Entering the News Industry With More Questions Than Answers

By Laura Sanicola

(Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

(Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

When I was named assistant news editor of The Fordham Ram in 2013, journalism was an answer.

It answered my hopes to make new friends other than my roommates, to be part of a body of students that really cared about issues affecting us and to write about something that mattered.

In so many ways it was just that. The student journalists I worked with throughout the past three years (who later became some of my closest friends that I would make at college) covered some of Fordham’s most important issues including adjunct faculty wages, bias incidents against our minority students, critical budget analysis and sudden tragedy. We took controversial editorial stances about safe spaces on college campuses and mental health.

It was hard work. As student journalists, we taught ourselves, generation through generation, how to do it thoughtfully and objectively.

As I write my final column for The Fordham Ram, journalism presents itself as less of an answer and more of a question. Can it monetize in a sustaining way? Are we relevant? Can we push past our current identity crisis to greener pastures?

As the editor-in-chief, I never had to worry about operating the newspaper as a traditional media outlet — it isn’t one.

Not tethered by the financial constraints affecting the industry, our reporters and editors never needed to worry about writing articles for clicks.

I cared very much that students read The Ram, but I arguably cared more that we held ourselves to high journalistic standards. We wrote about faculty budget disputes and student evaluations. These were not always topics popular among our readers, but they do perform one of the most basic journalistic tasks: holding superiors accountable.

We also continue to produce a print product, an expense that publications increasingly realize they will not be able to afford in the near future.

Since my freshman year, I have interned in six different newsrooms and I know that this is not the reality we are entering into. The cost of operating a newsroom is real, and metrics are given a much greater importance rather than measuring the relevance of the campus newspaper.

In the past year, the industry has had to face other pressing questions about why it lost public trust and whether or not it will be able to regain it.

I see these issues as interrelated, and inevitable.

To say that technology disrupted the way news was produced and read is an understatement.The internet not only drove the demand for free news, but gave rise to social media, which allowed users such as myself and my peers to curate our ideas in 140 characters or less. My futile attempts to get my peers to click on a link instead of browsing past a headline have been ineffective.

There is no going back.

Witnessing networks and publications struggle to retain viewers during an election year was interesting as a burgeoning member of the media.

With the internet as an unprecedented global platform, every article has the potential to do a world of good or a world of hurt.

I learned together that semantics and context matters, even when we are rushing to beat out other news sources. It matters now more than ever.

I also learned that the old fashioned structure of news, sports, features, op-eds and commentary has blurred in people’s minds into “content.”

This re-categorization of news has fundamentally affected the way we consume it, and will probably continue to have lasting effects on the profession.

Social media also transformed the image of journalists. One hundred years ago, journalists did not have bylines. Now many are elevated to a celebrity status on Twitter.

Journalists have opinions and voice them. A wall has been broken, a wall we have been told since our first journalism course was so important.

As the internet allows articles to exist in ubiquity, I’ve watched a fear of reporting journalism exist among my peers and colleagues. At The Fordham Ram, this has translated into a centralization of the way administrators respond to our inquiries. Most of our comments from the university were crafted in statements from the vice president of communication, if they were answered at all. The benefits of student media cannot be measured in dollars, but the damage done by negative press can be. The fear of the damage, existing forever on the internet, felt palpable every week. It is something I understood but never quite came to terms with.

The biggest question that journalism poses to me now is to what extent we can continue operating without free press. I’m not referring to a fear for first amendment rights but for news as beholden to outside forces. In the professional world, it is bound by the need to sell newspapers. At Fordham, it is bound by the fear that student media will bring the university bad publicity.

I’m not convinced that the press was ever completely free. But I am convinced that good journalism can make an impact, and that trust in this industry is the most important thing a journalist can build with his or her audience.

In the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, many ask me why I am still optimistic about a career in journalism. The answer lies in the people.

Those that have worked with me on the student paper are facing the same industry and asking themselves the same questions. We want to get it right. We know we are a pivotal generation for doing so.

I am still optimistic because of Kelly Kultys, my first editor-in-chief and the best boss I ever had, who convinced me not to quit The Fordham Ram when I was a freshman for botching a story, because at least I was trying.

I am still optimistic because of Katie Nolan, the former copy chief at The Fordham Ram who dedicated more hours than she ever had to in order to edit student work and teach our journalists — including myself — the necessity of developing a coherent narrative.

I am still optimistic because of my faculty adviser Beth Knobel, who spent the past year making herself available at all times for my staff because she wanted us so desperately to get things exactly right.

I am still optimistic because of Katie Meyer, my former managing editor and very close friend, who talks to me every day about these challenges. In her own writing and reporting, she teaches me every day how to tell stories that matter with the finesse of a seasoned professional in a world that deserves her reporting.

I am lastly optimistic about the future work of Erin Shanahan, our incoming editor-in-chief, and the staff of Volume 99.

The Fordham Ram is full of bright students who want to be on the right side of the news. They see this great newspaper and the profession in general as something larger than themselves.

In a way, I am glad I am ending with so many questions. It lends to a career spent trying to answer them.

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