College Media Geeks: Taylor Carlier, Comm. Coordinator, Society of Professional Journalists
While at Purdue University, Taylor Carlier created and stuck to a five-point plan for wildly succeeding as a journalism student extraordinaire: “asking a lot of questions and getting a lot of advice … making mistakes, taking risks and putting myself on a national stage for humiliation sometimes.”
Prior to her graduation this past May with a journalism degree, many of those questions, words of wisdom, mistakes, risks and outright humiliations occurred in connection with The Exponent, Purdue’s student newspaper. By Carlier’s own admission, “I spent a lot of my college career in the Exponent’s newsroom.”
She served the top-notch campus news outlet in a variety of capacities — from campus desk reporter, opinions columnist and opinions editor to training editor and special projects editor.
She also interned at The Lafayette Journal and Courier, covered a court case as a stringer for Reuters and crafted a social media communications plan for a local non-profit. Presently, she’s communications coordinator for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) — which by the way is sporting a revised Code of Ethics.
In the exclusive Q&A below — part of CMM’s esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Carlier, a native of Indianapolis, Ind., further discusses her Exponent gigs and Purdue j-student days. She also shares advice with current underclassmen who are seeking short-term and long-term journalism success and gamely submits her nominations for #journalismstudentproblems.
What did you appreciate most about the program at Purdue?
Journalism education at Purdue itself is scarce at best, but I made it work to my advantage. Probably the most useful course I took at Purdue was with Jane Natt — I took everything she taught, because she was that amazing. She started a class in recent years for students to learn how to use social media and related tools professionally for news organizations and companies in general. That class was life changing. I use so many skills I picked up from that class on a daily basis, especially at my job with SPJ. She taught us everything from starting and maintaining a WordPress blog with coding to shooting publish-worthy video and photos on our iPhones. That class was like a second job unto itself, but well worth it.
Other than her classes, my main journalism classroom was located at the Exponent. I learned hands-on there by making mistakes, taking risks and putting myself on a national stage for humiliation sometimes. Carl Abernathy [news adviser] is a stickler for good grammar and AP style, and though he would probably say I am far from amazing at having those skills, his constant nagging made me a better writer by far.
To take risks, I recommend doing extra work and research. Some of my best stories were ones I stumbled upon by talking to people or finding follow-up stories to do that were never touched on by anyone else. Believe it or not, many people are more open to talking with a college paper because you are a student, so take a risk and contact sources who have said no to everyone else.
Sometimes taking a risk involves using a quote in a lede (GASP). I did this on an important story. My news adviser didn’t like it much. And yet I was praised for it at a journalism event by editors from other Indiana papers. So, whether or not it was completely necessary, I think taking that risk paid off in this case, because it grabbed my readers’ attention like I wanted it to.
Probably the best way to take a risk, though, is to pitch crazy story ideas. You might get shut down, or you might not, but a college newspaper is the best place to write about Miley Cyrus, marijuana legalization or lingerie trends. You can have fun writing more off-the-wall material. And, more often than not, it ends up being a big hit with your college student audience — minus the professors of course.
What are a few other secrets to succeeding as a j-student?
1) Write for your college newspaper, or whatever publication you have available at your school.
2) Get a summer writing internship, or two.
3) Find mentors — academic, spiritual or journalism related. Just find them and use them.
4) Take risks with your writing. It is easiest to do it under the safety umbrella of a college publication than anywhere else, and can be really rewarding if those risks work.
5) Listen to criticism, but only the constructive kind. The other kind will be more prevalent, so this one is particularly hard. Everyone is a critic — even your own mother.
6) Get a second job that involves obtaining free caffeine in copious amounts. I chose to be a barista for a local coffee shop, which worked well.
7) Network with sources and don’t burn bridges. Especially on a college campus, you will reuse the same sources a lot, so become their new best friend.
8) Don’t be so robotic in interviews with sources. My best interviews were ones where we both forgot we were in an interview, because it was just like two best friends talking. That’s when you get the best quotes.
9) Stop working sometimes. It’s OK to actually be a college student every once in a while — unless breaking news happens, then you are screwed.
10) Leave the newsroom. News doesn’t happen inside of it, only outside.
Fun question alert: You are given a gazillion dollars to start a journalism school from scratch, no restrictions. What are a few things you would invest in or build first?
Well, first, not a building. I would buy iPhones, iPads with keyboard attachments, MacBook Pros and great cameras. A j-school doesn’t need walls necessarily, just great instructors, news to cover and technology.
“If you don’t want to be stressed and running in circles all the time, don’t go into journalism. But if you want to tell people’s stories that would otherwise go unheard, expose corruption to help better people’s lives, meet a lot of interesting people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and be the first to know everything happening in your community, then journalism is right for you.”
What do you tell people who wonder why anyone would study or pursue a career in journalism nowadays?
What I say is that I didn’t choose journalism for the money. I chose it to make a difference. If you don’t want to be stressed and running in circles all the time, don’t go into journalism. But if you want to tell people’s stories that would otherwise go unheard, expose corruption to help better people’s lives, meet a lot of interesting people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and be the first to know everything happening in your community, then journalism is right for you.
I think this is a really important time in journalism, because the up-and-coming generation is making many in the old journalism world obsolete with our social media and technology skills. That is what makes it exciting. New journalists are actually in demand because the forms that people are consuming news are more in tune with what the younger generation already knows how to do. So for all those who think journalism is dying, they are wrong. It is just changing for the better and with the times — and the younger generation is spearheading this movement.
The #firstworldproblems and College Problems phenomena have been crazy popular in recent semesters. Building on those, what are a few short entries you would offer to a list of Journalism Student Problems?
1) Your assignments and textbooks are stained with newspaper ink and can’t be turned in or sold back. #journalismstudentproblems
2) All of your housemates stop reading the news, because they figure they can just get it all from you. #journalismstudentproblems
3) Your Snapchats consist of your co-workers sitting next to you in the newsroom, your coffee or the layout for tomorrow’s paper. #journalismstudentproblems
4) Your professor makes fun of an article in the college paper, which just so happens to be yours. #journalismstudentproblems
5) All of your non-journalism professors cannot properly use grammar or punctuation in their PowerPoints, so you spend your class periods silently editing them all. #journalismstudentproblems
6) You become the go-to person in class for all current news issues, because no one else knows what is happening in the world for some reason. #journalismstudentproblems
7) While everyone else is posting their exam scores on social media, you are promoting your most recent article. #journalismstudentproblems
8) You skip class to cover breaking news on campus, which always ends up being the only class day the professor takes attendance. #journalismstudentproblems
9) Every conversation you have with a person you meet at a party becomes a potential story idea. #journalismstudentproblems
10) You have the Jimmy John’s website as one of your computer bookmarks. #journalismstudentproblems