Student Journalism: The Best and the Worst

We’ve all been there. No matter what age or occupation, we’ve had those days that we never want to end, and those miserable days that seem endless.

In the world of journalism, we can distinctly remember those adrenaline moments when we uncover a hot story or get the chance to hear an exciting tip from a source. We can also distinctly remember the rough interviews, the angry people and those horrendous moments where it seems a story is going absolute nowhere.

As a student still learning the ropes, there are definitely distinctive high and low moments in student journalism.

The Best:

You Can Mess Up and People Are Understanding

We all make mistakes. Luckily for students, people are much more forgiving since they understand that you are still in the learning process. Once when I was investigating a story, I did not interview a person who was blatantly important and needed his voice to be heard. When he later emailed me and shared his thoughts, I immediately apologized and did my best to correct the situation.

“Are you a student?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a freshman.”

“Aaaah, that’s alright then. We all make mistakes.”

It is the card that you can pull that makes those big mistakes just a tad bit lighter.

On the otherhand…

The Worst:

Not being trusted with responsibilities because of student/ year status.

Luckily for me, as I come from a small school, my year in school doesn’t matter that much, but at bigger universities all of the practical experience goes to upperclassmen. I don’t agree that it’s a bad thing since upperclassmen certainly deserve the respect and the work, but underclassmen lose the chance to gain some necessary experience.

When interviewing people for a story, they are also less serious when it comes to a student newspaper. There have been times when I haven’t been invited to a press conference while other neighboring newspapers have been invited. It wasn’t because the quality of work wasn’t up to par– it was because we were viewed as less important since we were merely seen as “caterers to students.”

The Best:

Receiving the opportunity to dabble in a mix of mediums

For my sophomore year, I am covering three different beats for our student newspaper, while also serving the role of news director for our radio station. I don’t have any experience with budget cuts even though that is one of my beats, and I definitely don’t have any broadcasting experience.

That doesn’t matter though. Since I’m a student, I have the opportunity to use the university’s different equipment and educate myself on a variety of things. When out in the real world, there’s no way that you can work for a newspaper and for a radio station. Sure, you can have video on a newspaper site, and these days, websites are integrating a variety of mediums, but generally, it is still one major emphasis while something else takes the background.

The Worst:

Gaining an understanding of “the real world.”

I definitely believe my experience in the newspaper and my upcoming experience with the radio station will benefit my career later on. However, there is still a distinct different between an extracurricular and a professional job.

Unfortunately, the things that we learn in classrooms are often outdated by the time we graduate. While we assume that our classroom time and education is so unique, that same theme or lesson is being taught in just about every other journalism class.

And that complacency and laziness that you were allowed to have as a student in an activity will bring you the pink slip in your professional career.

The Best:

Making a name for yourself on campus

I’m sure it’s happened to any student who has worked for some sort of media outlet that’s popular on campus. Sometimes when you walk around or introduce yourself to someone, they’ll recognize you and say, “Hey aren’t you the person who was on —- or hey, aren’t you the person that always writing for —–?”

It’s heart warming and nice when your peers and professors notice your work and compliment you for it. Especially at a large institution, it’s even more flattering to be recognized.

And it doesn’t hurt that in the future, your peer may be a future connection or employer.

The Worst:

That bubble where you think, “I’m the awesomest person everrrr.”

You know what I’m talking about. I’m sure in class or at your paper or station, there’s that one person who thinks they’re the next Diane Sawyer. And sometimes, you can’t blame them for thinking that. We pamper and groom students so much and compliment them for every little thing that they can get egotistical.

But when they’re shoved out into the real world and employers are rejecting their application left and right, they’re dumbfounded. They were great at school and everyone thought their work was fantastic, why can’t they land an entry-level job?


Through thick and thin however, student journalism is a necessity for our up and coming age of young media socialites. It gives us the opportunity to spread our wings, get shot down and then fly back up again, ready to take on whatever may be out there.

And so I ask, what are your best and your worst in journalism?


Awkward Situations

For the entire second semester of my Freshman year, there was a man who confused me for another student. And for the entire semester, I was too afraid to correct him.

He would come up to me and strike up conversations about thing that I was completely obtuse about. My response each time was a nod and smile, and reason why I had to leave right at that moment.

The situation culminated to the moment when he asked if he could take photographs of myself and my significant other and our child. To which I responded with a vacant stare and an extremely awkward smile.

All of this could have been avoided if I had been brave enough to tell him right from the start that I was not the person that he thought I was. But instead, I didn’t want to put myself into an uncomfortable social situation and hence, placed myself in an even worse predicament.

And this fear of the uncomfortable made me think of the times I stumbled upon awkward situations while working on stories for my school’s paper. From cold calling strangers to conversing with higher officials, there were many moments where I felt my mind racing with worry and my body shaking with sweat.

For journalists, we have to go out and do what many American’s fear. Converse with complete strangers and not only that, but ask them to help us. Help us write a story, trust us that we won’t misspell your name and please don’t come running back accusing us of slander if it is not called for.

I think of my friends, whom many are too scared to even call people they know. Journalists have to make dozens of calls to people they don’t know, often prying into the intimate crevices of stranger’s lives.

I remember an investigative story I was working on about a restaurant owner who wasn’t paying his employees, who was also previously arrested for human trafficking. Calling the restaurant and realizing that I had to confront him was a cause of extreme stress and anxiety.

What if he found out where I lived? What if he starts yelling profanities? What if he has a family to take care of, and here’s me, getting ready to expose his business?

I mustered up the courage and called. Of course, he wasn’t there but I was able to have a conversation with a manager. Granted, it wasn’t pleasant because of the nature of the topic, but I was still having a conversation none the less.

It’s terrifying reaching out to strangers and putting yourself in strange situations with them. For the man who mistook me for another student, I didn’t want to put myself in the awkward position of correcting him. For many journalists, there are constant uncomfortable situations that occur with complete strangers.

However, these tense and strange moments that we share with random people are often the most memorable and the most real. There is a reason why journalists should never interview someone they know well, not just for objectivity reasons but because comfort may ironically put a wall between people.

There’s just something about the new and unfamiliar situation that comes along with strangers that helps a story move along in an unaltered sense. It’s just you and the other person. There’s no previous history, nothing to judge each other on, just one person to tell a story and the other person with an ear to listen to it.

That’s the simplistic beauty of journalism. Just you and one other person in a massive stinking heap of awkwardness. But in the end, it creates something real and tangible that will last a lifetime.

What it’s like covering UNI’s academic cuts

Recently, I’ve been writing about the major academic program cuts that have been occurring at UNI. Every public university is going through a crisis: from sky rocketing tuition rates to outstanding cuts in resources, students striving for quality higher education are suffering.

But even though logically it makes sense that there are cuts happening at UNI, the community is still hurting from the loss of cherished faculty, lack of transparency and acknowledgement that perhaps the quality of education provided to students may falter.

While I always considered myself as professional as a freshman college writer could be perhaps, reporting on the budget cuts took a toll.

For weeks, day in and day out I listened to faculty and students mourn over the loss of their academic programs and for faculty, perhaps even the loss of their own jobs.

I always thought that I could handle tough stories. But after a while of writing about the cuts and hearing out people’s passionate pleas for just some recognition, I knew that I was going to eventually break.

That moment happened when I spoke to a faculty member who served the university for the past 38 years and then faced a dilemma. The program that he worked so hard on and received regional recognition for was getting cut because of low graduation rate. He was left with two choices. Leave the program he loved and created but let a younger faculty member get laid off, or retire earlier than planned and say goodbye to many years of hard work and dedication.

It was a story that I heard repeated over and over again for the past few weeks, but for some reason, it was this one man sitting in his dark office with me clinging to each of his words with only a cheap recorder in hand that it finally got to me.

After the interview, I quickly left and started crying. I sobbed while leaving the building, I sobbed while walking toward my dorm and I finally lay in a crumpled heap in my room, pained by the hurt and frustration that I listened to for far too long.

The first thing that I felt was embarrassment. I felt that my reaction was unprofessional, childish and over dramatic. Why am I so upset over the lives of people that I didn’t even know? My academics weren’t getting cut, so why did I feel worrisome when students told me about their concerns over the elimination of their courses?

And most importantly, I wondered how I could possibly give justice to something while also remaining objective?

If I could make everyone listen to the phone conversations or sit in an office with a grieving professor, I would. If I could make the administration let their voice be heard and openly explain everything that’s occurring, I would like for that to happen as well. If I could just make people pay attention to the deep core of things and actually analyze and realize what is going on, instead of merely listening to rumors or allowing their aggravations to override their emotions, that would be the greatest success.

It’s like sitting behind a window and only being able to breathe on the glass and write out a few words with your fingertips. You want people to be inside and see everything, but the few frosted words will have to do.

Recently I learned that one of the professor’s I interviewed is basically left with either a buy out plan or she will be laid off. Another person I talked to sadly told me at the end of our conversation that, “at least you will have substantial stories to put on your resume.”

At the end though, I knew I only had one job that had to be completed.

Write the truth. Make it fair. Leave everything you feel out of it.

And hopefully in the end, people will catch a glimmer of what you witnessed before your eyes.

Why Young People Like Yahoo! News (and not much else)

Everyday, when I look through my Facebook feed for perhaps the millionth time, there is a trend that I often see.

“Yahoo! News: 5 tips for look hot for Spring Break. Yahoo! News: Mother kills 5 children. Yahoo! News: Should Your Child Be Spanked at School?”

Compared to other news sources that are shared on Facebook like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! holds a special place in teens hearts and also shows us where the world of journalism is going.

Convenience. Everyone loves something that is easily accessible with no hassle. Yahoo! has a convenient application, and once you read an article it is shared on Facebook allowing other people to easily click and access the piece. Because after all, he wants to bother reading a thick newspaper or typing in a webpage when it’s all on Facebook?

Another reason why it’s so popular among young people? In my opinion Yahoo! has an exponential amount of entertainment news. People (especially in the younger generation) are generally more interested in, “What You Should Wear This Spring,” rather than, “Another 20 People Died in Syria.” (*cough* unless it’s put into an over simplified fast-paced 30 minute video. *cough*) And if it’s not that, then we love to read the most dramatic thing like “Man Kidnaps 20 Children” or “Teacher and Student: Sex Scandal.” These kind of article are plentiful on Yahoo! and easily attract a lot of attention. After all, it is easier to feel sympathy for something happening close to us that we can understand, rather than an extended global affair that has complicated government and policy issues.

And of course, Yahoo! news is free. While newspapers that offer their articles online are having to resign to restricted page views (The New York Times is reducing its 20 articles to 10) or just flat out paid digital subscriptions, Yahoo! is free. Just a download of its Facebook application, a click here or there and you’re ready to go.

Free, easy and entertaining. These are popular themes in society today. We want something now, we want it with little hassle and you better not make us pay for it. It almost sounds like a fast-food restaurant or the convenient Wal-Mart down the block.

However. I’m not saying that Yahoo! News is bad. In fact, I applaud them for tapping into the social media web and discovering a cheap and efficient way of spreading their work. There is a lot to be said about what the average young person is interested in news wise, however.

If you are under the age of 24, can you remember what was the last news cast that you watched on the television? When was the last time you read an article from an established paper like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or even the Des Moines Register? When was the last time you held an actual newspaper.

And really. Have you ever listened to NPR?

Journalism: Dead or Alive?

The world where people are interested in reading the Sunday paper and kicking back with a mug of Folgers is dead.

Or at least that’s what some people believe.

Since 2008, the United States has seen an interesting churn in the job market and the economy. But even before that, the job market has been revolutionizing into one that no longer upholds previous standards.

If you work hard, you’ll succeed. If you work at a place for a long time, they’ll reward you. You get what you put in.

After American citizens experienced lay off after lay off, no matter the amount of time and hard work they put, it was a realization of tough times to come.

The world of journalism has seen that first hand.

Television, newspapers and radio stations laid off massive amounts of people, because of the decline of viewership and advertisement.

People can get the news anywhere. Citizen journalism has shown that anybody who has access to a computer with internet can spurn up any story and post it on Twitter, whether it’s factual or not.

The trust in media has dropped exponentially. Where we once believed everything that The New York Times said, we now read with a wary eye.

According to, Mike Huckabee once wrote, “I’m sad to report today a death of a good friend to all of us…..Journalism.”

So why would anyone want to pursue a career in journalism when the industry is highly competitive, the starting pay is low and people are judgmental about everything that’s written, no matter how accurate?

For me, it’s because I absolutely love it.

There is a heart racing, mind boggling and adrenaline rushing thrill when uncovering a story.

There is a sense of accomplishment and pride in letting someone’s voice be heard who may otherwise remain a silent figure in a crowd.

And there is just the chance to get to hear a story, and then hope that others will either hear or read that story too and learn something.

I love getting the chance to meet someone new and learn about what they’re passionate about or what they’re opinion may be.

I’ve met the mayor of the town my college is in, I’ve listened in on multiple Republican GOP Candidates, I’ve met a Consul General of Austria.

But perhaps those that are the most prominent in my mind are the “normal” people that one might not take a second look at. Those are the people that have the most interesting stories or might have a passion or skill for something that others overlook.

A director of a school who spoke over an hour and half about how proud she was of her students. A student who was owed over $800 dollars from her workplace. A student who just wanted to use his long board on school property.

While I just write for a student newspaper, these are voices that I’m proud to share and hope that others will hear their message.

There can’t be anything more alive in the world than journalism, because journalism is about life.

Beneath the crumpled pages of newspapers are rhythmic words that beat the pulse of a human being.

Through the flashing images on the television screen is a smiling face of a person who can be your next door neighbor, sharing her survival from cancer.

On the radio is a sole voice, sharing the tragedies from Syria. Objective and direct, but deep down there is a pleading for someone to notice, for someone to actually care and take the time to listen.

So while people may think it’s silly to try and break into journalism in this day and age because they believe it’s dead.

Deep down, journalism can never be dead. Because it’s all about life. We just now have to find a new way to let people see it.