So kind of my friend Kelsey Proud to include me (and Jake!) in her list of “three people you follow online regularly” for NPR’s My So-Called Digital Life feature.
My rambling thoughts for this month’s Carnival of Journalism
When I look back at my experience in student media from 2005 through 2009, I know I had it better than most: we were entirely student-run, had a generous budget for most of my time there, published five days a week, and took advantage of the amazing network of alumni we had in the area for training opportunities.
Still, things could have been better. I spent three of my four years at college (freshman, junior and senior years) focusing on reporting—and I learned from that experience than I did in all four years of J-school combined. But like most professional newsrooms, those were the years we were struggling to adapt to a modern, digital-first strategy.
I’ve long criticized my J-school at the University of Minnesota for being behind the curve. The “web publishing” class I took senior year taught us how to use Blogger. There were no opportunities to learn how to build an online portfolio or data visualizations. One class was offered for computer-assisted reporting at the graduate level and I had to beg, borrow and steal to get myself a spot in the class as an undergrad. From what I can tell, shortly after I graduated, they appeared to get their act together.
Recently, Matt Waite, professor at Univ. Nebraska-Lincoln, put forth his concept of the “minimal viable participant,” or the base skills anyone looking to enter journalism must have. To his list of four: Tell stories, understand the internet, learn, execute on ideas, I wrote that I would add collaboration:
“Journalism has always been a team effort: behind every bylined story there were editors, copy editors, page designers, graphics editors, etc. whose hands touched the story before hitting the final product.
But collaboration now and in the future means looking beyond the confines of the newsroom and asking how you can work your leadership, business team, marketing team, and audience to make a better news product.
The attitude of “I’m only a reporter” or “I just make the pictures” is rapidly falling out of vogue and will be of little use in the newsrooms of the future.”
Student publications should be a playground, the place where you stretch your wings and the place where you fall and scrape the shit out of your knees. In addition to professional internships, where assignments come from editors and students are asked to work within an established newsroom system, students need to use their time at campus publications to innovate and create new systems. Being completely student-run felt like fun at the time, but looking back, I wish we had had a voice of reason and a guiding hand to help us reign in the crazy but also push us toward the awesome.
I’ve often said that graduating in 2009 meant that most of us came out of school not only wanting to be great journalists, but also to help save it a little. Student publications need to give our rising stars those opportunities.
When I meet students who are working at their student publications, my question for them is always this: what are you doing that’s extraordinary?
For me, it was fighting with the university to get them to release the salaries of every employee in the system. And it was spending six weeks finding young survivors of breast cancer to tell their stories and being invited by one to witness her breast augmentation surgery. It was skipping school for three weeks straight to cover a criminal trial from start to finish.
Students today have a daunting task ahead of them: mastering base journalism skills, like reporting and storytelling, while also tackling digital skills, like coding and data visualization. They’re being asked to do more and more with those four years, which is excellent preparation for when they land in their first newsroom.
Today’s (and future) student newsrooms need to focus on innovation and collaboration. Students need to break out of the “backpack journalist” mindset and learn to leverage their strengths against those of their teammates.
I would love to see student publications require all staff to spend their first year rotating through different positions in the newsroom: copy editing, web desk, visuals, multimedia, etc. And I believe student publications benefit from having the involvement of a professional journalist on some kind of advisory level. We joked about our newsroom being “Kid Nation,” but there were definitely times when it wasn’t a joke, and things really did feel all Lord of the Flies.
But the end game is this: students need to graduate with a deep and diverse portfolio, which many are failing to do. Stories about the Math department offering free pizza on the lawn and canned classroom exercises aren’t enough to instruct the next generation of journalism. Publication and creation must be mandatory for students graduating with a journalism degree.
Photo: Caitlin Byrne / @cbyrne19
Confession: I really, really love to read young adult fiction. I was the kid who showed up at the library every week with a totebag full of books to return and filled it right back up. Traveling was tough for me, because of the number of books I insisted on packing in my suitcase (thank goodness for e-readers!). By the time I was 15 or so, I had read and reread about 90% of the material in the young adult section of my local library. Half-Price Books is actually one of my favorite places in the world.
The thing is, I never really grew out of that phase. I was 20 when the last Harry Potter novel came out. And I thought for a quick minute, I’d be done reading “kids” books. But from there, I plowed straight on through to the Twilight series (yes, admittedly), then Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus (big Rick Riordan fan), then Hunger Games, then Beautiful Creatures and now Divergent.
That feeling I felt as a kid, attending midnight book releases for Harry Potter at my local mall: the anxiety, the rush, the anticipation. Yeah, still feeling that ahead of the release of the next Heroes of Olympus book (Oct. 8) and the final installment of the Divergent trilogy (Oct. 22). I remember teetering on the edge about rushing out to buy the first Heroes of Olympus book after learning Riordan would write five, only one per year: Should I bother? I’ll be 27 or so when the series ends. Hell yes, I should bother. Now, my biggest dilemma is whether to pre-order a hard copy to ship on release date, or just download the Kindle version as soon as I wake up in the morning.
It helps that I’m a voracious re-reader of books I love and I can read pretty quickly. During finals in college, to retreat from the stress and soothe my brain, I would fall head first into the stack of my battered Harry Potter series and refuse to come up for air until I had plowed through them all.
Even now, on my subway commutes to work, while I’m surrounded by people in fancy suits flipping through the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, I’m feverishly re-reading Divergent and Insurgent for the third or fourth time since I checked them out from the library.
And you know what? I. Don’t. Care.
And, I’m not alone: both Buzzfeed and The Atlantic have devoted more and more space to not only adults with an obsession over current YA, but also pages to nostalgia: reaffirming their love for Bridge to Terabithia and The Baby Sitters Club. Last summer’s release of Tiger Eyes, the first Judy Blume novel optioned for film, filled us all with the urge to go running back to our parents’ houses to dig out our old copies of her books (oh wait, or was that just me?).
But YA books are awesome for a lot of reasons, not just the nostalgia factor.
* Unless you’re loaded, buying books can get expensive. So chances are, you’re supporting your local library to help feed your addiction.
* YA fiction is a great escape for stressed out people. Added bonus: you can feel way better about being able to tell people you spent the weekend reading, vs having to admit you spent the entire weekend watching Say Yes to the Dress.
* You’d be surprised how many other adults love YA Fiction too. Upon moving to Washington last year, I was immediately invited to join a friend’s YA book club because she already knew of my obsession. Liz and I reconnected a couple years ago at the Hunger Games midnight show. People who love the same authors, ship the same character pairings, and have extensive knowledge of a fictional universe usually just “click.”
* Speaking of which: midnight showings and movie adaptations. Love ‘em or love to hate ‘em. Instead of feeling old about the fact my friend and I attended the Hunger Games midnight premiere in PJs, we instead felt awesome about the fact we were the only people in the theater not working on homework while waiting for the film. Midnight showings for popular YA series have a great energy and are usually very fun. And yes, movie adaptations have a spectrum: the Good (Harry Potter, Hunger Games), the Bad (Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters), and the Ones Where You Wonder If The Director Even Read The Books (Beautiful Creatures, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief).
* And, beyond just being downright enjoyable, YA characters and plotlines have very real-life relevance for the 20-something or 30-something who refuses to let go:
On physical fitness: if Tris can survive Dauntless initiation, surely you can drag your butt to the gym today. Her pants wouldn’t fit over her newly developed leg muscles after 10 days; you can drop those spare 5 lbs this month.
On being dumped: Being a Bella is acceptable for about, a day or two. After that, buck up and take a page from Hermione’s book (ha, pun intended).
On friends: forging new friendships in your 20s is hard, so place value on the Grover Underwoods and Ron Weasleys on your life.
On office politics: let bullies who band together like Careers be their own downfall; use your brain to outwit the Foxfaces; find unexpected allies the Rues. There are no hard and fast rules, but cannibalism is frowned upon (… Oh wait)
On family strife: Dr Kane seemed pretty boring too, then he turned out to be an Egyptian magician. Who knows what you can learn about your parents’ hidden depths if you give them a chance?
On life in general: believe in the unbelievable: magic, wizardry, gods; fear the possibilities and consequences dystopian future.
So tell us, what YA series are you currently in love with?
Post by Emma Carew Grovum. She is a data journalist working at the Chronicle of Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. She previously worked as the Digital Editor for The Cooking Club of America and blogs at kitchendreamer.blogspot.com Emma loves Star Wars, pandas and all things Joss Whedon. Find her on twitter at @emmacarew.
Thanks, Gail, for a great column featuring ThreeSixty Journalism’s newest project: ProtectMyRep.org.
I was lucky enough to work with Lynda McDonnell, Sisi Wei, and a team of high school students to produce this project, a tool for teens to learn about smarter social media use.