Young Journalist: ‘If I Was at a College Newspaper Today, I’d Quit’

Antiquated. Curmudgeonly. Doomed. Lauren Rabaino uses a number of words to describe student journalism circa 2011 — innovative, awesome, and digitally aware are not among them.

In a recent blog post/rant, the standout young journalist and designer extraordinaire waxes pessimistic about the current state of college media. Her ire originated in Hollywood. While attending and speaking at the recent ACP National College Journalism Convention, Rabaino ran into the general manager of her former student newspaper, The Mustang Daily at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Rabaino ended her stint as the paper’s web editor in December 2009.

The eye-opening news the GM broke to her: Now 15 months after her departure, the Daily is still searching for a replacement. As the GM told her, “We just can’t find anyone who wants to be a web editor in journalism!”

The position-filling #epicfail underscored a theme Rabaino could not escape throughout her convention travails: Too many j-students today are not itching to innovate or even learn the basics of Journalism 2.0.

In Rabaino’s words: “Why don’t students WANT to learn this stuff? College media confuses me. At least five different people at the conference (usually the lone web champion or the point-of-desperation advisor) told me that they just can’t get students motivated about the web. They just can’t get them to care about posting stories online or engaging with the audience through social media or excited about learning video. What the hell?”

The exchanges and whole experience reminded her “how doomed college media is.” As she concluded her post, “If I was … at a college newspaper today, I’d quit. I’d start my own competitor news site on campus and leave the antiquated, curmudgeonly, long-established college media in the dust.”

5 Responses to “Young Journalist: ‘If I Was at a College Newspaper Today, I’d Quit’”
  1. My theory: A lot of journalism students aren’t in it for the journalism or the innovation. They’re in for a job — any job. It’s a thoroughly middle-class attitude, reflective of the larger problems associated with higher education in Americn culture, but it’s one that most students fail to realize won’t take them anywhere in the long run.

    Think about it: Journalism generally and innovation more broadly are knowledge-based fields. They produce ideas. They move culture, democracy, economics, etc., forward. They’re risk-taking fields.

    Now poll the students in any journalism program. Are they in it for the ideas, for the innovation? Most likely the answer is no. They’re going to graduate with $25K+ in debt (the national average). They can’t afford to be innovators. That’s why they want the safe gig in PR and marketing.

    That’s not a defense of the prevailing wisdom among journalism undergrads. It’s just the way it is.

    Brian Steffen
    Simpson Collegr

  2. Dan says:

    Maybe it’s because we don’t have a J-School so we’re used to pulling in people from all majors, but we have plenty of students who are more than willing to do web stuff.

    I disagree with one of her points. Yes everyone from all sections should be posting their own stuff, but you do need a single person who can oversee everyone.

    Ideally, this should be someone who knows some about journalism and keeps up to date on emerging technologies and knows some about technology and design in general.

    This person can then oversee everyone else so that your paper has a consistant web vision.

    The Computer Science department can be your paper’s best friend.

  3. Classic case of “When I was your age…” syndrome. I think she’s misremembering how passionate she and her colleagues were.

  4. I’m not an industry insider, so I can’t comment on the reality of Rabaino’s rant, but if it is true, then it’s a shame. Social media offers levels of exposure and insight that simply was unobtainable a decade ago.

    Journalists used to be the gatekeepers of information, where as now, thanks in large part to the web, they have to adapt to sharing it in a public space. Sure there are many issues with citizen journalism, but if traditional journalists don’t engage with it, then they’re doing themselves a great injustice.

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