This past weekend, 10 editors and one staff advisor of The Griffin attended a journalism conference in sunny–though-not-while-they-were-there San Francisco. The Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Spring National College Media Conference joined Canisius students with peers from all over the country including Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and — of course — the host state California. Over the course of three full days, numerous lectures and discussions were led on all topics surrounding collegiate journalistic media. Students had the opportunity to go in depth into photography, feature writing, leading a news team as an editor and learning the ins and outs of being a journalist in college and beyond.
As editors of a collegiate-level newspaper that has been in print for 90 years now, the team can be seen as some of the top writers at the school, so there may be an air of conceit to the point that one may ask, “How much more can they learn?”
The answer: more than any of them could have possibly imagined.
Day one of the ACP Conference, a session on the challenges of being a new writer, as well as an editor to a new writer, was offered by two co–editors-in-chief of a college magazine published twice a semester. They explained that many of us are conditioned to write in a typical academic paper format, but that style is not conducive to the kind of writing needed for a magazine or newspaper: the breaking of that habit can be a difficult process for writer and editor alike. The presenters advised patience on both ends, because we all were first starting out once, too, and writing is something that should be enjoyable and not a cause of stress. They also suggested that there be a lot of communication throughout the editing process: keeping schedules updated to allow time for meetings, filling drafts with comments both reinforcing and constructive and always keeping in mind that everyone is trying to do their best by the publication.
Writers are not automatically effective editors, just as the best editors don’t have to be the writer with the most awards. There’s always room to grow, no matter where you’re starting.
Other sessions during the weekend taught The Griffin editors about the use of artificial intelligence in journalism, with others advice on covering events where the subject may not be something that you are comfortable with or able to participate in. Experts were ready to teach the editors about Title IX and its application to journalism; it can get very tricky, the experts advised, depending on a school’s policy and possibly decrease a reporter’s ability to report on difficult issues. Panels of female journalists gave insight on their experiences with sexism and discrimination in the workplace and advice on how to advocate for yourself. They even attended a session on ways to better cover stories regarding trans and non-binary identities, giving them a slew of new knowledge to take with them through the rest of their lives.
After each breakout activity, many felt they had learned more about what it truly looks like to be a reporter, and that it is, in fact, possible to create a name for themselves in the field. Each day held both academic and personal learning opportunities, and some felt for the first time as though they were growing into their own skins.
Even for our group of editors (some of whom have spent four years studying media and journalism), there was still a lot to be learned. An advisor from another university offered critiques of two editions of The Griffin and gave feedback on improvements he thought we could make in order to be more engaging to readers. While there was nothing wrong with the copies of the newspaper that he had, there were still a lot of suggestions that none of the currently staffed editors had implemented yet. With a negative state of mind, the editors could have easily been insulted by his list of suggestions or felt a little peeved because his ideas consisted of things that he “personally” thought would make The Griffin better. Instead, open minds sat around that round table to listen and take notes from someone who had more experience than they did, and we gained a lot because of it.
He wasn’t ripping into each article and attacking the grammar and content; instead, he pointed out superficial improvements that didn’t cast a negative light on any editors in particular. Just as an editor makes polite suggestions on a contributor's article draft, this advisor’s critiques were thoughts based on his own experiences in the journalism field. The purpose was to help create a better final product.
No matter how high up you are on the totem pole somewhere, there’s always more you can learn in order to make yourself better: framing things this way can make it easier for you to accept criticisms and use them to your advantage.
The Griffin’s staff excursion to San Francisco was a journey into the field of journalism, architecture and our own personal identity. During a conference about ways to cover a music festival, one headline read “Try Weird Sh*t.” If you’re like some of the editors, something that seems to be so simple as trying new things is incredibly daunting, but we wanted to give it their best shot. Throughout the excursion, they tried new things like attempting (and failing for some) charades.
The editors learned a lot on this trip, and this new knowledge spanned far outside the breakout sessions and conference rooms they spent a majority of their weekend in. They learned more about each other as well. For example, multiple editors have dietary restrictions: two vegetarians and one with severe tree nut allergies. It was also discovered that many of them have birthdays that fall during the later half of the year, especially during the autumn season. Some are originally from different states, and others have multiple siblings in their families. Their experiences allowed them to connect to some incredible people and see firsthand how overcoming social anxiety allowed them to make connections with those they spent every Thursday with. Who knew?
None of the information the editors took in this weekend would have been possible without the acceptance that they didn’t know everything, and anything they were able to learn while on vacation with their friends in San Francisco is a privilege. In our experience, the moments we learn from the most are those that happen when we are least prepared but have accepted the constant flow of knowledge we have in our lives.
Marissa Burr and Sydney Umstead
Photo Credit to Daniel Higgins, The Griffin Advisor