It was fun at the Times today, seeing so many guests in the office.
The student newspaper at Mount Mercy University held an open house today, Oct. 12. Among the attendees—sadly not always at the same time so many of them missed each other—were Times staff members of years past. The MMU graduates include a future novelist who is planning to enter the University of Iowa’s esteemed Writer’s Workshop, the editor of a local community newspaper, and a video/multi-media coordinator of a large local Protestant church.
A diverse group, but one thing I think they all have in common was summed up today at the open house by Emily Speight. Emily was the second editor of the weekly Times. When she came to Mount Mercy, she was unsure of joining the paper, but in the end she did, and became its editor.
As she said today, when she is at work and something happens, she sometimes thinks “that reminds me of what happened one time at the Times.” It’s much rarer that she thinks “that reminds me of a time in class when …”
In other words, at least for those who seek to enter media or writing careers, time spent on a student newspaper staff is not the frosting on the cake. It’s the cake, the plate the cake is on, the fork to eat the cake with, the ice cream and chocolate sauce and spoon—plus the cold milk to wash it all down. It’s the most intense formative experience of a young communicator’s early career.
I always tell students—and I mean it seriously even if I don’t believe it’s 100 percent true—that I can predict which students will actually become journalists or public relations professionals.
It’s the ones who step forward and lead the student newspaper.
After all, for PR and journalism students, the MMU Times is “the choir.” It would be just silly to study music at MMU and NOT be in the choir. It would be strange to attempt a Speech-Drama minor and never join the Drama Club.
And young people who are serious about communication careers join the paper. No excuses, no “I’m too busy”—if you have the fire in the belly, no obstacle will keep you away.
Now, the reason I concede this fairly valid general rule is not 100 percent accurate is twofold. First, while merely joining the paper puts a student in a position where she might succeed in a communication career, both luck and determination are also required. Some of the students who do other things besides communication with their lives make rational decisions about the kind of life and career that makes sense to them—and I’m totally on board with that. Yet, I don’t think even those who choose to change career paths regret their Times time, as organizational skills, leadership opportunities, interviewing practice and writing experience help just about any person in any career path.
Secondly, there are other routes. Some talented English majors who avoid the Times and the MMU communication program, for example, end up in the PR or journalism worlds.
But the general rule is accurate enough, and works well enough, that its implications are clear.
Are you a student at MMU? Do you want to be a writer, a real writer, a person who actually makes a career out of creating communications?
Then join the Times. Sure, write for Paha too, get that English degree, act in several plays—the Times is not the only venue that can develop your communication talents.
But, at MMU, and I suspect at most colleges, the student newspaper is the center, the nexus, the crux of the experience for the few who will join that unique band of brothers and sisters—the actual writers. Not the writer-want-to-bes, but the ink-stained wretches who don’t just think it, but do it.
I am reminded of an excellent post by a blogger I respect. She was talking about the writing habit and how important it is to just write if you’re going to write. To sort of paraphrase her point, bus drivers never complain of “driver’s block.” They just get into that big box and go.
Writers? Faced with writer’s block? Climb into the Times and fire up that verbal part of your brain. No hesitation, just the open information highway and you with your hands on the wheel of a media vehicle that can take you were you want to go. Writing? Photography? Video? Audio? Podcast? You decide the route, and you can get there from here.
But only if you join, only if you invest a part of yourself, only if you take the time and make the commitment. The time is now. Get with the Times.