By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer
When I applied for a job at The Baylor Lariat, I thought being a college journalist would mean spending hours a day in a bustling newsroom where I’d get to jump on breaking news and work my way up the ranks to get my story on the cover. In a lot of ways, I was right. It’s only halfway through my first semester on staff and I have published over 28 stories, which means I’ve done about 50 interviews. I’ve made it on the cover three times and I’ve never been so proud of my hard work.
Something I’ve discovered since I began writing for a college newspaper is that there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. Before I was a staff writer, I’d see a newspaper on the stands and think, “Cool! Another paper. Maybe I can write for them one day.” But now, I see the paper and think of all the people who poured hours into making it possible. I see the individual writers and the passions that sparked the idea behind every article. I see the spreadsheets, the meetings, the interviews, the edits and the design that took so much intention and effort to create.
So in order to share what it’s like to work in a college newsroom, I wanted to put together a bit of a day-in-the-life story of what a typical Thursday might look like for me, a staff writer and reporter.
6:30 a.m. – Paper route delivery
On days when there is a print issue, our staff rotates through a schedule of who delivers the morning paper route. Keep in mind, this is the morning after print night, the busiest and latest night of the newsroom. There are almost 7,000 newspapers that have to be delivered to practically every building on campus. I’ve only had to do delivery once so far, but let me tell you — it’s simultaneously one of the most exhausting and coolest things I’ve had to do so far.
It took me and my partner Grace three whole hours to deliver our route (which was only half of campus!). We get to use Baylor golf carts to drive all over campus, but ours broke down about 15 minutes into it and we had to push it to the side of the road. Eventually, we got the job done and rewarded ourselves with some Starbucks from Moody afterwards.
Cute little side note: Every time there is a Lariat print edition, the staff on the paper route that morning hand-delivers two copies to the front porch of the President and First Gent’s house. I got to drive up to their house and be on their porch!
9:30 a.m. – Time for class
First and foremost, Lariat staff members are students too, so I have to go to class and keep my grades up. What’s fun about classes for me, however, is that I take a lot of journalism courses. I’m currently enrolled in Editing, where I’m learning how to use Adobe InDesign to lay out newspapers and design magazines. I’m also in Advanced Reporting and Writing. For this class, we write for the Lariat for a grade as reporters, which means I am now both a part-time paid staff writer and an unpaid reporter. Most part-time staff writers only write two articles a week, but since I am also in this class, I write four. I wouldn’t recommend doubling up like this, but I needed to in order to complete my journalism minor on time.
12:00 p.m. – Interviews
There is a rule in the Lariat that for every article (expect Opinion), there must be two live sources. This means that for my four articles a week, I need to have 8 interviews a week. This is easier when I am interviewing students because I can just approach them on campus, but for administration, business owners like Shorty from Shorty’s Pizza Shack or Waco PD, I have to schedule these in advance. They can last from 5 minutes to an hour, depending on the topic.
1:00 p.m. – Hitting the newsroom grind
Most of the time, I just work on my articles from home, especially with COVID-19. But when it’s a big print night or I’m just in the mood to hang out with other staff members, I head to the newsroom — usually with an iced coffee in hand — to get some work done. I write all of my articles first on Google Docs, then copy them over to Camayak, which is the online platform where I submit my work to my editors. All of this is done digitally.
I like working in the newsroom not only because it’s an exciting place of work (complete with a police scanner that announces real-time crime in Waco), but because it’s fun! There’s a break room and desks for each of the editors, and we all get to talk to each other and make work fun. Last time I was in there, I spent four hours designing a news spread and eating Chick-Fil-A while laughing at a comedy show on the big TV with my coworkers. The balance of work and fun is so important, which is why I think actually being in the newsroom is so beneficial to the job.
3:00 p.m. – Daily deadline
All of my stories must be submitted by 3 p.m the day they are due. I typically have one due Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Since I am submitting on Camayak, the article goes straight to the virtual “desk” of the editor immediately above me, who then edits it and either sends it back to me for fixing or on to the next editor in the chain of command. From there, designers take the article and format it into the publication and use the photos taken by photographers.
At 12 p.m on Wednesday of every week, I use Camayak to pitch 4 new story ideas to my News Desk editor, who then approves them for the upcoming week. The cycle repeats.
6:30 p.m. – Desk meeting
On Mondays and Thursdays, I have staff meetings (over Zoom) where we go over how we did the past week and what is coming up. We meet together as a whole staff on Monday and then in our specific groups (for me, News) on Thursdays. We spend time looking at statistics and feedback on our publication and talk about new ideas and what we can work on.
8:00 p.m. and on – Extra work, logging hours
It’s almost impossible to work the exact amount of hours we get paid for as Lariat staff members, since so much of news is covering real-time events and making last-minute edits before stories go live. Especially on print nights, we have to be on-call all night in case somewhere in the editing process our editors find an unanswered question or need a fact-check. We also have to be available to cover breaking news, which happens late at night a lot of the time, like when I covered President Livingstone’s email about risk of expulsion for not following COVID-19 regulations.
At the end of my work day, I log up to my allotted 8 hours a week on my timecard so that I can make sure I am getting paid for my work. Though I have quickly realized how much lower Texas minimum wage is than that of California, this job really isn’t about the money. There’s nothing like seeing your name under a front-page headline or the experience you get from putting so much work into all parts of a publication.
This job is about the experience and about learning the journalism industry in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It sure is a lot of work, but each night I get in bed feeling accomplished and proud of all the ways I’ve put myself out there in order to do what I love.