It’s college newspaper recruitment season, so I thought I would put together this quick guide on how to wow the development editor and get on the staff of a selective collegiate newspaper.
As per request I am starting this at the HS level. wOOt.
Join and dominate your high school newspaper.
This means signing up for journalism freshman year and sticking to it. You’ll never be an editor if you don’t show commitment. Never underestimate brownie points. I got pinpointed to be EIC when I was in the 9th grade by being a moody and mysterious writer type — this doesn’t work for most people, so I suggest kissing ass (real talk).
This is where you, aspiring teenage journalist come in. Try to pitch interesting and somewhat serious stories in the discipline of your choice. If it’s a boring assignment, feel free to experiment with your writing style to try to make it interesting. It’s important to build up relevant clips for your college newspaper application, so have sports clips if you plan on applying for the sports section, news for news, arts for arts, etc.
Let’s be honest, high school newspapers tend to be really bad, like write news briefs about six different picnics bad. I was even able to convince our advisor to let us do a (now legendary) point-counterpoint about cricket the game vs. cricket the bug. Much like crickets, this would rarely fly at the collegiate newspaper level — so get it out of your system NOW because it ain’t cute.
Try to be EIC or editor of your section — college newspapers get A LOT of applications, so it can be the norm that 80% of their new hires for news were EICs of their HS papers. I’m not sure how it is in other sections of the paper, so I can’t fairly speak for them in terms of the application process (sorry!).
PRO TIP: Read your biggest local paper and figure out who their best writer is. Read that writer’s work every day and dissect it to figure out why you like it, how they use quotes, how they approach different types of stories, etc.. I didn’t do this until I was already working for The Daily Californian (hey guys!), but I wish I had done it earlier because it drastically improved my news writing.
So it’s the summer before college, now what?
Find out what the application process is for the paper at your university and get started early. IMPORTANT: Make sure your best newspaper clips make it with you to college. It would such a bummer if you couldn’t apply because you left them at home. If you want to apply to multiple sections, let say news and arts, be sure to bring clips in both styles. Pick a diverse set of clips, be sure to include a feature, a brief and a straight news story. Flaunt what you got!
Write a resume. This might be your first one, so ask older friends/siblings/relatives for their resumes in order to get an idea of what your’s should look like. Shop it around for input when you finish it to get an idea of how other people will view it. After all, you are trying to impress the hiring staff at the paper.
Pro Tip: Don’t put your AP scores on your resume, ESPECIALLY if you are entering your senior year of college *groan*. No one cares if you got a score of 3 on your AP Environmental Science test. NO ONE.
You’ve arrived in college … time to get your cover letter on.
I suggest waiting to write your cover letter until you move-in. During your first week as a co-ed, make an extra effort to be curious about EVERYTHING. Write down things that are exclusive to the area, the crazy guy BBQing celery in front of Sather Gate, the hippies living in the trees by the stadium, the jesus jumpers in the white van across from Amoeba records, etc.. Then write about them or casually mention them in your cover letter. This makes it seem like you are immersed in the culture of the town, are a creative writer and prevents your cover letter from sounding generic like most the ones in “the pile” will be. Also, much like your college application essays, show, don’t tell.
If the newspaper has an info session, go to it. Honestly, I didn’t go to mine, but if you have questions it’s the best way to get them answered.
Pro Tip: GET YOUR APPLICATION IN ON TIME. As I said, they get a lot, so they might not even look at your’s if you don’t turn it in on time.
What happens to your application after you turn it in.
For the paper I wrote for, the applicant puts a 1st and 2nd choice section. Let’s say you put 1:Sports, 2:News, if the sports section decides that you are not the right fit for them, they will pass your application on to news, who may very fall in love with you and ask for an interview. Don’t be discouraged if this happens to you, embrace it. Everything happens for a reason, and you can always reapply to sports again at a later point.
The next steps:
So I got called in for a news interview (my first choice!!) and I was super stoked. I got the impression that the interview is basically just to make sure that you are not creepy and/or smell bad. It is very important for collegiate reporters to not be creepy or smell bad. Don’t underestimate that. I was literally invited back for the “writing test” four-minutes into my interview.
The writing test was terrifying, but I am also confident that it was how I got hired. In my case, we had to write a story in one-hour after we “attended” a faux press conference about a murder. There were four aspiring news writers on one side of the table and the development editor on the other. The editor pretended to be the PIO and he briefed us on the crime, we were allowed to ask questions at any point. I am pretty confident I got hired because two minutes into his brief, I asked if the victim was a student and the editor said “no.” About 20 mins later he referred to the victim as a student so I raised my hand and said, “I thought you said she wasn’t a student?” All the other applicants in my writing test looked at me and were super jeals about how badass I was. In the end only two of the four of us made the staff.
For the record, I don’t think writing tests are used at most college newspapers.
If you get rejected …
Don’t send any distressed and mean-spirited e-mails to the editors if you get rejected. They won’t get answered and they can negatively affect your chances of being taken on as a writer in a future semester. You can, however, send an e-mail asking nicely for some advice on how to make your application better for the next semester. Also, keep applying, it shows that you really want it. One of my friends got in on his fourth try for the arts section and eventually became arts editor!