Fisk Hall, the home of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Photo credit: Madcoverboy / CC-BY 3.0)

A pair of recent controversies at two student newspapers have exposed the core challenge faced by all of embattled news media in 2019. It’s not what you’ve likely heard — a life-threatening lack of revenue, corporate consolidation, a hostile president. These problems orbit a central, elemental and relatively solvable problem that these student journalists have already begun to confront: We have little to no tangible relationship with the communities we purport to serve. We don’t know our audience.

I mean, we “know” them. Thanks to metrics provided by Google Analytics, Chartbeat, and other powerful technology, we know how many of…


The future of journalism depends on how seriously we take our rights, and how our work reflects the necessity to preserve them

“(Le fonctionnaire de) l’état, c’est moi” by Photocapy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

An article last week in The Atlantic spotlights how college administrators are increasingly clamping down on student journalists whose work the administrators view as unfavorable to their schools. On the one hand, this sucks: It should go without saying that high-paid, ostensibly enlightened “educators” need much thicker skin. On the other hand, these kinds of contretemps will always be part of the job for journalists, especially for the types of flinty young muckrakers whose reporting necessarily punches up to keep powerful, image-obsessed campus leaders accountable.

Unsurprisingly, those leaders are hitting back harder and harder. The Atlantic article cites gaslighting, undermining…


How to think big, stay realistic, and make yourself (and your team) proud during the busy time ahead

You’ve gotta start somewhere.

This time every year — -usually on or around this date — -it finally hits student journalists and faculty advisers: We have to go back to school. Newsrooms get decluttered, computers get refreshed, new equipment gets unboxed, orientations are scheduled, and hopes and dreams soar for the school year ahead.

Any of us who’ve done this before, though, has seen how those hopes and dreams can fade closer to November. And don’t even think about their depleted, ghostly presence limping into April and May. …


How one college newspaper talked to its audience, eliminated print, and forges on with a new digital mission

A small group of students gathered in The Sacramento Bee pressroom on April 24 to witness The State Hornet, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary as the student-run news organization of Sacramento State, end its print era and shift wholly to a digital operation.

The cover of the final printed State Hornet newspaper, April 24, 2019 (Photo courtesy of The State Hornet)

The scene was the culmination of a two-year process that started with a simple question posed by a student editor to the State Hornet Publication Board at Sac State: “Why are we still printing a newspaper?” …


Sacramento State University — JOUR 132
Tuesday, 6–8:50 p.m. — Mendocino 3002
Instructor: Stu VanAirsdale

Refer here to review the class syllabus and policies for Spring 2018.

NOTE: Schedule subject to revision. All readings and assignments are due complete by the beginning of each class period.

Week 1 — Jan. 23

Topic: Introduction to Magazine Writing
Writing Due: Mini-profiles (in-class)

Week 2 — Jan. 30

Topic: Magazine media — Print, Web, Mobile
Reading due: None
Writing due: None

Medium.com

Week 3 — Feb. 6

Topic: Web magazines/Medium.com
Reading due: None
Writing due: Magazine critique

Week 4 — Feb. 13

Topic: Enterprising/queries Reading due: - “How (and Where!) to Pitch Your Writing,” Ann Friedman, Medium.com - “Freelance writers: Writing is Great, but…


Sacramento State University — JOUR 132
Tuesday, 6–8:50 p.m. — Mendocino 3002
Instructor: Stu VanAirsdale

Photo by Thierry Caro / CC-BY

Click here for the “Magazine Writing” — Spring 2018 reading/assignment schedule.

Why are we here?

Three units for, as a slightly tweaked version of the Sac State catalog description puts it: “Conceiving, reporting and writing feature articles for magazines in print and online. In addition to improving writing skills, students will analyze markets for freelance work and publish articles in a digital magazine launched by the class.”

Why are we REALLY here?

For nearly a decade now, the fashion among observers both inside and outside the journalism trade has been to note how media…


(Photo by COD Newsroom / CC-BY; amended by the author)

On their ways to picking up their diplomas, a fair number of our journalism graduates at Sacramento State stop by my office to say two things: “Goodbye,” and, “Yikes, now what?”

It’s a good but often dumbfounding question for a mentor. And like so many of the riddles confronting journalism students (“How do I get a job?”, “Should I go to journalism school?”, “What is the best city for working as a journalist?”), my replies depend on how well new journalists can answer six questions of my own. Editors and employers have the same questions. …


“Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

That was the phrase spotted on the back of a Trump supporter’s t-shirt Monday in Minnesota — the line touted by former MLB pitcher-turned-doughy fascist ideologue Curt Schilling on Twitter as “so much awesome.” (Schilling has since deleted the tweet and urged critics who can’t take the “joke” to “kiss my ass.”) CNN media commentator Brian Stelter rebuked Schilling and the lynching allusion in a segment on Election Day. “As journalists,” Stelter said, “we’ve got to advocate for what we do, and explain what we do.”

What we do. On Tuesday, I asked my…


Photo via Nieman Lab

Before last week, I had no idea that Gannett — America’s largest newspaper publisher by circulation — owned two college news outlets in Florida. Or at least it used to: The Central Florida Future, the longest-running student news operation at University of Central Florida, ceased operating on Aug. 4.

Usually I describe these operations as “student-run media,” but that’s not really how it worked at The Future. According to a post-mortem from Nieman Lab, The Future’s business operations were handled from the front office of Florida Today, an hour away in Brevard County:

“It wasn’t a knee-jerk [decision] or anything…


You know what this is. (Photo: Infrogmation / CC-BY)

Before I started teaching journalism at Sacramento State University in January 2013, I spent a few weeks cramming on theory. I perused a lot of websites about media. I isolated and dutifully bookmarked the voices I thought might have impact or value for me as an instructor. Most sites didn’t make the cut. Not because they were bad or irrelevant, but because they spent more time on close reads of “the media” — business, theory, practice, ethics, gossip, etc. —than on the ways journalists are educated. Trade reporting is fine, but I had other questions, like: How can a professional…

Stu VanAirsdale

Journalist. Teacher. California. stvcsus AT gmail

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