The Times Travelers
by Mary Shipp Bartlett
Walking into the New York Times‘ gleaming new office building, we momentarily forgot that the future of the newspaper — of all newspapers — is decidedly uncertain. Surrounded by flashing digital headlines that illuminate the hall of the main entryway, we eagerly observed people we pegged for important editors and columnists; things at The Times seemed to be churning along nicely. We were in awe.
As aspiring journalists and last year’s co-editors-in- chief of voice, Scripps’ student-run newspaper, we jumped at the chance to attend the national Student Editors Conference last March, sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and the New York Times. Upon our arrival in chilly New York City, we discovered that we were the farthest-flung of the editors: not only were we the only representatives from California, we were the only travelers from west of the Mississippi.
The conference consisted of insightful lectures from Times editors, columnists, and photographers. A digital columnist preached the value of persistence in landing a job in journalism; a front-page photographer regaled us with stories of some of his stranger photo assignments; and a senior copy editor taught us how to craft a Times-worthy headline in 10 words or less. He gave us a handout on tricks of the trade, a downsized version of the NYT style guide, which we later passed out to our editors at a voice content meeting.
The presenters hailed from a variety of backgrounds and cities. They were eager and willing to share their own diverse career paths. Some had gone to journalism school, while others had majored in engineering. One sat defiantly at the front desk of a hiring fair until he convinced the powers that be to employ him. Each had different pieces of wisdom to impart to a band of young journalists who were eagerly scribbling away with bright eyes, and rapidly filling notepads.
As Scripps English majors, we’re taught to look for themes. Listening to these engaging talks, a running theme emerged: Journalism is in danger, yes, but it’s far from dead. The ever-increasing dominance of new media and Internet news sources, coupled with a bad economy, is changing the face of journalism today. The lecturers at the conference made this imminently clear, but none was pessimistic. A certain excitement about the future eclipsed the uncertainty of the present.
A senior editor, admitting The Times is in financial straits, was optimistic. While the form of newspapers is certainly changing and uncertain, he said, the need for good journalism and objective reporting will always remain. Journalism — the need to share information — predates newspapers and will possibly outlive them. And that’s okay.
Leaving the conference with a taste of what journalism means at the level of one of the finest newspapers in the country, we started discussing our own little 12-page, five-section, biweekly newspaper. With funding secured from Scripps and with the help of a wonderful team of photographers, writers, editors, and managers willing to work for snacks, voice doesn’t face the issues that national newspapers like The Times face this year. This freedom sets some student newspapers apart — allows us more room to breathe.
Though the two newspapers are different publications — Tiffany and Co. has not asked to advertise in voice and Thomas Friedman will probably never submit a column — they share certain similarities. We both follow the same style guide. We both, unfortunately, have typos even after many sets of eyes look over pages. We both have staffers up late before deadline. Like the New York Times, voice is meant to inform its audience: the Scripps community. Unlike the New York Times, we have the capacity to use the newspaper as a true community forum. We not only encourage submissions, we’ll probably print every one. voice is meant to create dialogue, and we’re proud to leave Scripps believing it has, and knowing it has the capacity to do more.
We’re excited about the future of voice — for its potential to expand and improve, for its ability to reflect the meaning of true, good journalism on a small college campus. This past year, we moved beyond the paper format, also publishing our issues online to make them accessible to anyone — interested parents and alumnae included — who is eager to read about the happenings on campus and the lives of the students who live, learn, and love here.
While Steele Hall’s windows are not as shiny as those of The Times building, the Scripps students working behind the scenes constantly push themselves to ensure that our product includes all the news fit to print at the 5-Cs — deadlines permitting. Voice is just what it professes itself to be in a single word. It is a forum for students to proclaim what they see as important for us to know about and discuss within our community. From hard news to staunch opinion, it is a method by which we can communicate and be heard.
Our trip to the New York Times reminded us of the importance of small papers and the power they have within a Scripps community. Although we don’t know where journalism will be 20 years from now, we hope that voice continues to empower its authors and its readership by offering a venue for community members to learn about important events within our community and providing a forum for interested, concerned, and passionate readers to share their individual voices.
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Update: This summer, Latto led a community service trip in Costa Rica through Putney Student Travel, and then traveled on her own in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In August, she moved to Boston to join the MATCH Corp, for a yearlong fellowship in urban education at the MATCH Charter Middle School. After that, “Who knows?” she admits. “I’m looking into graduate school in journalism or creative writing, but also might try to work in a writingrelated field before heading back to school.”
For the next two years, Guillen will work as a 2009 Teach For America Corps member in Los Angeles teaching secondary English. She will simultaneously be enrolled in a master’s program in urban education at Loyola Marymount University. After that, her plans are uncertain, but both a “PhD program and law school are in the running,” she says.
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