College Media Geeks: Candace Baltz, Student Media Director, Washington State University

Over the past two years, Washington State University student media director Candace Baltz has helped save and re-energize The Daily Evergreen.

On the brink of financial collapse a few semesters back, the WSU campus newspaper is now turning a profit, swimming in awards and laying the groundwork for some bold expansion and innovation efforts. Her own personal and professional investments in this success have left Baltz with a profound respect for the students involved in every aspect of the Evergreen’s operations.

Baltz (right) and the Evergreen EIC and ME enjoy a red-pen editing session.

Baltz (right) enjoys a critique with Evergreen editors.

Here’s why: None of them have to work on the campus newspaper,” she explained. “They choose to. It’s not a requirement for graduation. They don’t get class credit. They don’t get paid much. None of them have to put in the time, effort and hard work that they do. None of them have to give up their nights and weekends to do it. And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of flak that comes from working on a newspaper. So the most rewarding part of the job is watching it pay off for them, when they win awards and scholarships they didn’t think they could, when they land the dream internship, when they get that first job after graduation or get in to their top grad school. When their column goes viral, lands on Colbert and they handle the attention with such aplomb that you realize they could teach you a thing or two. It is a privilege to work with these students. They give me hope for the future of our industry.”

In the exclusive Q&A below — the next installment in our esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Baltz further discusses the privileges, challenges and surprises of her student media director work and offers advice to aspiring campus press leaders. She also shares her perspectives on the current state of college media and the Evergreen’s attempts to be “digital-different.”

What has been the most surprising part of your student media director experience at WSU?

Student media at Washington State University is made up of about 150 student employees, so each day is comprised of varying levels of surprise. But not too long ago, it wasn’t clear if there would still be a Daily Evergreen. The biggest surprise is that we’re still here.

In 2012, WSU was looking for a new GM to shake things up. Like many student and professional papers, the Evergreen lost a significant amount of money during the previous decade. When I came on board in August of that year, there was less than a month’s operating budget in reserve.

Now two years in, we’re starting to see results from some of the changes. We overhauled the rate card, renegotiated contracts and developed new products and revenue streams. We didn’t have the funds to send students to conferences for training, so we invited our alumni to help with weekend workshops. The Evergreen alumni volunteered their time, paid their own travel expenses and spent days getting to know the students, encouraging them and brainstorming with them. Those alumni workshops were extremely popular — standing room only. They motivated the staff, and gave students the tools they needed to roll up their sleeves and recommit to serving the campus community through better and more inclusive coverage, as well as taking on an in-depth series on social issues each semester.

This last year, the Daily Evergreen made a profit for the first time in 13 years. It was also named Best All-Around Daily Student Paper in SPJ Region 10 for the first time in more than a decade. And most elements of the paper — advertising, design, photography, sports, life, social media — placed in national contests. Two years ago, there were few people who believed the Daily Evergreen would still be around today, let alone doing as well as it is. So it is one of the best kinds of surprises to be able to sit here and say, “Yes, the Daily Evergreen is not only still here, it’s stronger than it’s been in a long time.” We’re adding publications and two new departments this year, including a staff dedicated entirely to online and mobile content. It’s a great time to be at the Evergreen.

What’s your advice for new or prospective student media directors, advisers and GMs?

1) Find a mentor. Your job is unlike any other on campus. Respect that. Build a network of other college media advisers who can listen, relate and advise when necessary.

2) Keep a drawer filled with emergency, non-perishable food. You never know what surprises your day will hold, when you may need to work through dinner or feed a hungry student.

3) Any time students ask for your attention, make sure it’s undivided.

4) Be their toughest critic and their biggest advocate.

5) Listen more than you talk. Learn to ask the right questions to help them find their own answers.

6) Be the one they can’t wait to share good news with, and the one they know they can talk to when everything goes wrong.

7) Hold them to professional standards. They’re not there to learn how to be great student journalists. They’re there to learn to be great journalists.

8) Bring donuts on Fridays. Mostly maple bars. It brings the students into the office on a non-production day, gets them in early for best donut selection and allows them to bond, plan and evaluate without the usual deadline pressure.

9) Empower the students. You are their coach, not a player. Show them strategies, help them navigate the game, provide feedback, but stay off the field.

10) Most importantly, though, know that when you sign up to be a student media adviser, you sign up to be a 24/7 adviser, not a 9-5 adviser. Whether the compensation is a three-hour release or a 40-hour salary, it’s never as much as you actually work. The world doesn’t want journalists who only work 9-5. Student journalists deserve a coach who is available to them no matter the day or hour.

In respect to the job’s non-9-to-5 status, what’s an example of a late-night crisis, controversy or question you have been called to help handle?

There have been calls about covering a death for the first time, about confirming information when police aren’t releasing details, about fires and technology failures and relationship problems. About giving a student government leader a heads up on a story so he has a chance to tell his family about his arrest before they read about it in the newspaper. About balancing the public’s right to know with the desire to minimize harm. About conflicts of interest, accuracy, fairness. About pregnancy tests and drug tests and background checks. As an adviser, you will get calls about everything that could go wrong, even things you never realized could possibly go wrong.

But a lot will also go right. And you’ll get those calls, too. Calls about landing that internship, that job, that scholarship. Those are the best calls. But they rarely come at midnight.

“There have been calls about covering a death for the first time, about confirming information when police aren’t releasing details, about fires and technology failures and relationship problems. … About conflicts of interest, accuracy, fairness. About pregnancy tests and drug tests and background checks. As an adviser, you will get calls about everything that could go wrong, even things you never realized could possibly go wrong. But a lot will also go right.”

What’s your honest assessment of college media circa now — from an editorial, innovation or financial perspective?

This is a revolutionary time for college media. We have a unique vantage point to see what’s next with media consumption, but we have to be willing to listen — and quick and lean enough to stay ahead. There is some very interesting innovation coming out of student media right now, and I don’t think it’s too far out there to speculate that the answer to journalism’s funding challenges may be found in college media.

1Jake Sorensen at The Daily Utah Chronicle [left], Arvli Ward at The Daily Bruin, Jason Manning at The State Press and Diana Kramer at the UW Daily are all doing some pretty cool things — finding new revenue streams, creating new opportunities for students and helping to solve the financial challenges we all face in student media. Ryan Frank [at the University of Oregon], of course, was also instrumental in helping show that to stay current, we have to evolve as an industry and can’t be afraid to rebuild and try new things, fail quickly and cheaply, evaluate, tweak and try again.

At the Evergreen, we introduced a form of underwriting to fund our special projects and long-form series. Like some of the other universities, we’re adding a marketing department so we can also function as a full-service advertising agency. Part of the marketing department includes a photo booth that is available to Evergreen clients to rent to promote their events in real time on social media. These sorts of marketing add-ons make a lot of sense. We can’t view other forms of media or marketing as something to compete against. It must be something else we offer and do. We have to be able to help clients reach customers — and we have far more tools to do that now than just adding color to a print ad.

One of the unique strengths of college media is the hyper-local nature of it. We’re seeing large, professional news outlets trying to copy that feel now with niche and neighborhood microsites. And there’s some speculation that will be the future of newspapers and TV news — smaller, leaner, more specialized. From an advertising perspective, this eliminates a lot of waste — clients are able to target their intended customers and only the readers/viewers that are most likely to buy their product. It keeps it relevant to readers, and especially this current generation of college students. Millennials are accustomed to tailoring their incoming information to only what interests and impacts them, and not giving much else a place in their social media feeds. Their social media is hyper-personal, hyper-local. It is, essentially, what college media has always been. So I don’t see this change in media consumption patterns as a threat to college media. I see it as reinforcement to stay small and hyper-local.

The State Press at Arizona State University recently announced it is going “all-digital” instead of just digital-first and dropping its print newspaper. What’s your initial reaction?

It’s easy to sit here, as someone outside of the State Press, and point out all the reasons not to go online-only. There’s a lot to consider, a lot of risk. But that doesn’t make it the wrong move. Just a brave one. And that, more than anything, is what journalism needs right now: bold, brave initiatives that don’t shy away from the challenges of inventing a new business model. Someone has to. Why not college media?

I had the chance to spend a little time with Jason [Manning, ASU student media director] and some of his team down at ASU this spring. I’m a fan. They are a smart, passionate bunch, and if anyone can successfully navigate this transition at this time and build a path for others to follow, the State Press has the talent and skills to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing what they accomplish.

Do you envision the Evergreen making a similar all-digital leap in the near or distant future?

Online-only is not in our immediate future, but a stronger, more engaging online presence is. We are separating the website and app into its own department outside of the newsroom, with a student leader equal to the newspaper’s EIC. The web & mobile manager is responsible for leading a staff to create unique content for web and mobile, while also working closely with the newsroom to help tell their stories online in a fresh way. Our goal is to have a strong print product and a dynamic online presence.

We’re not aiming to be digital-only or digital-first, but digital-different.

If you look around, you’ll notice just a handful of news outlets are successful as online-only. I’m hopeful ASU will add to the list. But it amuses me when I’m asked when the Evergreen will go exclusively online. We wouldn’t ask a campus TV or radio station when they are going to dump their primary medium and go online-only. So why print? Because there is a perception that the newspaper is dying. It’s not. It’s changing. It’s evolving to be more hyper-local, more niche — more like campus newspapers have traditionally been — which makes campus newspapers a great place to be, and an excellent training ground for the future.

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  1. […] College Media Geeks: Candace Baltz, Student Media Director, Washington State … The State Press at Arizona State University recently announced it is going “all-digital” instead of just digital-first and dropping its print newspaper. What's your initial reaction? It's easy to sit here, as someone outside of the State Press, and … Read more on College Media Matters […]

  2. […] swimming in awards and laying the groundwork for some bold expansion and innovation efforts,” College Media Matters says, interviewing Baltz for its “College Media Geeks” […]

  3. […] swimming in awards and laying the groundwork for some bold expansion and innovation efforts,” College Media Matters says, interviewing Baltz for its “College Media Geeks” […]