One of the surest signs of fall is a spike in the number of questions we get from campus colleagues about how to best work with student journalists.
The relationship between campus communicators and student journalists can be a frustrating one on both sides of the equation. Communicators can lose sight of the fact that these journalists are in fact student journalists, and student journalists feel slighted when their institution overlooks student media in favor of local, state and national press.
Here are some tips we’ve been sharing with campus communicators lately that may be helpful to you as you navigate your relationship with students journalists. We’d love to hear your best strategies as well.
- Don’t boo, build.
Some campus communicators have reached the conclusion that a positive working relationship with student media is simply not feasible and have turned away from campus publications in favor of other outlets that “get it.” This is a huge mistake that likely will come back to bite you and your institution. Instead of writing off student journalists, the smart communicator will build relationships with them just as they do with “real” media. Having the ability to reach out to a student journalist to help shape, inform or push back on a story is invaluable, no matter if that journalist is pulling a salary or pulling an all-nighter before an exam.
- Invest in creating good journalists.
It’s in the institution’s best interest to support the development of smart, discerning, responsible student journalists, so if budgets allow, consider partnering with student affairs colleagues to invest in training opportunities through organizations like the College Media Association. Another tip: Keep in mind that off-campus media often turn to on-campus media to comment on major stories or breaking news at your institution and consider inviting the student press leadership to your next media training session.
- Provide access while managing expectations.
It’s important to find the sweet spot between facilitating access to senior leaders on campus and having every single question for every single story land on the desk of the president or her or his cabinet. Building a relationship between the communications office and the student press allows campus communicators to manage the flow of requests and match questions with the appropriate spokesperson, leaving time and room for engagement with senior leadership to be strategic and meaningful for all.
- Include them in your planning.
So often, institutions planning major announcements or reacting to events on campus overlook campus media. This is a huge missed opportunity to reach your internal constituencies and possibly help inform local coverage. Be sure that you include student media in your planning, and give strong consideration to giving them some special attention—one-on-one briefings, early access to press materials or spokespeople, or assistance with identifying additional sources.
- Remember they are students.
It’s frustrating when we have to educate reporters, but with student journalists, that’s what it’s all about. They are students first, and the experience they are gaining from the student press is vital whether they go into journalism or another field entirely. As part of a college or university community, we communicators have the same obligation to participate in the education of our students as faculty, advisers, coaches, and student affairs staff. Embrace that responsibility.
Want more insight on working with student journalists? See my May 2015 post.