The Filak Furlough Tour landed in Ames, Iowa for a couple fun days of teaching classes and working with student journalists. This one was particularly neat for me because the first journalism teacher I ever had went here. Steve Lorenzo used to regale us with stories about his “sophomore year at Iowa State” when he would work for “The Daily.”
I remember one point where Steve did his “Back in (YEAR) when I was a sophomore at Iowa State…” thing and I chimed in with “Yeah, Steve, back in (YEAR) when I was in third grade…” I thought it was funny at the time because he was 30 and I was 19, but I have since gotten my “You Old” comeuppance, as students are now the same age as my kid…
Ugh. Let’s get on with Part II
IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY – AMES, IOWA
THE TOPIC: Hanging out with the students at The Daily and learning about how they do student media.
THE BASICS: Student media has and will always have a spot in my heart. I loved working at the student media outlets like The Daily Cardinal and the Badger Yearbook when I was in school. I also really loved working with the kids at Mizzou, Ball State and UWO as an adviser, editor and whatever else. Students who take on student media have this thing about them that just makes me want to do everything I can to help them out.
(They also have a thing about them that makes Amy want to feed them constantly. We’ve done more than a few chili suppers, holiday dinners and other such “Eat! Eat!” events where we shovel food at them like it’s going out of style.)
The students asked a lot of good questions about how to find stories, how to make sure they’re covering the campus adequately and how to improve writing. The one thing that they asked that really hit home with me was this: How do you recruit and retain staff members?
Trying to find people to work at the various student media outlets I’ve worked with has been like trying to find volunteers muck out Port-A-Potties. They either refuse to come to work, agree and then bail or they try a little and leave. In most cases, students tell me they have too much other stuff to do, they don’t have the time in general or they “don’t plan to work for a newspaper. (That last one makes me crazy.)
Here are the best bits of advice I could come up with for the students there:
LOOK FOR SKILLS, NOT BODIES: In a lot of cases, we do the same thing we always do when it comes to recruiting: We go to the intro writing class, tell the kids there they need clips to get a job/internship and that we’re having a meeting that night. That can work in some cases but not most.
What we really should be looking for are skills that can benefit the newspaper and thus the readership, not people who seem to be majoring in the right field. So, start going to the places where those skills live.
You want better editorial cartoons? Check out the art department and see who has drawing classes you could talk to. Same thing is true if you want some different angles on photography.
You want some political coverage? Hey, poli sci people seem to grow on trees around most campuses. Everyone thinks they’re going to be the next political voice of a generation, so let’s see if they can make it work. This might be a great spot for coverage of the local student government, columns that deal with local politics or even a podcast that could give people a chance to hear about some topics they might otherwise miss.
Speaking of podcasts, see if there are people with interests in a field that would be willing to do one or two for publication on your site. Back when podcasting was really new, we had a couple kids who majored in science areas (I can’t remember what that major was, nor can I remember how we ended up with science kids in the newsroom… It might have been a fever dream…). They wanted to do a weekly podcast, so we let them. Turned out to be one of the better elements of our digital presence.
Think about the computer science or information services people who love computers for improvements to your digital end. Design folks might find an interest in reworking your color palettes or your home page structure. See who’s out there and bring them in.
LOOK FOR PROFESSORS WHO CAN BRIBE KIDS: One of the best bribes in the world is extra credit. I think I could probably solve world hunger if I had access to a big enough class and enough thirst for extra credit in it. Use that to your advantage.
Talk to professors in the media departments to see if they’d be willing to offer extra credit for various things that would benefit the newsroom. That could be getting a story they wrote for class published, working a copy desk shift for credit in an editing class, doing a ride along with sales reps for an ad/marketing class or a dozen other things. If so, you have a great opportunity to get some extra stuff for your publication while simultaneously getting fresh blood into your newsroom.
Sure, maybe those people only do one thing and leave, but you at least get a chance to convince them to stay. Even more, if the bug does bite them, you’ll have a staffer for quite some time.
SHARE YOUR PASSION: In going through this whole thing with the staff, I asked a bunch of them, “Why did you come to the Daily in the first place?” Most of them gave the standard answers: I needed clips, I wanted experience, It looks good on a resume etc.
Then I asked the second question: “OK, so why are you still here?” That one took a bit longer.
My point was this: If you came here for those clips and that experience, you have that already. A number of kids were there for several years. A couple actually had other media gigs they were working in the pro scene while still working at the Daily. If the goal was to get the goods, you are done. Leave. Move on.
The answer that they eventually came up with was the one that they didn’t think about every day but was as much of a part of them as their own hearts: They fell in love with this place and the people and even though there were days they’d rather eat ground glass than track down the head of student government for a stupid quote about a stupid thing, they found this place to be their home. They got a lot more out of this than just a line on a resume.
THAT is what you need to imbue in the newbies if you want them to come in and stay for a while. If you can connect with people when they come in, make them see what makes the place tick, help them understand what this place is beyond just a bunch of old desks and a whiteboard full of inside jokes, you’ll get them and they’ll hang around much longer than those who don’t see it.
It’s OK to love the place. Show them that and they’ll love it too.
ONE LAST THING:
I made a bat for the journalism school as part of the Furlough Tour Gift package and the people there really seemed to love it. They asked me to put the Jack Trice logo on it. If you don’t know who that is, well, I didn’t either but in learning about him, I was in awe. I was thrilled that they liked it:
When we passed it around the newsroom, I explained how and why the bat thing came to be. The EIC was really interested so I told him if he emailed me and asked for something specific, I’d do it. When I got back, I had the request:
Hello, it is Andrew Harrington from the Iowa State Daily. Thank you again for coming in to visit the Iowa State Daily, we learned a lot and had a great time.
People were extremely entertained by the bat that was brought in, and I was wondering if there was a chance we could get a bat with our logo on it sent to us?
Once again I appreciate it, and let me know either way.
It wasn’t as hard as the mule from UCM, but it was a bit of a challenge. Still, I think it turned out OK. I asked if they wanted a slogan on it as well. I loved what they asked for:
NEXT WEEK: More stops…