Tuesday, August 25, 2015

To The 20 Students Who Are Considering The Times

Madison Coates (right), Editor-in-Chief of the "Mount Mercy Times," gives information to a student who is inquiring about the newspaper. Madison, by the way, is a nursing student.

I recall, sometimes, how the newsroom at the “Columbia Missourian” seemed like a jungle or swamp. If you stepped in there, you never knew what variety of snake would grab you or how long you might be lost.

Yet, I stepped in there a lot, and I don’t regret it. Of course, when I was a student at Mizzou, I was a graduate student—and time in my life was more precious than time was when I was a young undergraduate adult. I had five young children while I was in graduate school, so I couldn’t afford too many open-ended journeys into the unknown news swamp.

Madison and Todd Cross, Campus Editor, at Involvement Fair.
Still, I had wonderful experiences there. The best, I think, was a semester I spent reporting at the Capitol Bureau in Jefferson City, covering the state legislature. What an interesting place to be, and what a challenge it was to write about.

Why am I writing to you, the 20 who signed your names to say you’re interested in the Mount Mercy Times? We had an Involvement Fair on campus today, and many of you put your name on our sign-up sheet and took the paper with a bit of information.

Don’t forget—Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m., Lower Busse Library—the first Times staff meeting of the semester.

I am writing to you because I truly believe several things about a student's experience at a university. One is that, while classes are important (I am a professor, after all), what really can make your education come alive is connections and events beyond the classroom. For instance, when I was an undergraduate, I was for a time active in a drama group—it was an odd thing for a journalism student, and a great source of stress, but also a wonderful experience.

I also wrote for and then edited the student newspaper at my hometown community college, and then became the editor of the paper at the college where I earned my BA (I was actually recruited to go to that college as the newspaper’s editor—and there’s nothing like being editor of the campus paper to make a new transfer student put down roots in a new place very quickly.)

After college, my career path took me to newspapers, so my editing experience was directly relevant. But I think I would have gained a lot regardless of my major. As a newspaper editor, I was a student leader who wasn’t chosen by my peers, but rather rose through the ranks of a meritocracy.

And because of that rise, I had some unique opportunities. When I was at the community college, I covered meetings of the college district governing board—my first public meeting stories. When I was at the liberal arts college where I earned my BA, I met monthly with the president, just to get some perspective on what was going on. I think I was the only student who so regularly had contact with the president.

So you think you might want to join the “Mount Mercy Times?” Well, good. It’s a great idea. You may get to know Laurie Hamen, President of MMU, if you stick with it and become an editor of the Times. Even before that, you’ll go places and meet people and learn far more about MMU then most students will.

The students newspaper flag at MMU.
Most of you won’t pursue newspaper careers, and many of you won’t work directly in communication fields. But the skills you’ll pick up at the Times, the ability to get information and translate it and present it, and the management experience of being in a student-run group—those are lifelong fringe benefits which means your decision to be part of a student newspaper will forever enrich your whole college experience.

At least I hope so. It all depends on whether you stick with it and actually take part. Please, sign up for stories or photo assignments or video assignments, and get them done.

There may be times along the way when you’re being driven crazy with novels to read and papers to write and tests to study for, and the Times will seem like a giant time swamp, a place where you enter and never know when you might emerge.

Cheer up. I won’t lie, being a student journalist is hard, which is why so few do it. But in the end, it’s so worth it. I hope you stay with it long enough to learn that for yourself.

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