Owning Up: The Struggles of Being a Student Journalist

Being a student journalist is hard: You have to be able to juggle classes, homework, friends, food, sleep, in my case a varsity sport and then, somehow, on top of all that, manage to find sources, put in the work to dig a little deeper on your story, organize time to schedule interviews and then write your stories – often in addition to the rest of your class work.

But being a student journalist is not that hard.

Confused yet? Let me explain.

Being a student journalist is hard…but it’s not the hardest thing you will ever have to cope with in your life. Yesterday in class we read an article about the shooting in Canada and I would recommend that everyone reads this article – it is one of the strongest pieces of writing I have ever read: You can’t help but be affected as you live through the entire event in the article.

Student journalism is not that kind of hard: we are not in a life or death situation, and we do not have to try and report on them. But it’s not easy and this week I will admit that it got the better of me.

Time management has never, ever, been my strong suit. I used to live by the philosophy that my best work was done only when I started it after 11 the night before: not the most efficient life motto but somehow I always managed to get away with it. Sure it led to some sleepless nights, scrambled early mornings and constant moments where I hated myself for leaving a project so late, but I always made it through…and on the rare occasion that I didn’t, the only person implicated was myself.

Journalism isn’t like that.  You can’t leave it to the last minute. In order to write an effective story, you can’t wait the day before deadline to begin contacting your sources. If you do, and are lucky enough to schedule an interview that day, you have absolutely no time to chase down any possible leads that may come from that source. And more so, it’s bad practice and unprofessional to email someone urgently, expecting them to make time for you in their day. You need to be organized and proactive. I will raise my hand and admit that this is something I still struggle with.

It’s not like an English class where if I hand in my essay late the only consequence is a drop in my grade. Or if I hand in a sub-par piece of writing I only have to worry about the professor reading it and  getting a lower grade. With journalism, if you don’t hand something in on time you’re letting down the rest of the paper and putting your editors in a horrible position. If you miss your deadline then your article won’t get printed. And if your article doesn’t get printed then your editors need to find something else to fill that real estate. You can’t hand in an article a day late and ask for all the papers from that day to be recalled so you can have them reprinted with your article in it: it doesn’t work like that.

…Hit your deadlines!

One of the four key aspects to being a successful journalist and this week I will admit that I missed my deadline. I am lucky that it was worked so that both articles I wrote this week made it to the website and into print. But this deserves no kudos on my behalf and instead I would like to thank the editors of The Campus for being so accommodating and working so hard to get all the articles out there and making sure they are the best articles they could be.

The usual schedule of a week should be as follows: Pitch a story Thursday, have a draft done for class on Tuesday at the latest and have the revised copy to your editor by that night at the latest, in order to allow for any final tweaks or edits. My final copies didn’t make it to the editors until Thursday afternoon/evening – the day the paper gets laid out and sent to print.

Being so late led to miscommunications, the wrong revisions of the articles being published and an immense fear that either:
a. my beautiful article I had worked  hard on would not be published, or
b. possibly the worse alternative that the original rough draft would be published and not my final, polished copy.

People talk abut cutting it fine, well I shredded this deadline and was just lucky that The Campus editors were obliging enough and willing to pick up the pieces.

I’m grateful this week – maybe the spirit of thanksgiving is creeping up on me, maybe its the effects of reading that article, but this week when I read my name in the byline I know I am lucky that it is there. As much as a grumble about how hard it is to be a student journalist, I know it’s not life or death hard.