College Media Geeks: Kyle Plantz, Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Free Press, Boston University
The FreeP is an editorial wonder and — at the moment — a financial mess. The nearly 45-year-old student newspaper at Boston University has launched a new fundraising drive, in part to pay off a $70,000 make-or-break debt and maintain some semblance of a print presence.
As the #FreePFund campaign reminds readers, former staffers and friends, “Founded in 1970 at the time of student protests following the Kent State shootings, the FreeP has been reporting daily university and city news ever since. Over several decades, the many students involved with The Daily Free Press have had the invaluable opportunity to learn the basic operations of print and online journalism, the significance of news reporting in an urban environment and how to craft a written journalistic voice.”
Plantz’s voice is currently rising to a shout in the FreeP newsroom for a specific reason. As the paper’s editor-in-chief, Plantz has promised to scream the names of everyone who donates $5 to the fundraising campaign — at random moments during production nights.
According to a campaign update yesterday, this full-throated support of the paper has apparently caused him to lose his voice — although there is no indication he plans to stop shouting.
— Kyle Plantz (@kylejplantz) November 10, 2014
In deference to his passion and hard work, this post is my shout-out to Plantz, a student journalist of immense talent and experience. Along with his FreeP EIC status, he is a metro correspondent for The Boston Globe, a USA TODAY College correspondent, a part of the BUTV10 news program “The Wire” and an office assistant in BU’s Department of Journalism.
In the exclusive Q&A below — conducted prior to the current FreeP fundraising efforts — Plantz discusses his personal journalism journey at BU and within the city of Boston. He also offers advice to students interested in following in his stead and gaining a foothold in a changing but still highly relevant field. Our back-and-forth is the latest installment of CMM’s esteemed College Media Geeks interview series.
How have you worked to make the most of your time as a journalism student?
I really have just taken advantage of all the opportunities available to me and used them to help me grow as a journalist. I got involved early in my freshman year — which I highly encourage all students do — in The Daily Free Press. I started off as a staff writer covering campus and city news. As a staff writer, you really only write one or two stories a week, but if you show eagerness to do more, do what the editor asks and show that your writing can improve, the editors will take notice and start to rely on you for more stories. That’s what happened for me and I was able to climb the ranks quickly. I became a city associate editor my second semester, then city editor in the fall semester of my sophomore year and now I’m editor-in-chief.
Not only did I take advantage of The FreeP, but I also cultivated relationships with my professors. My first semester I signed up for this class called Introduction to Journalism (JO100). It’s not a class required for journalism students — it’s only a two-credit seminar for people to see if they are interested in journalism. I thought, “Hey, why not take it and see if I even like journalism.” The class had 10 students in it and was taught by Professor William McKeen, the head of the journalism department. The class was very intimate and I got to establish a relationship with him early on. He brought in guests from National Geographic and The New York Times and other places, some really fascinating people. I haven’t had a class like that since that one where I just got to learn from people out in the field and hear their stories. Anyway, at the end of the semester, he said he was looking for office assistants. I applied and now for [more than] a year and a half, I’ve been working with him in the journalism department. I wouldn’t have received that opportunity unless I decided to take that class and gotten to know my professor. Your professors can introduce you to some amazing people, set you up with internships and help guide you on your career.
Not only should you establish relationships with your professors, but also your peers. This is where The FreeP has been extremely beneficial for me. I actually heard about the co-op program at The Boston Globe that I did [last spring semester] in the FreeP office because a few of my older editors have done it before. Once I heard about it and talked with them about the experience, I knew it was something I was interested in. So I applied, went to my interviews, and since my interviewer knew my peers — how hard-working they are and the great content they produce — I felt like I already had a leg-up on other applicants.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a j-student in a city like Boston and at a school like BU?
There are so many advantages to being a journalism student in a city like Boston. For one, there’s always something going on, so there’s always something to cover. Since BU is such a large school in the city, there’s always something happening on campus. While BU is a large school, the College of Communication is one of the smaller colleges at the university. So I get that small school feel while still being at a large institution. I also value BU’s liberal arts curriculum, which encourages me to take classes outside of my discipline. I am working on two minors in history and political science. Not only am I getting experience from my journalism classes, but I am also specializing in something I am interested in that hopefully I can use as a journalist.
Now I know several people always ask about when will they start taking journalism classes since they’re afraid they won’t start until later in their collegiate career. At BU, I took my first journalism class first semester freshman year, but I know many people who don’t start until their sophomore year. That’s why I always say, “Get involved early.” You can get the journalism experience right away and then by the time you take the classes, you are a pro at them. The FreeP definitely put me at an advantage with that and all of my professors know that I have the skills already since I started early. Now they push me to do more, dig deeper or do bigger projects because I am ahead. I find that more meaningful than, say, learning to write a basic lede in class, because it helps me push the boundaries on what I can do.
Also living in Boston has its advantages. There are several media outlets and news agencies that are always looking for interns and to get students’ feet wet in the field. Boston really is a college town since there are so many schools in the area, which makes it a young city. So many people here know what it’s like to be a struggling journalism student, want to help out and give us a chance. However, going to a big school and living in a “big” city can be intimidating for many people. Some people can get lost in the crowd and lose their way. Once again, that’s why I say get involved early because you get experience and you meet people who have the same interests as you and can help you get started.
“Since working for a campus publication can be extremely stressful, time-consuming and sometimes soul crushing, you need to constantly stay in tune with how you are doing as a human. For instance, I know exactly how far I can push myself before I realize I’m going to give myself an aneurysm.”
What are a few secrets to surviving and succeeding as a j-student?
I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to get involved early. I wouldn’t be where I am today unless I joined The Daily Free Press my freshman year. But I am also a huge proponent of not just doing things in your major. As I said before, I like the idea of being a well-rounded individual who is passionate and dedicated about journalism, but also knows how to relax and be a college student. With that said, I joined the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon my freshman year and it’s been a great time getting to know the brothers and developing those relationships. It’s important to do things you want to do in college. This is the time to explore and figure out what you like and want to do with your life. I actually encourage my FreeP staff to join other groups because that way they have another outlet to do what they want and relax from the FreeP for a bit. [In addition] the group they join and new people they meet could also lead to new story ideas, so it’s a win-win situation.
Since working for a campus publication can be extremely stressful, time-consuming and sometimes soul crushing (in the best way possible), you need to constantly stay in tune with how you are doing as a human. For instance, I know exactly how far I can push myself before I realize I’m going to give myself an aneurysm. I can get by on two hours sleep for a week, but come the weekend I know I need to crash before starting again on Monday. Coffee is also a huge asset. It’s a typical journalist’s response, but it’s true. Learn to love coffee or tea or anything that has caffeine for those late journalism nights or even for regular schoolwork. Oh, and hand sanitizer. Can’t get sick on deadline now, can we?
What do you tell people who wonder why anyone would study or pursue a career in journalism nowadays?
I’m a Student Admissions Representative for the Admissions Reception Center on campus, so this is a natural question I get on my tours. The one thing that makes me cringe is when anyone asks, “Why are you studying journalism when it’s a dying field?” This question just irks me. Journalism isn’t dying. Newspapers aren’t doing well and some media outlets are struggling to enter the digital era, but there will always be a need for journalists to report on what’s happening and to be a watchdog of the government. …
The traditional journalism jobs are declining, but there’s a whole other world out there in online where there are jobs. Look at sites like Buzzfeed, Vox and FiveThirtyEight. They are doing extremely well and producing interesting content readers want to click on. I feel confident moving forward in my career that I will have the skills and contacts to help me land my first job. It might not be at a newspaper where I thought I would be in ninth grade, but it could be at a news site. My professors know the field is different than how they entered it years ago and they want us to succeed, so they are preparing us for what’s out there. And there’s no better experience than to actually go out and do it. Working for a professional media outlet, no matter how big or small, is an incredible experience for a college student to do before they graduate and have to do that full-time. It gives them a taste of what the real world is like and that’s really important training.
So to all those parents out there that are nervous about their child entering journalism: If your child is passionate about journalism, writing, reporting on what happens every day, hearing people’s stories and coming up with a creative way to present that to people, they will do fine and you should encourage them to follow their dreams. Yes, it is a tough market to enter, but everyone is unique and brings something new to the table. Just do what you do best and there’ll be a place for you.
What has been the most surprising or unexpected part of your journalism program so far?
I came from a high school that didn’t have any journalism classes or a school paper to work on. I blindly applied to communication schools knowing I had an interest in journalism, but not entirely sure if it was for me or if I was even good at it. That’s why I ultimately decided on BU and the College of Communication here, because I wanted to be able to change my mind if I decided journalism wasn’t going to work out. I started working at The Daily Free Press my first semester. I remember the first story I ever wrote. The event I was going to was canceled and I didn’t receive my next assignment until about noon that day. I had a 5 p.m. deadline. My story was about the new labor statistics that came out for the month and I was trying to connect with all these people. I skipped my afternoon class that day just to try to contact people. Eventually three people got back to me — of course at like 4 p.m. — but I just remember the stress, adrenaline rush and even more stress of covering my first story.
There were many times during my first semester I wanted to quit and was unsure what my future held for journalism. But one time when I was at a party, I ran into the former editor-in-chief of the paper and I was honest with her and told her I was having issues. She told me to stick it out, everyone has those issues and that I will go far. I took her advice and the next thing I knew, the city editor was calling me, telling me I should apply to be city associate editor for the next semester. It happens, but not too often, that a second-semester freshman is an associate editor, so to be one of the youngest in the office was exciting and I knew I would learn so much. And then the Boston Marathon bombings happened that year and I can remember everything that happened for that entire week. I was the “go-to” person in the office to cover everything for the bombings. I wrote the breaking story when it happened. I went to the interfaith service when President Obama was in town. I wrote the story when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. I went to MIT Officer Sean Collier’s memorial. And I was in the courtroom when Tsarnaev was brought in a few months later. The thing about that experience that surprised me was that I wasn’t treated as a student journalist. Not once did I ever feel intimidated or unworthy of being there. I was treated as someone would be treated at, say, The New York Times or The Boston Globe. That was my first real taste of what it was like covering a national breaking news event and what it meant to be a legitimate journalist in the real world.
After my term as city editor in fall 2013, I applied to the co-op at the Globe, not sure if I was even going to get it. I knew I was one of the younger candidates applying and I was sure there were other people more qualified than me, but I figured, “Why not give it a chance?” I felt extremely lucky to get a position there. I would have been happy with anything. But I learned a lot from being in the professional environment and I learned more about what exactly I want to do in journalism. If you asked me freshman year where would I be right now, I wouldn’t have known. The opportunities I have been given and support from my peers at The Daily Free Press, brothers in my fraternity and from my professors have been amazing and that’s something I wasn’t expecting when I first started. I thought I would have to do everything on my own, but once again that’s why I say get involved early and cultivate relationships with your peers and professors. That’s what I really like about the journalism program here. They make it so easy to connect with professors and figure out what you want to do. I couldn’t imagine figuring out everything on my own and I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support behind me.
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) When you start writing essays for class in AP style and then have to go back through and edit everything again. #journalismstudentproblems
2) The struggle of taking a creative writing class after you are trained to write concisely and to the point without fluff. #journalismstudentproblems
3) The struggle of interviewing Dining Services on campus and then having them offer you free food to share with other editors — is it wrong for us to take? #journalismstudentproblems
4) When you’re more heartbroken about a source not calling you back than you are about a love interest not calling you back. #journalismstudentproblems
Plantz’s favorite viral video