Crisis at the Alligator

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.

8 Responses to Crisis at the Alligator

  1. […] Editor-in-Chief Jessica DaSilva has posted a response on her blog, titled “Crisis at the Alligator.” Let me say this once: This staff is not working here for the money. We didn’t start at […]

  2. Wow. Computers that are 10 years old and don’t even have USB? Seriously, is your technology budget that small?

    You should be seeking out technology donations. My community college paper was published on Mac OS 9.1 with Quark 3.1 until late 2006, when we secured the donation of more than a dozen used Mac G4 and G5 towers which enabled us to upgrade to OS X and InDesign. Even something that’s four years old is better than something that’s 10 years old.

  3. Actually, our department doesn’t have a technology budget.

    That’s a great idea. We’re starting to reach out more now that the alumni are up in arms about the crisis. We have someone who wants to buy us Photoshop and donate her 2-year-old computer.

  4. Daniel says:

    What about putting together a strategic plan to get yourself completely off print in a year? If you don’t do something drastic, I would imagine you might just run into this issue next year.

  5. Charlie says:

    We had thin clients at the newspaper I worked at. Wouldn’t even tap my brakes for one of those. The server for them was very far away, and our internet connection consisted of 1400kps and messenger pigeons.

    Anyway.

    What exactly are the 10 year old computers? 300Mhz Mac towers? I hate to say I’m having a hard time remembering what computers looked like in 1998. It’s like there’s a big blank spot between my youthful days on an Apple II and having a faster computer the size of an eee PC.

    “Actually, our department doesn’t have a technology budget.”

    Well, you can’t get ahead of the curve on zero money. Even a good Linux box can still run you a couple of hundred dollars. See what you can get donated – it works for me. I’ve three bloody laptops, thanks to people who think the machines were obsolete after the first 2-3 years. Which is an understandable mistake if you’re trying to boot any OS that isn’t free.

  6. […] Jessica da Silva (student editor of the Alligator student newspaper and website) Jessica became famous online for blogging about the redundancies made while she was on her work placement–she was attacked, praised, discussed by Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen… and has now made a huge number of journalism contacts for her future career. Question for you: are you blogging your work placements? […]

  7. Aaron says:

    “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.”

    Ya know Jessica, I been hired and not been hired, seen lots of people hired and not hired, and I don’t think multimedia knowledge is the barrier.

    Really, your average-Joe editor cares more about how much experience you have and how well you can write and report, just like always. Multimedia knowledge is not the magic bullet for a job.

    It’s hard to get hired now because the journalism business model is failing, so less positions are open. My friend had a great job at The Tennessean as a multimedia reporter before she got laid off last week. Multimedia reporting is just a luxury the paper couldn’t afford.

    I do think multimedia is important, but newsrooms I’ve seen have bigger things to worry about, like making sure courts and education get covered. I’ve noticed top reporters rarely make their own Soundslides, audio, etc. That stuff is left up to multimedia producers, if there is time (and money).

    It’s hard out there for a journalist.

  8. […] see the crisis that’s going on at UoF’s The Alligator and know how they feel. Granted we have brand new computers and more than five staff writers, […]

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