Switch the Right Decision
No one told me not to do it. No one said I was making the right decision, either. In fact, only a select few people knew I was even considering switching from The Daily Collegian to Onward State in the fall of 2010.
I’m probably the only person who has spent my entire college career almost evenly divided between working for The Daily Collegian and Onward State. I feel like this has given me a unique perspective on Penn State’s media scene. And I’ve learned a great deal from both media outlets.
I’ve learned to deal with the pressures of intense deadlines. I’ve learned to compromise and put up with copy editors, even when my story gets a correction because they screwed up or gets cut to a fraction in the paper while the full 60″ runs online. I’ve learned to deal with criticism, to move on and do better when I screw up, and how to defend the work of my writers. I’ve learned what it’s like to break news and give advice. I’m still learning the full scope and the ins and outs of new tools like SEO and social media.
But most of all, I’ve learned a variety of styles of journalism. And that there is no one right way to do it.
Before I explain, you should probably better understand how it was that I came to make one of the best decisions of my life so far.
When visiting colleges as a high school senior, I was torn between two. One of the things that solidified my choice of Penn State was a visit to The Daily Collegian’s newsroom. I hadn’t written for my high school paper, which wasn’t so much a paper as an insert in my hometown’s little paper. But when I walked into the buzzy atmosphere of the Collegian’s newsroom, I was really excited to get involved with it. Fortunately, I made it through the difficult process of try-out, interview and candidate program in my first semester here. That first year was an incredible learning experience and a trying ordeal that I never would have gotten through without the support of my editor, fellow newbies (Candidate Class ’08! Woot woot!), an editor-in-chief who is a great journalist and person (@terry_casey), and a senior music reporter who has to be the best music journalist I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, @chesteadman.
But by the end of my third semester as a Collegian arts reporter, when it came time to fill out applications for positions in the spring, I realized I wasn’t going to get the only position I had ever really wanted while the news advisor pushed me toward a position I didn’t really want. In the end, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I took a semester off to do some thinking. It was during this time that friends of mine at Onward State began their unrelenting attempts to brainwash me. I had nothing against Onward State, despite the intense ill will harbored toward it by many Collegian members who portrayed it as the dark side.
After a talk with that now-graduated music journalist who had quickly become the Dr. Cox to my JD, and some discussion with only a couple other close friends, I came to realize it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe I should check it out. I sat in on a couple meetings to see what it was all about and discovered that these were just some really great people who had some unique views about journalism, among other things. And I liked it.
So when I got locked out of my email that summer and couldn’t send in my Collegian positions application, I figured I’d try out this blogging thing. And it was clearly the right decision.
No, not because I harbored any negative feelings toward TDC (though anyone who’s worked there can tell you it’s sometimes a rough experience). It was the right decision because it gave me a more realistic, balanced view of the media landscape. Having worked at both TDC and OS has given me experience in both traditional and alternative media and made me realize that both are important and necessary in their own way.
That’s why I’ve never really understood the petty sibling rivalry, and sometimes blatant hatred, between some members of the two. Both media outlets are important and valuable, they just take different approaches to disseminating information and reaching out to students.
Many students are quick to denounce the Collegian, claiming poor quality because it’s dry, the writing is lackluster, or it isn’t a realistic student voice. Or my personal favorite, “they misquoted me” (sometimes it’s true, but usually not — you just don’t like the way you sounded). What they don’t realize is that the Collegian is a newspaper, and as such its job is to give objective and comprehensive news coverage. In fact, it’s probably the best student newspaper in the country (I mean, have you ever seen Ohio State’s The Lantern?).
Many students, especially in recent months, have also been quick to denounce Onward State, or at least troll in our comments section. Yeah, we’ve made some major mistakes. But even the national media sometimes makes big mistakes. What’s important is learning to do better next time and move on. Others have criticized us for our content. They clearly don’t understand that OS isn’t just a news outlet; it’s meant to be a student voice (and not the only one, obviously). Until recently, even I didn’t fully understand that OS is more than journalism. It’s something we’ve discussed as a staff at length over the last few weeks. Certainly, journalism is a part of what is done here. But more importantly, OS is a blog, meant to capture as much of the multi-faceted student voice as it can, from news to opinions to whatever happens to be on students’ minds. Or at least, I think that’s a brief idea of what OS is really about.
Is either outlet perfect? Of course not. The Collegian could learn to take itself a little less seriously (a running newsroom joke: “we understand you’re students first”) and be a little more sensitive sometimes (“It’s a great day to be in a newsroom” was probably not the best thing to say in the midst of Sandusky coverage). Onward State still has a lot of growing to do and needs to learn how better to strike that balance between the serious and the goofy.
But I think that both are top-notch college media. And our student body should be grateful to have such a diverse and quality media landscape available. I have yet to see such a rich and complex mediascape at any other university. More than appreciate it, our student body should utilize it. So if I have any advice for our students, it’s to urge you all to read as much content from the various local newspapers and blogs at your disposal as you can. It can only enrich your experience here.
To close, I’d just like to say that I’ve loved my time at both publications. I can’t fully describe to you how enriching it’s been and, more importantly, how much fun. I’ve made some incredible friends and had the chance to write about some really great and interesting things. And it’s really helped shape my Penn State experience. So thank you to everyone I’ve worked with. And to everyone else: thanks for making it this far through my post. And do yourself a favor and take advantage of Penn State’s media. You won’t regret it.
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About the Author
They’re in our city.
Sam Ficken’s winding football journey has taken him from Indiana to New York with several stops in between. Now, as a Jet, he’s finally settled down in a consistent role.
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