Diversifying your student media department

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Why you should recruit non-communications majors for campus media, and how to get started

By Allison Bennett Dyche
Assistant Director of Student Media, Savannah College of Art and Design


Maybe your university doesn’t have anything resembling a journalism department. Or maybe you do, but those students are historically lazy and impossible to recruit and retain on staff for more than a year.

You don’t have to wait around for your journalism/communications/writing majors to get to their senior year, realize they don’t have a portfolio and are staring down the barrel of an impending graduation to join your staff out of desperation. So how do you convince students from other majors to not only see the value in student media, but to believe enough in what you do to actually become part of your staff?

Amanda Permenter Garlow was recruited for the newspaper staff by her freshman orientation adviser at Georgia Southern University. The double major in English and writing & linguistics ended up holding three section editor positions at the campus newspaper, The George-Anne, and serving as editor-in-chief of it for two years before she graduated in 2005.

Amanda Garlow
Amanda Garlow

Garlow said the idea of seeing her name in print and being part of something bigger than herself is what drew her in, while the culture and the camaraderie is what kept her there. “It was like finding out I had a home planet,” she said.

Garlow said student media gave her a way to apply both of her majors in a meaningful way, noting that she doesn’t think she could’ve learned the same kind of things in the classroom as she did on the job. “There simply is no greater teacher than pouring your heart and soul into the job and then having to take responsibility for things you screwed up that actually got distributed to thousands of readers,” she said. “It’s devastating, it’s humiliating, and it works.”

 

Caila Brown
Caila Brown

Caila Brown, a 2011 graphic design graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, said brute force is what initially got her involved in student media. “I was actually kidnapped — literally thrown in a van — by some radio staff members who I had gone to high school with,” she said, explaining how she ended up at her first radio interest meeting fall quarter of her freshman year.

Brown described her roles during her four years in student media: promotions team volunteer, promotions director and general manager for SCAD Radio; A&E writer for District, the news organization; and magazine art director and art consultant for District Quarterly, the literary arts magazine. “I was able to organize a concert within my first five weeks of being at school, and never would have been able to do that in any class,” she said. “I was given a level of responsibility that I never would have seen in a classroom.”

JaShong King
JaShong King

JaShong King graduated from San Jose State University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism, but he started off as a computer science major. King said he spent all four of his senior years involved in the student newspaper, the Spartan Daily.

He joined because it was a requirement for the school, but he stayed because of the professionalism of the newsroom. The senior students had all completed internships with various media organizations, allowing them to bring that experience back and have their college newsroom operate on a professional level. “A lot of school newspapers were [operating] from a theoretical standpoint,” he said, citing that the professional atmosphere at the Spartan Daily is what “was vital to helping me get a job.”

Even though he did earn a degree in journalism, King saw his time in student media as the most important part of his collegiate education. The flexibility of a college newsroom allowed him and his colleagues to try innovative experiments to find ways to improve operational structures and further professionalize their organization.

“The classroom was fixed, teaching basic technical structure of reporting and journalism,” King said. “What the newspaper taught me was people management and how to deal with people, as well as pace. When you’re writing in a class, you’re writing one assignment a week. When I was a reporter, I was writing three to four stories per week.”

Citing the requirement of every student to write 33 stories by the end of each semester in order to pass the classes associated with the newspaper, he said, “When you write enough quantity, your quality will improve just by brute force.”

Ben WRight
Ben WRight

Ben Wright, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and a minor in creative writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011, said his resume is replete with skills he gained from his time in student media: “AP Style, WordPress, some passable HTML, a little Google analytics,” he said. “Not only do these pad my resume a little more, but they also have helped me freelance and build an effective website.”

Wright explained how having a diversified staff benefits the student media department as a whole. “Having student journalists in other majors report on special events and topics related to their majors is a great way to get knowledgeable, savvy reporting on a wide variety of topics,” he said. “Getting other majors involved get your brand out there. I know when my radio show was broadcasting, I was telling all my friends in the [industrial design] department to listen in. Getting more people involved is an easy way to get out of the small, often insular world of journalism departments.”

Brown also sees multiple benefits from expanding the pool of talent in student media beyond the boundaries of a communications department. “Everyone has hidden talents and wants to do things that are outside of their major,” she said. “When you have students who are doing jobs or are involved with organizations outside of their major, it means that they really care for it and it’s not just to help with their class credit. Many of them can turn this into a career, or at least their jobs in student media can provide them with valuable job skills they can use in the future.”

If you’re convinced that you’re ready to try branching out to other majors, here are some ways to get started:

Market your organization

A good mantra to have is no matter what the students’ interests, you can always find a place for them. Promote student media as a place to put into action the theories that they learn in the classroom. It’s also a place for any student to pick up marketable skills outside of their majors.

The best ways to ensure your recruitment marketing efforts are reaching the entire campus is to make use of your social media audiences; have your announcements included in your university’s newsletter or email blasts to students and have your interest meetings listed in the college calendar; and reaching out to professors to see if there are ways you can collaborate and to request they send qualified students to your student media organization.

Make recruitment a year-round goal

It’s true that it’s easiest to get new students in the fall. They willingly come to you, looking to find their niche on campus and excited about all the new opportunities that are before them. But it’s also difficult to make them stick around for long. They can get easily distracted, or overwhelmed if they signed up to participate in too many things, forgetting that they also have to take classes.

Often the students who join the staff during the winter are the ones who stick around: they’ve got a quarter or semester under their belts, have found their footing in keeping up with their academics and they still want to join your organization. You might have to go looking for them rather than them coming to you, but it’s worth the extra effort if they’re easier to retain.

Emphasize cross-training

Give them the opportunity to build skill sets they can’t get from within their majors. Even if they don’t end up going into the field of media upon graduation, everyone can benefit from on-the-job experience in writing on deadline, editing and interviewing.

But don’t just push the written word. Get your writers learning photography, your photographers learning videography, your graphic designers learning visual journalism, your copy editors learning audio production. Not only will this cross-training benefit your students, but it will benefit your news outlet as you’ll have an entire staff who can tackle any assignment put before them.

When they have the chance to try their hands at various roles within your organization, they’ll also gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the roles their colleagues play in student media that will likely translate well to the professional world.

Share your successes

The students might be winning awards for work they produce in your student media department, but remember that they’re not just your students. When they win awards or when sections of your publication are faring well, let the professors of those departments know about those successes. The more benefits the professors see the students gaining from being involved, the more likely they are to encourage more students from their departments to join your student media organization. It can only help you to get professors on your team and to assist in your marketing and recruiting efforts.


Allison Bennett Dyche
Allison Bennett Dyche

Allison Bennett Dyche is the assistant director of student media at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Ga. She advises the online news organization District (www.scaddistrict.com), the literary arts journal Port City Review (www.theportcityreview.com and the SCAD chapter of the Society for Collegiate Journalists. She spent five years working as a daily newspaper journalist before moving to advising in 2008.

 

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