College Life Replays: Print Journalism Lesson #1 — Go For It!

The 1989-1990 Western Herald editorial team. All are/were creative forces. Sports Editor, Jim Jensen, is deceased, but is a key reason why I love football so much. Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen, the last strip for the 1989-1990 editorial year.

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now!

—  Written by Chet Powers

Go For It vs. Play It Safe

Faunce Student Services Center (the Bird Cage) on WMU’s Campus. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

I was about four weeks into my freshman year as a print journalism student at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., when I saw the ad in the student newspaper, Western Herald. It invited aspiring journalists to an orientation meeting at the Herald offices located in the basement of the Faunce Student Services Center — called the Bird Cage by faculty and students — on the western edge of WMU’s main campus.

Originally, I planned to stay away from any extra-curricular activities until sophomore year. In response to seeing this ad, the rational, play-it-safe side of my brain said, “Don’t go. Get a grip! Focus on studying and adjust to “college” life.”

My intuition said, “Go for it! Why wait?”

Herald Office/Bird Cage location in proximity to other buildings on campus. Many of these did not exist during my years there (1989-1994). Photo Credit: wmich.edu

So, at the date and time stated in the ad, my intuition and I walked into the Herald offices. We listened with great interest to the editorial team talk about the various sections of the paper. All needed for more writers. Prior journalism experience wasn’t necessary. Bonus!

I knew taking the opportunity to write for the Herald was as vital to my professional success as acing all of my classes. There isn’t coursework out there that surpasses the experience one gains from practicing what will be expected in the newsrooms around the globe. Student newspapers at both Central Michigan University and Michigan State University wouldn’t have even glanced at freshmen-level, inexperienced writers.

As I left the Herald offices that afternoon, I heard the The Youngblood’s rendition of Chet Power’s Get TogetherI would later associate this song along with Elton John’s Rocket Man and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus with time spent in the Herald offices during fall and winter semesters. There I conducted interviews, wrote and edited copy and learned the inner-workings and politics of a newsroom.

During the long trek back to Ackley-Shilling, I felt pride swelling in my chest. For once I had taken a risk. I listened to my gut; and went with it. My first story assignment for the Herald was stowed in my backpack. I had decided to begin my Herald experience with the arts and entertainment section. Later that evening — using the press release and accompanying information — I wrote a draft to use while typing the story into the computer when it was due back in a couple days.

Goldsworth Valley 1: Ackley-Shilling. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

As promised, I returned to the Herald offices with my what I thought was a completed story. I typed it into one of the MacIntosh computers reserved for the paper’s writers in the Herald’s copy room. Upon keying it in, I let the A&E editor know I was finished. Within seconds, he told me it was a great re-write of the press release, but not what the Herald needed as a finished piece.

The story needed more details as well as quotes from the sources listed on the press release. They were closely connected with the piece I was writing and would give depth to the story. As I listened to the fair, but telling critique, obtaining the said quotes and details meant picking up the telephone, punching the phone numbers in, and talking to people.

One of the MacIntosh dinosaurs in the Herald copy room in the early ’90s. Photo Credit: One of my fellow Herald alums.

Those who know me today, might be trying to stifle a giggle at this admitted bought of shyness. But, it’s true. Up until that day, I hated calling people on the phone — I was not well acquainted with — to ask questions. This particular situation was pushing me to ask experienced media and public relations professionals relevant, intelligent, and quote-producing questions. Gulp!

Well, I couldn’t just sit there looking at the phone. I needed more details and some good quotes. The A&E editor was counting on me; I couldn’t let him down. Plus, I wanted more writing assignments. After three successes, I would receive payment (beer money) for each story the Herald printed.

“Go for it,” I said to myself. “Think about attending Bud Light keg parties instead of the ones offering Natural Light.”

So, I made my list of questions and called my first source. After that, each time I needed to make over-the-phone or in-person interviews, the whole Q&A bit became easier. In fact, my ability to swallow my fear and forget my anxiety that day prepared me for what I would do later in my career as a writer. I had deadlines to meet, this is what was required, and I would do my best.

To me, the success stories in the creative world are all about going for it; and taking risk. Those creative forces — writers, filmmakers, actors, photographers, artists, designers, stylists, painters, chefs, etc. — who inspire me all push the envelop to evolve, develop their talent, and achieve their goals.

Some of those creative forces worked right along side of me in the Herald offices in the Bird Cage. But, you’ll have to wait until next week to obtain a glimpse of who they are.

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5 thoughts on “College Life Replays: Print Journalism Lesson #1 — Go For It!

    • Thanks for reading, Anna! All of the art you create is beautiful. It is inspiring to see you/Marc encouraging Gin to pursue her artistic interests, too.

  1. This is a life lesson for all of us! Doing something that is usually out of your comfort zone can bring amazing results – and even change your personality, like it did with you. Is the journalism degree at Western very intensive? Is it a lot of hands on work, because that’s what I want. I’m currently getting my degree in Communications at St. Louis University but the Madrid, Spain campus, and I would like to transfer to a university in MI so I can be with my family and in my home state. I was looking at MSU, but since you graduated from Western, would love to know how it all worked out for you!

    Great post, Kate!

    🙂

    • When I studied journalism at WMU (early ’90s), coursework was limited and offered as components to either a Communication or English degree. While looking over the university’s current course in journalism, it appears much has been done to make journalism coursework more extensive and to include with the areas of study in Communication. The component I liked most about studying journalism at WMU was the opportunity to gain real experience from the start of my time there. Also, the student newspaper, the Western Herald, made it a point to include Kalamazoo government/city happenings as a part of its weekly coverage. If you’re looking to speak with someone who is currently studying journalism there, I could give you the name/e-mail for the current editor-in-chief of the Western Herald. That student might have better insight on the university’s current program.

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