For the past 12 years, I've advised the student newspaper at a large Florida university. But only a handful of my students have ever become newspaper reporters. And I like it that way. So do they.
Newspapers aren't what you'd call a growth industry. These days, it's easier to land a job on the Deepwater Horizon than in a newsroom. So I tell every student I meet at Florida Atlantic University: Work hard at the University Press and I promise you a job in almost any other industry.
I've alienated my fellow advisers in FAU's Student Government because I boast loudly and proudly, "No other extra-curricular activity on campus is better for your career -- no matter what that is -- than the newspaper."
That's because nothing else in SG is as complex and deadline-driven.
A Homecoming Committee chairwoman once protested to me, "We host a whole week of awesome and fun activities!"
"Yeah, but you have a whole year to organize it," I replied. "The newspaper staff publishes a paper every week and updates a website every day -- which is much more impressive to a potential employer than taking 11 months to organize a parade and a dance."
Even getting elected student body president isn't as compelling to an employer as being editor-in-chief. Honestly, what's an SBP do? Mostly, they endure long meetings and give long speeches about "serving the students." Their tangible accomplishments are few.
At most schools, the EIC actually hires more people and sets more policy. The SBP is often locked in, forced to manage a staff that's either elected separately or appointed by others. And the SBP's budget, while much bigger than the EIC's, is already spent before he even has a chance to redecorate his office -- consumed by pre-allocated items like campus rec and program board and the Student Union. His discretionary budget is typically a mere few thousand dollars.
Meanwhile, the EIC has to contend with replacing the writers, photographers, and designers who just graduated and training the newcomers while publishing a paper at the same time. In addition, the EIC decides what gets covered and what doesn't, writes stories and columns, placates irate readers, and soothes heated staff conflicts that inevitably arise on deadline.
Who's going to impress more during a job interview? Indeed, who will handle the pressure of the job interview more skillfully?
And let's explode a myth right now: You don't need to be a journalism major to be editor-in-chief of most college newspapers. Right now, our EIC is a Spanish Studies major. She'll be able to brag about her managing and multitasking skills to employers who have nothing to do with media.
Here are some of the professions our newspaper alumni have sought over the past 12 years -- and landed with the help of the University Press...
Getting into law school is tough enough. Distinguishing yourself once you're there is damn near impossible. You have only two routes: land an internship with a prestigious law firm or a high-ranking judge, or become editor of the school's law review.
Those top internships are all about who you know. No connections? No joy. But working at your college paper as an undergrad means you'll be light years ahead of your competition for law review positions.
If you become an editor -- news, feature, entertainment, photo, design, web -- and recruit and manage a staff of your fellow students, then you've already taught. Three of our alums advise high-school newspapers.
PR people work with the media. You'll have a better shot securing a PR job right out of school if you've already worked in the media. Every year, I've gotten more calls from PR firms looking for interns than I have from media outlets.
Our newspaper has had a budget ranging from $80,000 to $100,000, and our business manager doesn't just collect time sheets. He's responsible for everything that isn't journalistic -- from distribution to high-tech equipment purchases.
It's a big job. Maybe that's why one of our business managers is an investment banker in New York City and another graduated right into an elite Bank of America management training program. One of our best is in dental school -- he wants to run his own dental practice, and he says he'll have no problem navigating complicated insurance claims because he's already dealt with the byzantine bureaucracy of FAU's finance department.
UNIQUE & UNUSUAL
One former editor works for a Christian nonprofit and travels to places like Haiti and Ethiopia to write about the health clinics there. Others have landed full-time jobs in Washington, D.C., writing press releases for PETA and organizing protests for Greenpeace.
Right out of school, our sports editor managed a minor-league baseball team in New Mexico. Our entertainment editor managed a nationally renowned rock band in New York City.
But my favorite was the business manager who volunteered to teach jail inmates in her spare time because she wanted to become an FBI profiler. She applied to a prestigious program, and her application cited how she deftly handled the dysfunctional personalities in both the jail and the newsroom -- and that the latter was harder.
She got in.