High school vs. college journalism (and the family that doesn’t change)

Darian is a junior at Franklin College. She is double majoring in Journalism-news editorial and English, and minoring in creative writing.
Darian is a junior at Franklin College. She is double majoring in Journalism-news editorial and English, and minoring in creative writing.

By Darian Eswine

If you’re up there in high school years, you’re probably starting to think about college. At least, hopefully you’re starting to think about that.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided what college I wanted to go to and I had already started planning for being on the newspaper staff. I knew that I first wanted to be editor-in-chief of my high school staff and then eventually be editor-in-chief of my college staff.

I attended Floyd Central High School and worked on the Bagpiper. Working on that staff is where I get the majority of my favorite memories from high school. When you spend two or three periods a day, along with three or four hour work sessions each month with the same people, you make some pretty interesting and strange memories, which are the best kind.

The Bagpiper prepared me, not only as a journalist, but as a person for college and the professional world. I was able to work with different kinds of people, difficult sources, story corrections, plagiarism, school closings, and a variety of other issues that gave me the opportunity to expand my skill set before I even entered college.

Then, when I did, I felt completely prepared for being on The Franklin staff. I was on staff for two years, until this semester when I decided to step back due to scheduling. My first three semesters, I was a design editor and wrote for the news, features, and opinion section. My last semester, I was news editor.

There were a few very strong differences between high school journalism and college journalism, and so I thought I would share the three largest differences, according to my personal experience which won’t be everyone’s experience.

I think having these in the back of your mind will help to make the most of your high school staff experience and gain knowledge in preparation for your college staff experience.

1. Creativity

I’m going to start by saying that you can be creative on a college staff. There is plenty of opportunity to be creative either with story angles or design, depending upon your position. However, there is much more creativity involved on a high school staff.

On the Bagpiper, each issue, we collaborated and planned what we wanted each page to look like. The only page that never changed was the table of contents and partially the editorial page. Everything else was open to mixing up every issue. I didn’t realize until I hit college, what a great opportunity that was.

In college, it works much more like a professional publication. You have your designers or small group of editors who decide the layout at the beginning of the year and then that’s what the pages look like for the year. There really is no variation, except in what photos you place and what graphics you use. For front page and middle spread, this does not apply as much, but overall you don’t have as much room to play.

So my advice would be to take advantage of the wide range of things with which you can experiment. Think of as many ideas as you want to try to see if they work. They may not make it into the final publication, but it will allow you to see what you do and don’t like and give you some experience thinking out of the box.

2. Communication/time management

You’ll have a different cycle depending on what school you go to, but at Franklin we are a weekly publication. We have staff meetings on Mondays and then Tuesday and Wednesday are both deadline nights in order to actually work on the paper and finish it.

My freshman year, we would finish around 3 or 4 in the morning. Keep in mind, some people have 8 a.m.’s the next day. Since then, we’ve gotten a lot better and I hear this year, they’re leaving around midnight.

Either way, they are much longer nights than in high school and the other negative is that you don’t have built in time to work on it.

In high school, you’re in a newspaper class and then you have those few scheduled after school work sessions. In college, you’re on your own. You have one meeting a week and then the deadline nights, but you decide how to manage your time and when to work on it throughout the week.

You have to set aside time to talk to your reporters, if you’re an editor, because you may not have a class with them.

Time management and communication in this aspect have to be very strong in college because you’re not in class together every day and you have to balance your own schedule as opposed to being given time.

3. Advisers

My high school adviser was very involved in our staff process. I think most high school advisers are. College advisers are not nearly as involved because it’s your opportunity to run it on your own, which is what gives you the professional experience. I will say, I felt more prepared for this than others because my high school adviser did a good job of offering advice, stepping in when needed, and taking advantage of teaching moments, but he also allowed us to be on our own and try to problem solve for ourselves, which was very beneficial experience to have coming into college.

At Franklin, the advisers are not very involved because, again, it’s your staff. It’s your professional experience. Our adviser for this year attends some deadlines nights and is there for any questions the editor may not be able to answer and for moral support, but overall it’s up to the student chain of command to accomplish tasks and solve problems.

This is a big opportunity for growth and one to take advantage of, but also a reminder to take advantage of your high school adviser and really try to grow and learn to prepare for the moment you’ll be on your own.

Overall, just take advantage of the wide variety of opportunities you have on a high school staff because on a college staff those opportunities change. It’s more about growing professionally and honing specific skills, whereas in high school I think it’s more about growing in as many skills as possible and really learning as much as you can.

If you really put an effort into growing as a reporter and a student in general, then you’ll have no problem transitioning into a college newspaper staff setting.

One thing that doesn’t change is that the staff has always been the place I feel most at home. My high school staff was my family and my college staff was the first place I felt I could be 100% myself on campus and they are still my favorite people. Journalism kids are a breed of their own so opportunities and experiences change, but you’ll always have a special and quirky support system to experience those changes with you.

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