Student Journalists’ Rewards: Salaried, Credited or Clipped?

What should students *earn* for being journalists while still in school?  Money?  Course credit?  Extra-curricular activity points?  Or just clips, good-ol’ experience, and a résumé boost?

It is a loaded question and one of the few that really cuts to the heart of collegemediatopia’s purpose, brought up most recently by a University of Oregon j-student in the wake of the Emerald student newspaper strike.  In respect to the paper’s purported financial concerns, the student wrote a letter to the editor in which she wondered why some of the Emerald‘s student staffers should earn money for their work, especially given the pub’s poor economic state and the many students willing to write for free.

In her words: “The current reporters are doing a fine job, but if they don’t find portfolio-worthy clips to be adequate payment for the invaluable experience they’re gaining as a member of the staff, I encourage them to consider another line of work.”

As I’ve written before, when done right and with full enthusiasm, running or writing for a student newspaper, big or small, daily or weekly, is a full-time job.  The reality is that determining just rewards for such work is *incredibly* complicated and dependent on a number of factors- the news outlet’s budget, its level of independence, and its oversight (i.e. who is empowered to make the salary/stipend decisions?).

This issue also rides the third rail of collegemediatopia, directly atop the haves and have nots divide.  The truth is that a lot of j-students do a lot of great work at a lot of college media outlets, and only a small percentage actually get paid for their work.  The notion of student reporters being paid at the weekly paper I helped run during my undergrad days at a small liberal arts college would have created laughter loud enough to echo off the walls of the campus chapel annex that had been converted into our newsroom.

In respect to the Emerald and other biggie student pubs suffering economic woes: Is the letter writer right?  Is it irresponsible to complain about financial problems while the editorial team receives a salary that a lot of j-students do not get for doing the same thing?  And bigger picture: Should portfolio-worthy clips or experience you can tout in a job interview be payment enough for a j-student’s hard work?  Or as a student said to me recently, “Isn’t the bling in the byline?”

3 Responses to “Student Journalists’ Rewards: Salaried, Credited or Clipped?”
  1. Mike says:

    There is another factor in play here: many of our students are putting themselves through school. It’s rather easy to say “it shouldn’t be about the money” when you don’t have to pay for everything yourself.

    I see students here putting in 35-40+ hours a week in addition to 12+ credits. When would they have time for another job?

  2. Daniel says:

    I agree with Mike. I wouldn’t have worked for the Emerald if they didn’t pay. Although the pay isn’t great, it did help cover beer, etc.

  3. Dan Reimold says:

    *Absolutely.* Both comments right on. Money is a huge factor in motivating staff, especially seemingly to push productivity from student club levels to that on par with a job/first priority. It’s one of those cyclical things in collegemediatopia- the better/bigger outlets make money and thus can pay j-students who in turn make the outlets even bigger/better. It’s sad that most students worldwide who are paying their way through school do NOT receive any money for their work on a campus media outlet. And of course the worse the financial outlooks get, the more likely this debate about staff pay will come into play, unless of course micropayments or Bryan Murley or Obama saves the day before that!