I spent most of Friday doing something at the last minute. (So sue me, I have a journalist’s heart. We do things at the last minute.) Considering I was judging college journalism, that seemed fitting.
Fifty entries in an SPJ contest. I read every one. I liked many of them. When it came time to pin the ribbons, I felt the usual remorse that so many good entries wouldn’t go away with a prize. I expected all of this. What I didn’t expect was this: How little has changed. I’m not talking about the flag of The Post, my collegiate alma mater, still recognizable after, what? Thirty years of subsequent editorial staffs? (Admirable restraint, if you ask me. The first thing a new editor does in the real world is order a sweeping redesign. Ninety percent of the time, a criminal waste of effort.)
No, I’m talking about the form itself — the student newspaper. By this time, the new media should have swept college campuses. There shouldn’t be a student newspaper, but rather, a completely interactive platform-neutral information stream, processing all the important news on campus — in my day, record reviews, classified ads on apartments and two-for-one pizza coupons — into a seamless garment of data accessible on everything from a laptop to a phone, plus Twitter and Facebook and all the rest of it. Maybe, somewhere, that is the case. All I know is that I saw traditional news stories written in traditional ways, presented in traditional layouts on traditional ink-on-paper. It was more than traditional. In fact, it was retro: At one point, I beheld a headline with a kicker. You know what a kicker is? It’s the little mini-headline that runs over the main head, usually with a rule underneath, usually just a few words:
Swine flu sweeps freshman dorms; vaccination clinic announced. Kicker: ‘Sick as a dog’
I haven’t seen a kicker in professional journalism since Jim Barbieri was writing them at the Bluffton News-Banner. That is to say: A while.
There are two ways of looking at this. One, that colleges are seriously failing journalism students by keeping student papers around at all, like a school offering buggy whip-braiding classes in 1925. Or maybe, just maybe, the newspaper isn’t a terrible way to deliver news in any environment, but particularly on campus, where kids frequently find themselves with 20 minutes to kill between this and that, and a paper is not only an efficient delivery vehicle for the information those students might want, but actually, I dunno, something pleasant to pass the time with.
I’m holding with hope. It’s all I’ve got. Although a word of advice to student journalists: You can almost always make your stories shorter. You’re competing with Twitter, you know.
And now the weekend is over, and I’m facing a two-week sprint unlike many of recent years. Good news: It’s work, it’s paying work, and that’s good. Bad news: Might be spotty around here for a while. But you guys are good conversationalists; you can carry this dump for a few days here and there.
Let’s start with an underreported story, in my opinion: What if health-insurance reform dies, as so many seem to want? What then? The cost of doing nothing. Not cheering.
Or try this: A white sorority wins a step contest, traditionally an all-black show. What then? Metafilter has a nosegay of links, and from watching their performance, I’d say they brought it.
Dear Mr. President, Stop smoking. Try Chantix — I hear it works.
And that’s it for me today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.