Sarah Kliff argues that college newspapers provide good training for modern journalism:

Becoming editor-in-chief of my college paper broadened my perspective. I had to think about all the important ways to draw readers into stories: things like headlines and layout and photographs and illustrations. I spent lots of late nights in our basement office with the paper’s copy chief and lead designer. These produced an absurd number of inside jokes, as well as a granular understanding of how words and design have to work together for any publication.

Today I work for a website that looks really different from the one I edited in 2006. But my day-to-day job is surprisingly similar: generate interesting story ideas. Write about them. Use layout and design to draw readers in. And always try to do better the next time.

I was a contributor to the Daily Packer for most of my tenure at Southern Tech, but I was an opinion writer which is not quite the same thing. Even so, this site wouldn’t exist without my experience there.

The Daily Packer had no relationship with the university’s journalism school. More than that, very few actual journalism majors worked at the paper. From what I understand, they almost all thought it was beneath them. Which, to me, says something about journalism majors (or at least the ones at our school). Experience is experience, and clips are clips. There were multiple writers at city news outlets who actually cut their teeth at the Packer, though. It was actually pretty cool to see people graduate from the Packer to Colosse Weekly or even the Colosse Herald. I do wonder how the actual journalism majors did…

As we know newspapers have fallen on tough times. It falls into the category of things I hadn’t really thought about, but that would apply to college newspapers, too. Before becoming an opinion writer, I was a regular reader of it. I did what everybody did, which was pick up a copy on my way to class and read it while waiting for class to start. What else was there to do? Well now, of course, there is the smartphone, which has access to just about everything.

As such, the Daily Packer is no more.

Well, they do publish weekly. And there is a website that’s updated daily. Given that anybody accessing that site also has access to everything else on the Internet, though, I doubt it gets the attention that it used to. I would regularly have people talk to me about my columns, including strangers who recognized me from my pic. I wonder if that happens anymore. I’m afraid it probably doesn’t. But maybe it does. When they did a revamp of the site my last year, I did check the DP’s website every morning.

That wasn’t the only paycheck I collected from the Packer, though. I was also the delivery guy. That involved waking up at 5:30 every morning, walking across campus (past the DP building, which was never open for me to collect the writing paychecks) and driving a little go-cart and dropping off lots and lots of papers. It wasn’t a bad gig, all be told. I’d usually be done by 7:30 or 8 but was paid for 3-4 hours a day. (I could theoretically start later, but it was way easier to do it before there were lots of people walking around the campus.) The downside was that if I had a morning class, I didn’t have time to take a nap. I actually enjoyed my 8:30 Business Law class, but had a lot of trouble staying awake for it.

But I will always remember the degree of disgusting I felt whenever I finished. There was newsprint all over my hands. It was often really hot even before the sun rose, so I would be incredibly sweaty. I used an open blade to cut the binds, which meant that I would often cut my fingers (and almost all of my jeans had tears as a result). I don’t think there has been a ritual in my entire life as wonderful as that cold morning shower wiping off the newsprint, sweat, and sometimes blood.

We made $6 or $8 a column. Which was so little, and the office so far away, I rarely picked it up. The result was that some years ago, I found out that the university owed me over $100 in pay that I had never collected. The delivery money actually came out of a separate account – facilities, instead of student activities – and so they would mail me that check. Which wasn’t much money, but it was pretty great money.


Category: Newsroom, School

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9 Responses to Workin’ For The Paper

  1. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    Sadly you can’t link to them, but if it makes you feel better, I am going to read the archive this weekend.

    I will say this much: your email handle from your junior year is particularly obnoxious.

    • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

      No comment?

      • Trumwill says:

        I missed the comment, for some reason.

        If you’re talking about the yahoo address, it’s one I actually still have and use to this day. You might find it obnoxious, but it actually became that I had to choose a slightly modified one (replacing the “L” with a “T” on many services because somebody else liked it, too.

        • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

          No, the one I mean doesn’t have an “l” in it and it wasn’t from yahoo. It was from a service that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

          I can email it to you if you like, but your handle was just a single word that is a noun. It is a noun that is insulting on its face, but it seems like you chose it to show that you don’t care about fitting in. Sort of like troublemaker@example.com

          Also, do you know whatever became of Sarah?

          • trumwill says:

            Oh, the Eastmail one (or Bigfoot). I actually used that service because it was one of the few where that word was available. That was my BBS handle going back to high school.

            I do wish I hadn’t used it for the column, though. At the time, though, free email forwarding was less available and that was the email address I used.

        • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

          Actually the domain is currently the 4 letter initialism of a band. However, I don’t know if it was affiliated with them back then.

          It is easy to forget how difficult it was to access email back then. Web-based email was unheard of back then.

          No comment about Sarah?

          • trumwill says:

            Huh. I have no recollection of having that email address, or of that site (which I used to frequent) handing them out. Must have just been a forwarding thing. Still, no memory.

            Sarah was married with a kid, last I knew. Her old last name was cool. Her new one is Smith. So common and boring I don’t even mind divulging it.

            I don’t think of her so much anymore. When I do, I cringe at who I was back then but think warmly of her.

  2. I know this is only partially relevant to your post, but over the last couple years, I’ve grown to appreciate the talents of those who can design words, headlines, etc., for public viewing. My job sometimes requires me to assist in curating exhibits (mostly online) and in other acts of doing what is sometimes called “public history.” For a long time, I didn’t care much about formatting or appearances, but now that I’ve worked with my boss, who has a background in graphic design and art, I’ve learned that there’s a lot I don’t know and probably should know.

    • Michael Cain says:

      And that other people should know. A couple of months back I got so frustrated by the amazing amount of Web content I was encountering that was ugly, unreadable, or both that I started a new project: a piece of JavaScript that runs on every page I download and changes the fonts and sizes to something that is consistent and (to my eye) passably attractive.

      One day I kept track and found that over a couple of hours of browsing news and opinions, on the near order of 45 different sans serif fonts were specified. Almost none of them were installed on my Mac, so had to be downloaded at least once by the browser (more if they’d been flushed from cache). To my eye, almost all of them were indistinguishable from one another at the size they were drawn on the screen. I haven’t solved that particular problem yet because it’s harder to get at the page content at the appropriate time.

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