College Media Geeks: Cameron Austin, Editor, The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech student Cameron Austin became involved with The Collegiate Times during her freshman year — before she even set foot in her first collegiate class. Now a senior, she currently serves as the CT’s editor-in-chief.
“After I discovered my passion for print, I focused on being the best journalist I could be and worked my way into leadership positions,” said Austin, a native of Roanoke, Va., who interned this past summer at The Roanoke Times. “That didn’t happen overnight though. I was turned down the first time I applied to both the editor positions I eventually got. I didn’t let being turned down deter me. I used it as a motivator to work harder and prove I deserve those positions. Now in my final semester of college, I can look back and say my college newspaper has taught me not only valuable professional skills, but has taught me life lessons and provided me with a network of best friends who are interested in the same things as me.”
Austin’s CT network includes Carrie Cousins. As general manager of the media company overseeing the paper, Cousins has had a firsthand glimpse of Austin’s journalistic growth. Her take on the CT’s current student leader:
“She’s got that natural curiosity every good journalist has, she connects with people and sources and, frankly, just understands how to tell a story. Over the years, I have watched her grow and know there are big things in her future. As an editor, its been great this semester to see Cameron think about the big picture — beyond the daily paper to bigger stories and long-term sustainability for our business with focuses on digital and print together. She’s smart, curious and organized and will make a wonderful addition to a big-time newsroom when she graduates.”
In the exclusive Q&A below — part of CMM’s esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Austin discusses the ever-complex tightrope between being a student and a student journalist. She also offers advice to the editors-in-chief who will follow in her stead and current high schoolers searching for the right journalism program.
What is your advice for future student media editors-in-chief?
Being editor-in-chief is like being a parent. Your staff is going to rely on you at all times. You have to prepare yourself to be on duty 24/7. You’ll have to break up fights. You’ll have to make tough decisions. And at the end of the day, you’re going to be really proud of them. Make sure you praise your staff when you have those moments of pride. My biggest advice would be to learn to be assertive. You need to make a decision and stick with it. Ask advice from other editors when necessary, but at the end of the day you need to feel confident with the decisions being made.
How do you balance being a student and a student journalist?
This might be cliché, but I think it’s really all about organization and time management. When there’s downtime in the office, I take advantage of that and get my classwork done. You just have to learn to use your free time productively. My advice? Know yourself and when you’re most productive. I’m much more of a morning person, so I know after a long night in the office I won’t get any classwork done that night. Instead, I go to bed early and get it done first thing in the morning. Try to cater your work to what fits for you.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a j-student in a city like Blacksburg and at a school like VT?
It’s important to accept there’s nothing wrong with being a big fish in a small pond. It’s no secret Virginia Tech is a STEM school, and being a liberal arts student at a school oriented to science and engineering presents its own unique challenges. That being said, Virginia Tech still does a great job providing communication students with the facilities and tools they need to succeed. We just opened a $100 million state-of-the-art Center for the Arts, which features an HD broadcast studio for journalism students to use. So not all the money goes to the seemingly millions of engineering students!
And, yes, Blacksburg is a small town. But that works in a young journalist’s favor. A small town provides new journalists the perfect opportunity to learn how to cover local government, crime, business, etc. You learn how to cover “real world” things in a town that’s small and comfortable. I couldn’t imagine covering a city council meeting in Chicago or D.C. But when I go and cover Blacksburg Town Council, I see familiar faces and it’s easier to build a connection.
“Being editor-in-chief is like being a parent. Your staff is going to rely on you at all times. You have to prepare yourself to be on duty 24/7. You’ll have to break up fights. You’ll have to make tough decisions. And at the end of the day, you’re going to be really proud of them. Make sure you praise your staff when you have those moments of pride.”
What’s your advice to high schoolers searching for the best j-school or program?
My biggest advice: Don’t choose your school based on how well-known their journalism program is. You could go to the best journalism school in the country, but if you don’t get the out-of-classroom experience and seek out those extracurriculars, you’re going to leave college unprepared for what the job market is like.
Find a school that has a passionate and driven student media. In terms of the classroom, I would really recommend a program that focuses heavily on writing classes. No matter what field you eventually go in to, being a strong writer is imperative. Multimedia is important too though.
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) You write your 300-word Media Writing assignment 10 minutes before class because you chose to focus on writing a 2,000-word centerpiece for the school newspaper. #journalismstudentproblems
2) Ordered Jimmy Johns to the newsroom for a third time this week. Don’t judge. They deliver long after the dining halls have closed and normal students have had dinner. #journalismstudentproblems
3) You have a love/hate relationship with the PR department at your school. Yes, they give you information. But couldn’t they give you a littttlee bit more? #journalismstudentproblems
What has been an especially memorable reporting assignment or journalism class experience so far?
This past spring semester, I broke and covered my first murder. We got a tip that one of our fellow students had been missing for 48 hours. We started looking in to it and learned foul play was involved and the local police already had a person of interest. My co-news editor and I started digging and headed to the courthouse to see if any search or arrest warrants had been filed.
We must have showed up at just the right time because an arrest warrant had been filed for the second-degree murder of this student. We had the student’s name and the alleged suspect’s name confirmed before any other news outlet.
It ended up being a national story and we had news outlets from across the country calling us to use our work. It was a great firsthand lesson in how breaking news actually works, and the importance of getting it right. It was a proud moment for us because even though we were student journalists, we were able to get the scoop first. It taught me to be diligent, factual and careful when it comes to crime reporting.
Austin’s favorite viral video