Journalists students campus

8 Reasons You Should Write for Your Campus Newspaper

A wave of student journalists descended on the capital this week, as Canadian University Press (CUP) convened its annual national conference in Ottawa.

Representing student papers from St. John’s to Nanaimo, these students work incredibly hard, on top of their academic obligations, to be a voice that engages with the student body, faculty, and community alike.

As a former CUP member and editor-in-chief of a campus newspaper, the conference has me reflecting on just how important my years with the Sputnik were, and why all students interested in writing of any kind should pick up a pen for their own student paper. Even Especially if you’re a journalism major.

1. Work on the merit of your own name

Name badge

Emily Rose / Flickr

It’s tough to cold call sources, especially when it’s someone in a position of power and you’re a 20-year-old with no body of work to present. It becomes much easier to hide behind your professor, or your program, and fire off an e-mail reading, “Dear _______, I’m a second year journalism student taking an introduction to court reporting course with Professor _______, and I was hoping to interview you. The paper will only be used in class.” I get that. Sources might be gentler with you. They may agree because for the past 23 years, they’ve had a student from the exact same class with the exact same professor make the exact same request.

But being able to build the confidence to call and say that you’re reporting for a publication, and the end work will appear published in print with your byline beside it, instantly raises both your credibility and the respect you receive. It’s scary to leave the safety net of the university program, but it’s a necessary process to mature as a reporter and thicken your skin. You may (and likely will) end up with some bumps and bruises along the way when you stick your neck out like that, be it a broiling interview or an enraged letter to the editor, but it reveals more of the practical side of journalism that you may not get in a classroom. And it will benefit you down the road, whether you stay in the field or not.

2. Experiment

Writing for a course, whether it’s a journalism project or a sociology essay, is all about writing for a grade. In the work you put into it, you’re working to make sure all of the boxes are checked on the description or syllabus. Obviously, there are important skills to glean from this, but as you go through your university career, you tend to fall into a rhythm. All your papers start to look the same. You introduce materials and resources from past courses and re-use them. The light at the end of the tunnel is the grade circled in the top-right corner of your paper when it gets handed back.

When you’re writing for a campus paper, for an audience of more than one, the focus is on interest. You want the reader to be captivated by your words, both the story and the prose. You want to contribute to the overall performance of the paper by writing something gripping, informative, touching, or hilarious. Because of this, you can experiment. You can play around with your voice in a way you wouldn’t dare do on an essay. You can challenge yourself to write about a subject area you know little about. Best of all, with student newspapers in particular, you can get creative. Want to write a Thompson-inspired gonzo piece on homecoming? Chances are, you can do that. Write in as many different ways about as many different topics as you can, and develop your voice to write across different sectors for different audiences. That way, whether you’re interviewing for BuzzFeed or the Globe & Mail or Loulou you’ll have something to present.

3. Build a portfolio

news clippings

Jon S / Flickr

So you’ve done some interviews with your municipal politicians and written a feature story that earned you an A+ in your third-year magazine writing course. Good for you. But when you apply for a job at your local daily, how are you going to present that? You can’t simply e-mail them the Word document with your teacher’s comments on it.

It’s the most simple, and the most repeated benefit, but it can’t be overstated: writing for your paper gives you clippings. That will serve you well down the line no matter what you do. For journalism majors who dream of that career, the reasons are obvious. But even if you’re in a different field, having a portfolio is a big help. In today’s media environment, where everyone is fighting for public attention all the time, being able to demonstrate to an employer that you have written, and been published, gives you a leg up. Perhaps you can become a point person for the latest blog post, or penning an op-ed piece for your company president.

4. Collaborate quickly

This one’s a double whammy. Working at a campus paper allows you to work both collaboratively in a team environment, while also working on tight deadlines. Sure, you may consider these some of the generic skills that get tossed in at the bottom of the resume, but they are important – and now you can prove that you have them. And as an added bonus, it’s fun. Sitting around, sharing some pizza, and tossing around ideas on how to tackle a certain subject, about what kind of art should accompany a piece, or what should lead that week’s paper is an enjoyable experience.

Learning the crucial time management skills of getting your story to an editor or getting an issue to print is also beneficial, and will serve you well in everything you do. Sure, your courses claim to do that. But there’s nothing quite like knowing if you don’t have a finished product in by production time, you’re out of luck.

Coffee and beans

Be prepared to become friends with coffee!
Flickr / Trophygeek

5. Networking

No matter how small your school is, the campus paper will always remain a home for the engaged and the critical, a space where great minds come together to discuss issues and ideas and tell stories. The people around you will help improve your skills and remain good sources well into your professional career. Whether you are with a newspaper that’s part of a larger organization like CUP or not, the people you work with will remain important, either as friends or contacts, for the rest of your life.

You also have the added benefit of meeting people you might not have ever had the chance, simply through the reporting process. Politicians, community leaders, business owners – any of these people could be great allies for you down the road, or even become good friends in the present.

6. More than just writing

Student journalism offers you the opportunity to do so much more than writing. It provides you a platform to get involved as you want to. Photograph some events. Take a video camera and record some streeters for YouTube. Copy edit. Participate in the production or design process. As the definition of journalist continues to change each day and more jobs look for “multimedia reporters”, it’s necessary to have the widest skill set possible.

7. Shout about your passions

For students in the arts and humanities, and even the social sciences, university education is all about critical thinking. With respect to the lecture halls that seat 300 students, there are few better places to put that into action than your campus paper. As the voice of the student body, you have the opportunity to investigate administrative issues and student union scandals, conducting original research and talking with the key players. If you write for a newspaper that puts an emphasis on community reporting, those options open up even more broadly.

Student news allows you to pursue and tell those stories most meaningful to you. That issue you’re passionate about, you can make your voice heard. It can be difficult to express that in a three hour lecture where only a few minutes is put aside for discussion. A campus paper gives you that outlet. You don’t have to hold back. Speak truth to power, and deliver the story so that others can chew on it.

8. It’s a blast

No, seriously. It’s just a whole a lot of fun.


Let me know your favourite memories from writing with your campus paper in the comments below!

Photo credit: JD Lasica

Seeing Automation As Opportunity, Not The End

As if journalists needed anything more to worry about, robots look poised to begin a gradual takeover of basic newswriting tasks.

The discussion surrounding robot, or automated, journalism has fired up this summer, following The Associated Press’ (AP) announcement that the majority of U.S. corporate earnings stories will go automated, thought-provoking pieces by Nieman Lab and the Guardian, and discussions at the Global Editors Network regarding automated journalism launching in Europe as early as next year.


The concept of automated journalism first gained widespread attention this March, after an earthquake provided an early wake-up call to the residents of Beverly Hills, California at 6:25 a.m. The Los Angeles Times had a story about the quake on their website up as quickly as three minutes later, according to Ken Schwenke, the reporter who’s byline accompanied the story.

How? The brief had been written by Quakebot, a program that extracts information from the U.S. Geological Survey, plugs it into a pre-configured template, and then pushes it onto the Times‘ content management system, where it waits for Schwenke to publish it.

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State of the Journalism Industry – Highlights from the AEJMC

I have the fortunate opportunity to be spending this weekend in Washington, D.C., as I have been invited to the annual conference put on by the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication to present one of my papers.

This afternoon I was able to attend the conference highlight I was most looking forward to, a panel discussion on the state of the industry featuring Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute; Jim Brady, who is editor-in-chief of Digital First Media and president of the Online News Association; Rob Mennie of Gannett Broadcasting; Karen Dunlap, president of the Poynster Institute; and the host of the panel session, Bob Papper of Hofstra University.

I cannot begin to describe how insightful, interesting and exciting this discussion was. Not surprisingly, engagement was a theme that resonated throughout the session. What was interesting, however, was the idea of a return civic journalism and commitment to communities being regarded in very high standards by news outlets.

Without further ado, I present some highlights from these powerful speakers.

Tom Rosenstiel

  • Previously, consumers had to adapt their behaviours to accommodate the media (in terms of news at specific times, for example). Today, the news media need to adapt their cycle and behaviours to suit the audience.
  • We are in a period of democratization and a type of enlightenment, in this sense.
  • Audiences are consuming more news today, not less. 25% of people state they are consuming more news, while only 10% say they are consuming less. Among those who consume through mobile technologies, 32% say they are consuming more and only 8% consuming less.

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Te’o, Thamel and Deadspin: How the Web Outreported the Traditional Media

With the unraveling of one of the strangest sports stories of recent memory still leaving much to be explained, in the wake of Deadspin breaking the story that Notre Dame Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te’o’s inspirational girlfriend was, in fact, fake, it strikes a few questions on how something like this could go on for so long.

The circus surrounding this issue started just yesterday when Deadspin, an online sports blog that is part of the Gawker Media family, revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend, who passed away of leukemia just six hours after his grandmother had also passed away, has no record of ever existing. Despite being a graduate of Stanford, having been in a serious car accident that hospitalized her, and having been admitted to a (unnamed) California hospital for months for leukemia treatment, and ultimately passing away, Deadspin journalists’ Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey found no paper trail for Lennay Kekua having done any of these things. Or even being an actual person.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons license.

While there has certainly been swirling tidbits of gossip and speculation as to why such a hoax was pulled off, let’s leave that alone and look at how such a story proliferated through the mainstream media for so long.

Remember, this wasn’t just some hoax that didn’t carry any weight outside of the Notre Dame community. No, the death of Kekua garnered national media attention, especially after Te’o spoke of her making him promise to continue playing no matter what happened to her. That same narrative of Te’o overcoming great amounts of grief (some of it real, as a result of his grandmother’s passing, keep in mind) followed him throughout the entire season, on his way to seven major collegiate football awards, and a Heisman nomination. There is no denying Te’o was a skilled player, yet you must still question whether that emotional aspect played into the minds of voters.

So, again, how did such a story receive so much coverage without this information of Kekua’s non-existence coming to light earlier? There are a few significant problems in the reporting of the story that can be looked at here.

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Stories From My Idols: Part III

Little needs to be said about this writer, whose become perhaps the most iconic journalist among those not in the field or who don’t really pay attention to the authors of stories. He has a movie about him, he was seemingly immune to whatever he threw into his body, he pretty well created a famous Colorado election, he had an iconic death, but most importantly, to me at least, he created a new type of journalism. Gonzo.

If you’ve never heard of Hunter S. Thompson, well, to be blunt, you should stop doing whatever you’re doing and watch Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas to give you an express look at what Thompson’s done. Once done there, pick up a book, and begin to read the man’s work.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. – Hunter S. Thompson

For those who are unfamiliar with writing styles, Gonzo journalism is a style of reporting where rather than removing his- or herself from the story, the reporter actually uses himself as a character in the story. It was the foundation for the New Journalism movement of the 60’s and 70’s, which basically calls for the elimination of pure objectivity, and also is regarded as the first real examples of what has come to be considered “creative non-fiction.”

The career of Thompson was probably just as interesting as his writing style. He got involved in journalism at a US Air Force base, where he began writing about the base football team. He went on to take a job in small-town Pennsylvania as a sports editor, then went to Puerto Rico, where he did some work for American papers on what was happening in the Caribbean. He moved back to the States and began heavy coverage of presidential elections, as well as cultural pieces on America, and of course, continued covering sporting events, as what got him into the biz. Some of his most famous work has come in the form of full-length books of his writing, which use the distinguishable Gonzo style. One such book was focused on a year Thompson spent riding with the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, while another, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 offered a then-rare glimpse on how campaigns worked, and focused strongly on the Democratic primaries of that year. This book also sparked the famous hatred of Richard Nixon which Thompson is still related to to this day.

Without further ado, I offer you one of my favourite (if perhaps less famous) works by Thompson, “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy,” originally published in the very first edition of Scanlans. Oh, and another thing you’ll find out about Thompson – he was given space in his work. The piece after the jump is about 8,000 words.

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Stories From My Idols: Part 1

“If you define your personality as creative, it only means you understand what is perceived to be creative by the world at large, so you’re really just following a rote creative template. That’s the opposite of creativity. Everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time. But ANYWAY…” – Chuck Klosterman

Perhaps idol is a strong word, but then again, if those who sing on FOX three nights a week are considered idols, maybe it’s not all that strong. Likely influence is a better term, but influence doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue the way idol does. Idol – A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered. Well, I do admire Chuck Klosterman, I do revere him, I don’t know if I’d say love – I don’t think he’d like that much. However, Klosterman will always be one of my main sources of inspiration, one of the writers who helped push me into this uncertain terrain that is journalism.

Klosterman’s style is one that I try to incorporate into feature writing whenever the opportunity presents itself. His ability to paint pictures through his words, to establish connections between objects that many could see no relation whatsoever, and his aptitude in incorporating himself and his thoughts into the story are unmatched. I’ve spent countless days (weeks, months) writing random essays that attempt to make sense of the world which we are living in the same way Klosterman does, but after being thrown into the traditional newswriting mix, I haven’t experimented in years. Not since a summer spent living with my grandmother in southeast Ottawa where I worked ten to twelve hour days doing nothing but laying interlocking stone and sod, when coming home to write about the culture that surrounded me was what I looked forward to at the end of each and every day – along with my Grandma’s fantastic cooking, of course – have I picked up the pen in such a way. Yet, the desire returns every time I read a piece of his.

That is why tonight I present you with a selected reading of his, from Chuck Klosterman IV.

Please enjoy, McDiculous.