Behind the bylines
Even in an era when pixels are threatening to make ink on paper obsolete, the staff of the Oregon Daily Emerald remains hooked on the old-school joys of publishing a daily newspaper.
The 111-year-old campus newspaper remains an irresistible lure for a cadre of dedicated student journalists who get hooked on the highs and lows of deadlines, breaking news and bylines.
College newspapers have “always been journalism at its purest form,” said Ryan Frank, the Emerald’s new publisher. “People are doing it for love and passion. They’re doing it because it’s fun.”
Laugh a lot
Working for the Emerald often means late nights and long hours. Grades and social lives may suffer. All for low pay, a little bit of glory and the kind of camaraderie that can only be found in a college newsroom.
“You sign on knowing you won’t have a life,” said Kat Flanagan, the Emerald’s former news editor. “The people you work with end up being your family.”
“We laugh a lot,” said Nora Simon, who is wrapping up her year-long term in May as the paper’s editor-in-chief. “We have dark humor.”
Simon, a senior in Clark Honors College majoring in journalism and history, presides over a staff of 40, a job that requires long hours in the newsroom. For a monthly stipend of $1,000, Simon, said she works more than 30 hours a week.
“I try to take as few classes as possible,” she said.
In addition to being responsible for getting the paper out, Simon’s job entails a wide range of duties. She works late some nights to put the paper to bed, proofing pages before sending them to the printer. She blogs on the Emerald Web site. She presides over too many meetings. She covers breaking news. And she trains staff on the finer points of writing, editing and getting the paper out on time.
“I take the education mission seriously,” she said.
Beyond the classroom
Franklin Bains, a junior in the Clark Honors College majoring in journalism, covers student government for the Emerald, a beat that requires him to cover endless night meetings and to track the sometimes byzantine workings of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon.
“It’s weird how getting on the front page has gotten mundane,” he said.
The ASUO is high profile beat that puts Bains in the middle of often-contentious campus politics and on the front of the Emerald on a regular basis.
“I enjoy getting to influence campus debate,” he said. “I’m a bit of a class clown. I like the opportunity to be a player on the stage. I’m a campus player. I have influence.”
His work for the Emerald — for which he is paid a stipend of $80 a week — has taken a toll on his grades, however.
“It’s hard to be both a student and a journalist,” he said. “I have cut back on my academic load. I had to cut a class this term. It provides a really good excuse to not put enough work into academics.
“It’s hard when the things you’re learning on the job go so far beyond what you’re learning in the classroom.”
Rachelle Hacmac, a senior majoring in journalism, is an Emerald staff photographer. She’s done long-form projects for other campus publications, but wanted to build up her portfolio with deadline work to show her versatility.
“I like doing it because I like to meet people and tell their stories,” she said. “I like how you can come into someone’s life. They don’t really know you but they’ll tell you things. They’ll tell you their secrets.”
Like other Emerald staffers, Hacmac recognizes the tectonic change the media world is going through, and realizes her work may not appear in newspapers. She wants to do visual story telling, regardless of the medium.
“I know the journalism world is evolving,” she said. “I’m not stuck on newspapers, or still photos.
“I feel optimistic — I’m not scared, because there are so many ways the industry is evolving, and I have the skills to help.”
A homecoming of sorts
The Emerald, founded in 1900, is an independent, non-profit organization overseen by a board of directors.
In February, the board hired Ryan Frank to be the Emerald’s new publisher, replacing Mike Thoele, a veteran newspaperman who held the job on an interim basis.
The hiring of someone like Frank as publisher of a college newspaper might have been unthinkable a decade ago, before the newspaper industry fell on hard times.
Frank, 33, left his job as an investigative reporter for the state’s biggest newspaper, The Oregonian, to become publisher of the Emerald.
“I had a pretty sweet job,” he said.
But with a young child at home and another on the way, Frank wanted to switch careers and the Emerald post provided a “a great opportunity to learn all kinds of new skills,” he said. He liked that it was a non-profit organization, and that the post would allow him to use his journalism skills to mentor students.
The fact that he was editor of the Emerald when he was a student at the UO helped as well.
“I spent more time at the Emerald than anywhere else,” he said. The newsroom, he said, doesn’t look much different than when he worked there.
“It’s fun to be back and watching students learning new things,” he said. “They still have ink in their blood.”
A unique marketplace
Working at the Emerald provides great experience for students preparing to enter the work force, he said. Reporters learn how to write clearly and quickly. Ad sales people learn how to make cold calls and work with clients. Supervisors, such as Simon, learn how to manage people.
“She’s managing a staff of 40,” he said. “I don’t know how many 22-year-olds graduating college can say that.”
While daily newspapers are struggling, college newspapers are doing well, Frank said.
“No one else can deliver that market place” of college students to advertisers, he said. “No one else can reach that community.”
The challenge is now is to create a model for the 21st century newsroom, he said, taking advantage of new digital technologies and emerging social media.
“I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like,” he said. “But that’s our charge. There’s no right answer.”
— Tim Christie, UO web reporter