For the past two weeks, me and three fellow Crecomms have been covering election news for CJOB news radio. For one assignment, I had to do a live hit from an advanced polling station. When I showed up there, I started chatting to two workers, making sure not to disturb anyone voting.
Then introduced myself to the lady staring me down.
“Who you with?”
“I’m working with CJOB”
She immediately pulled out her phone to call who she called “her media guy.” One of the workers then said “she’s a student – right? You’re a student?” I paused; the lady on the phone was waiting for my answer. I explained I’m a student intern at CJOB.
“See, she’s with CJOB.” I was immediately asked to vacate the area.
I honestly believe, had I said “I’m a student” from the get-go, I would have been able to stay.
For the most part, people in the industry do their jobs well and treat me and my colleagues the way they do other media personnel.
For example, I had to write about an event downtown for The Projector – the Red River College newspaper. I called my contacts and the guy organizing it put me on the media list and treated me just like every other reporter in attendance. He did his job as a PR person and I was able to do mine.
When I was digging around for candidates to talk to for a school assignment and then for a community newspaper piece, I was always treated like other media. The big difference: as a community newspaper writer I was given more priority than the “student” me.
I’m in an interesting position as a journalism student. For each assignment, whether it is for school, freelance or internship, I have to feel out whether or not to use the word “student.” Sometimes, however, I don’t have the choice of leaving that out. There are a few key factors that make being a student journalist challenging:
1. Busy during daytime hours: in the creative communications program, there aren’t very many “free” days. There might be an hour or two here and there during regular business hours – but on the whole, trying to set up an interview can be tough. People expect it to happen during business hours. Most of the time, it has to be done over the phone – but you have to make sure it happens when you’re not in class.
2. Writing isn’t my only commitment: seriously, I’m doing about seven different projects at any given time in order to get material covered for school. As far as I know, full-time reporters focus on their job. Sure it can be busy, however, I highly doubt they take home nine hours of homework. But I digress.
3. How credible am I?: It can be hit or miss on this point. Of course, I’m building my credibility and working towards having a great portfolio. But for some, the student word means they don’t need to give me the time of day.
So am I getting the real experience?
I realized this is an unfair question. The only way I’m ever going to get that “I’m-an-employed-journalist-with-a-media-outlet” experience is by actually being an employed journalist with a media outlet. Or when we have a chance to do our work placement.
But being a student journalist has its perks. It’s exciting, it’s fun – and it’s what I love to do. Oh, and I get to do cool things like this:
1. Creating internships: I called up a newspaper I was interested in working for, and they gladly welcomed the help. It was unpaid, and all the editors I worked with took time to mentor my writing. I have a feeling that sort of attention wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t a student.
2. Getting valuable lessons: Right now, the Crecomm journalism students are working as community newspaper reporters. Our editors are taking the time to go through our writing, and they understand that it’s all a learning process. At CJOB, everyone in the newsroom takes time to acquaint us with equipment, writing style, and any of our many questions. Boom – being a student rocks.
3. Gaining access and trust: I’ve experienced a few times, that being a student can gain you access into events. I had the chance to see the state of the city address last year, along with working as a journalist embed with the military. Soldiers felt comfortable talking to me because as a student, well I don’t seem like such a threat.
I’m only going to have the title of “student” once, may as well enjoy this experience – and its challenges – while it lasts.