I recently had the pleasure of speaking and teaching at the Associated Collegiate Press Midwinter Conference in Hollywood, California. Boy had I forgotten how doomed college media is. During the conference, I reconnected with Paul Bittick, the general manager for the Mustang Daily -- the college newspaper where I was once the online/multimedia editor from 2008-09. I was shocked to learn that since I left, the Mustang Daily hasn't had an online editor. [Update March 18: Was informed by former EIC and ME Alex Kacik and Emilie Egger that there was an online editor the three quarters following my graduation. Not since, though.]
"We just can't find anyone who wants to be a web editor in journalism!" Paul said, exasperatedly. Well, there's your first problem. You're looking exclusively in the journalism department for a web editor. That's not how it should work.
And furthermore, you don't need a "web editor." Get over it. That's so 2009. Last I checked, it's 2011, and the web is part of EVERY-SINGLE-PERSON-IN-THE-NEWSROOM'S JOB DESCRIPTION, capisce? Every editor should be posting stories for his/her section to the web and social media. The photo editor should be posting photo galleries. The reporters should be posting videos. The designers should be creating web-friendly graphics. The copy editors should be editing in WordPress or Google Docs (on screen-- no red pens). People have forgotten that a "web editor" is just that-- an editorial job. Everyone is a web editor. It's everyone's job. There should be no distinction between "print" and "web" staff. (I cringe inside a little for even having to point out something that should be so painfully obvious by now).
So, now that we've covered why you don't need a "web editor" for editorial duties-- what about all that other stuff? You know, updating WordPress, making new plugins, creating special site features, news apps? That's where you go outside of the journalism department to do the hiring (for now). Cal Poly isn't to the point where they're teaching databases and PHP to the journalism kids. So in the interim, hire students from the computer science department and software engineering department to do that. Hire people from the graphic communications department to do web design. They can work with the editors for now, maybe teach the editors a few things until the students are actually learning skills that are, you know, relevant in today's job market.
- Everyone is a web editor.
- Hire a developer from computer science or software engineering.
- Hire a designer from graphic communications.
- Hire someone from marketing to do community engagement.
Second point of gripe: Why don't students WANT to learn this stuff? College media confuses me. At least five different people at the conference (usually the lone web champion or the point-of-desperation advisor) told me that they just can't get students motivated about the web. They just can't get them to care about posting stories online or engaging with the audience through social media or excited about learning video. What the hell? I don't even know what to say to that.
I can only be led to believe:
- College students are so oblivious because their professors are so far behind the times.
- Students who work in college media don't actually want to go into journalism post-graduation, so they couldn't care less about the future of it.
- Turnover rates are so high at college media that there's simply not enough time for them to realize what the hell is going on.
On an inspiring note, I did meet a few bright individuals who did have that passion to reach beyond what's expected and start trying new things. If I was one of those students at a college newspaper today, I'd quit. I'd start my own competitor news site on campus and leave the antiquated, curmudgeonly, long-established college media in the dust.