Family Member: So what are you doing with your life these days?
Me: I’m a journalist.
Family Member: Oh, so you write for The Atlanta Journal Constitution?
Me: No, I write for my University newspaper.
Family Member: Oh. I thought you meant you were, like, a real journalist.
Nothing like the holidays to bring out the best in your family, huh? This was an actual conversation I had with a relative who shall remain nameless . . . Nana. My first reaction was to laugh it off, but the more I thought about it, the more the comment stung. So I did what any other journalist would do – I opened up my blog to complain about it.
The Student Journalist has a difficult job. On one hand, we are required to print quality newspapers that will hold up under journalistic review. On the other, we are still enrolled in classes learning things like Media Law, Advanced AP Style, and the different kinds of ledes. We have to take what we learn in the classroom, learn it quickly and efficiently, and then turn around and print a newspaper with all of these skills. Doctors and nurses get years of practice in classroom before being thrown into the world of their profession. Student Journalists, however, get the responsibility of deadline crises and InDesign crashes on a daily basis. There’s no such thing as “practice” to a Student Journalist.
In a recent post, Checklist for being a “real” journalist, I found that as a Student Journalist I was able to check off everything on the list. We face challenges in the newsroom every day. Just recently, one of our editors was arrested during the Occupy Atlanta protests for merely trying to get a photo. Of course, the incident made our front page, but even that isn’t enough to make people take us seriously sometimes. I’ve put together a list of things that Student Journalists get to experience that “real world” journalists often times don’t.
- Research papers We’ve been trained as journalists to write the most with the least, meaning use fewer words to tell the story. Then your history professor tells you to write an eight-page paper about environmentalism in the 1970s. Because you’re a journalist, the actual act of writing the paper isn’t difficult. The hard part is adjusting your writing technique from “less is more” to “use every adjective imaginable in order to reach my page requirements.”
- University Police, also known around campus as the Rent-a-cops. They will almost never cooperate with you.
- Paychecks Think you don’t get paid enough at your desk job downtown? I work approximately 14 to 16 hours a day. I get paid a stipend. I pay rent on a crappy apartment close to campus. I pay tuition. I pay student fees. I pay for books. I pay for the Meal Plan (because it’s convenient, not because it’s good). I pay for my car. I pay for gas. I pay for my photography equipment. I get a stipend that doesn’t cover even a fraction of those costs. We often have to pick up other jobs at terrible hours to help cover with our stipend doesn’t even begin to.
- Final exams There’s no such thing as a break for a journalist during finals week. If you’re not writing articles, you’re studying. If you’re not studying, you’re writing articles. You’re usually trying to do both, while drinking ungodly amounts of caffeine and alcohol. My sophomore year of college, I didn’t sleep for a consecutive 72 hours because I was studying and trying to write and edit stories. I showed up with mismatching shoes and no bra to my Writing for Mass Media final. Sleep is already something that a journalist lacks, but throw in final exams and you’ll find yourself a community of walking zombies in the newsroom.
These are just SOME of the daily challenges we face as journalists. Many people would look at these and ask why I continue to be a Student Journalist. Well, because I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I was made for this job. This job was made for me. It’s not just a “temporary thing” for me. Being a journalist is my dream job. The way I see it, if I can handle these conditions and succeed, then I’m ready for my byline in “The New York Times.”