals any trends.

I understand the industry is in a bad state right now. Believe me, I’m scared about not having a job after graduation. However, this bad news is just a reminder that I have to try harder at what I’m doing now to prepare myself.

Not going into journalism isn’t an option for me. It’s my calling. Could a nice salary and designer shoes replace passion? I don’t think so.

I’m OK with shopping at Payless.

13 Responses to How the state of the industry is affecting my college newspaper

  1. albert says:

    How much are your staff writers paid?

  2. Hilary says:

    Although I sometimes think law school would allow me to live the lifestyle to which I wish to become accustomed, I agree with you.

    I guess you just have to take what you can from the people who are jaded by journalism and ignore everything that would discourage you.

    And as a reporter I worked with at my internship this summer said:

    “Are you still going into journalism after all this? You are an American Hero.”

  3. […] How the state of the industry is affecting my college newspaper – Outline of the problems in a college newsroom. […]

  4. @albert – Ha, good question.

    Here’s a breakdown:
    Freelancers – $0
    Writers – $8/story
    Staff Writers (fancy title) – $10/story

    It’s been this rate for a while and while it’s always been painfully low, we’ve never had so many people quit or just turn down offers to join the staff.

  5. Daniel says:

    Jessica, I think you’re spot on with your analysis. The dangers to student media, at this point at least, aren’t financial. Although many of us may be independent, we still received a certain degree of funding from student government or school administration for the services we provide. Even if advertising revenue were to tank, which I don’t think it could immediately because student news orgs are the monopolistic media outlets on campus, we could go to the university for “bailout” funding. This is an option many regional papers don’t have.

    Rather, I think our most immediate problem is a dearth of talent. Who wants to go into an industry where it doesn’t look like you can make a career out of the work you do? In order to secure this talent, student news organizations need to prove that they are the innovators, not the just late adopters. If we can take the lead in creating legitimately compelling products, I think students will once again want to work for their good ol’ news organization.

  6. […] As she wrote in a blog post titled “How the State of the Industry is Affecting My College Newspaper“:  […]

  7. You’re right to stick it out with journalism. Those other writers will soon realize how much they need the reporting skills to write for any media platform, regardless of whether or not its in print.

    Sadly, no one seems to get this, so maybe the Gator should go fishing with a marketing campaign? I don’t know, that’s always my first thought on issues like this.

    Best of luck though, I enjoy the Gator more than most college papers.

  8. […] at their student newspaper because their industry of choice has a bleak future. Jessica DaSilva is already facing this challenge at the Independent Florida Alligator and, as I commented, this could be the greatest short term […]

  9. Aaron says:

    I’m sure you know other other journalists who are in the workforce now, but for me, it gets pretty aggravating to meet one person after another with a job easier than yours and half your education who makes twice your salary.

    I also have a passion for journalism and have a hard time imagining doing something else — though I haven’t /really done/ anything else so it’s hard to say that with absolute conviction. But I am now picking up part-time jobs and other entrepreneurial ventures.

    And to be honest, I could probably even make a Web site that looked just like DrudgeReport except with a local angle that would make more money and trump my local.com.

    It doesn’t make sense to slave under someone for little pay while constantly being threatened to be laid off. I like my job but I’m not a masochist.

  10. Reg says:

    Amen to Aaron. I have been out of the business for 10 years now. I did some PR and I’m now a high school teacher. My wife is a former reporter and editor. She is now in PR. While neither of us ever envisioned not working in newspapers, we don’t miss it.
    I have a difficult time recommending the profession to my students.

  11. LIZ says:

    Ever considered the possibility that they left for other reasons? Maybe they aren’t happy with the way the paper is being run. The Alligator has always been one of the nation’s top student newspapers. Something like this can’t simply be described by saying “kids are scared.” You don’t become a journalist for money or a steady job. You do it because you love it. Maybe, just maybe, something made them not love it anymore.

  12. […] Independent Florida Alligator’s editor blogs that it’s harder to keep a full staff and credits it to uncertainty within the industry. […]

  13. […] Jessica DaSilva is already facing this challenge at the Independent Florida Alligator and, as I commented, this could be the greatest short term threat, especially if your paper isn’t perceived as […]

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