The complications of a student journalist

For the next month, at least, I am a student journalist.

I have been a proud staffer at The Temple News serving the community of Temple University in Philadelphia for four years. While I have reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Business Journal and elsewhere, there are few places I’ve learned more than in Room 243, the newsroom of The Temple News, and otherwise in my functions as a student journalist.

There are so many complications to it all.

Particular to working at a big university in a big city, I am inevitably competing with professional journalists, without seeming reactionary or amateurish. Competing with the very people whom I hope will want to hire me. At a school like Temple a great deal of our coverage is high profile enough to merit attention from the faces that make Philadelphia the fourth largest media market in the country.

Hillary Clinton comes to Main Campus, and my colleagues are with me as I fight for photos of the presidential candidate.

Yeah, but I have class the next day, or, more frequently, in a few hours. But, if I want to grow this paper’s readership, I need to cover our smaller community better. In an industry that is rushing to reduce its coverage area, to cut costs while still being able to squeeze a denser readership base and sell more expensive ads for its narrower demographic, college newspapers are already set up in this form. Tight base, attractive demographic: truly one phase of the industry that isn’t dissipating entirely.

Still, ‘student journalist’ is a phrase that, understandably, screams unprofessional. Why, then, would anyone take me seriously, irrespective of how I handle myself and that I am weeks away from working in a professional setting?

So, I often keep it out of my explanation of who I am. I never refer to The Temple News as a student newspaper when asking for an interview, but rather, it is the college newspaper, an improvement — though short of the community newspaper distinction I think TTN should shoot for in the future.

A complication comes when others don’t let student journalist come to their mind. I have had a handful of public relations and communications directors with whom I have interacted request a connection on Linked-In. Journalists are a commodity for these people, though, of course, once I agree to any connection, they see I am a student journalist, an intern, a go-fer.

One actually offered me a position, others likely feel taken, regardless of the product I create.

A few months ago I interviewed a former high-ranking official in city government who had turned to the nonprofit sector. Though the interview went well, upon meeting me after a phone call, she looked me up and down.

“Boy, are you young.”

It is interesting for me to think that if I do land and accept a reporting job, it will likely be easier. Away from the editing role I fill now, I won’t – have to – think about my coverage well into the night. I won’t have school work, internships and the social pressures of being a 20-something all crushing on me in the same way.

Of course, another likely change will be that I will lose my passion for the gig. Because working for The Temple News does me little other than the enjoyment of the product, I am here for my passion. Outside of this environment, it will, I fear, quickly turn to a job.

Then, I will quickly turn to dismissing student journalists.

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