Advice I’d give my younger self in J School

Last night, I had drinks and caught up with one of my friends from university who also lives in D.C. As is our habit whenever we get together, talk inevitably turned back to the college days, when we were on the student newspaper. I remember my last semester, when I worked a second time as the Kansan.com managing editor instead of being editor-in-chief. At the time I was disappointed but ultimately accepting. Looking back at where I’ve been since, it may have been a blessing in disguise at best, and irrelevant at worst.

So I’d tell my disappointed 21-year-old self, “Don’t sweat it. It will work out.”

While I learned a lot at the Kansan about production, teamwork, ethics and judgment, and made some amazing friends there, many of whom I still keep in touch with now, it was my internships that ultimately propelled my professional career, now that I look back. No one at The Columbus Dispatch cared that I wasn’t the editor; they liked my Dow Jones internship, which I earned by passing an editing exam and essay, not because of where I was on the Kansan staff. No one at The Kansas City Star cared, either; they liked my previous two internships. And POLITICO ultimately valued my three internships, my knowledge of online publishing (which I polished as Kansan.com editor and wouldn’t have had much of a chance to work on as editor, where most of my focus would have been on the paper) and my master’s degree.

My friend was in much the same position. After not being chosen for editorial leadership, she took up internships at smaller Kansas newspapers and eventually ended up in D.C. as the editor of a political news website, and will soon be a White House reporter for the bureau of a major publication. Another fellow alumna works at The Hill after having interned there. Just about everyone I work with on production at my current job had impressive internship experience that stands out. Two of my friends who are copy editors for major, large-market daily newspapers were “only” ever copy chiefs at the Kansan, but they each had strong summer internship experience. Another close friend had mid-level editorial leadership experience but branched out to editing and social media work for the university city government, and now does travel writing.

It’s probably only because I’m a few years out of university that I can look back with clearer eyes. To be blunt, I don’t see much of a correlation between the professional success of my fellow students and what positions they held on the campus paper. The ones who’ve gone the furthest (in terms of the relative size/prestige of the publications where they now work, if they work for one) made the best use of internships and outside-of-school reporting/editing opportunities, regardless of whatever work they did for the Kansan (which, to be fair, provided many of us with our first clips). That isn’t to say that former Kansan editors don’t or haven’t achieved substantial professional success (I know a married pair who’ve both gone extremely far, including a Pulitzer), just that there’s not really much of a link, from where I’m sitting. Being editor of the Kansan is not a guarantee of professional success, and not being editor of the Kansan isn’t going to keep you from professional success.

So that is what I would tell myself, if I could go back: Enjoy the student newspaper. Have fun, learn the process and make friends. But it is a stepping stone to other things that are stepping stones in and of themselves. In the professional world, no one will care all that much. I have fond memories of the Kansan, but the environment, pace and workload of my job now resemble it about as much as a Nilla Wafer resembles a wedding cake. And that’s fine, and doesn’t have to diminish the value of my campus newspaper experience. It just puts a lot of things into perspective, and I’m glad to have it.

I’m OK … I think?

About a week ago, I made the tough decision to move back home for a while, work and try to save up my money for a UK work permit further down the road. I realized that even if I could apply for one now, the time it would take to find a job would leave me financially crippled. As painful as my decision is, it’s for the best.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I read Noreen Malone’s New York magazine cover story about millennials and our struggles to get good jobs, pay off our student loans and start families. While some aspects of her story were grating — if you can’t get a job in Williamsburg … look elsewhere? — others made sense. Namely, our generation has trouble getting angry and channeling that anger into progress. She also notes the annoyance of parents who raised us to have high self-esteem and then go on to tell us we act “entitled.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’re a generation who did everything “right,” in terms of going to university, only to discover that that won’t necessarily help us. If it’s our own fault for being unemployed, what did we do wrong and what can we do right?

It’s interesting though that, looking at my friends from university, I see mostly success stories. I know people working for law firms, engineers with good state DOT internships and even some marketing types who’ve started their own companies. Most of my friends majored in journalism, an industry that we’re constantly told is in the crapper. Yet just about every one of them has a good job in the industry, be they reporters, editors, photographers or designers. Even on my end, I came very close to getting a good media job in the UK (I like to think I’d’ve had it were it not for my permit quandary), and have found several excellent prospects at home.

Despite these successes, it still feels that something’s missing. I thought about it and realized that it feels like our generation has nothing left to really “fight for.” We don’t have Nazis or Communists or the worst effects of state-sanctioned racial discrimination. We tend to be progressive and champion LGBT rights (with a lot of success) and environmental responsibility. But in terms of having a grand good vs. evil plot, we’re lacking. I think that’s why the Occupy Wall Street movement is catching our intention — our defining struggle might be an economic one.

Of course this is just speculation. I’m “only” 24 (OK, closer to 25) and I’m optimistic despite my plan to live and work in the UK getting shelved for the moment. It doesn’t feel like a failure, more of a postponement.

And I’m OK with that.

In Canterbury

After spending a few days in London with the family, I’m finally moved in at the university. I love my room — roomy but cozy, with nice big walls to hang posters and places to stick up photos.

I’ve picked up my ID and done some basic grocery shopping. In the next day or so I’ll open a bank account, and when my loan money comes in I’ll pay my accommodation fees, join the gym and maybe buy a city bus pass.

We had international student orientation this morning, and there’s an international students’ dinner tonight. Tomorrow is a tour of Canterbury Cathedral and the postgraduate induction. Thursday is my program’s orientation, where I’ll meet professors and choose my classes. It’s also the society fair, where you can pick which clubs and groups to join. Sunday is the Leeds Castle tour.

I’m having a lot of fun so far. I’ve met a couple of people who live on my (quiet) block, and gone to a couple of quiz nights with three really nice English girls. I’m kind of taking it easy this afternoon before cleaning up and getting ready for dinner.

More later!