Yesterday, the newspaper’s editor in chief, the arts & music magazine’s editor and I had the pleasure of attending the New York Times Student Editors’ Workshop.  Due to traffic, we arrived 20 minutes late and missed the welcome speech, but nevertheless learned a lot throughout the day and even made some contacts.

A wall of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the New York Times

Approximately 100 student editors met at the New York Times’ seventh home since its creation in 1857.  Some students came from as far away as Brigham Young University, while others were just a short subway ride from their home campuses.

The Dow Jones editing internship was highly recommended to help prospective journalists set themselves apart from the rest of the masses vying for placement in the internship (and, hopefully, subsequent employment with the New York Times).  What was not on the list of requirements?  A high GPA.  According to Monica Drake, the GPA is not as greatly considered as other aspects of the application.  Also, graduate school can be bypassed, and in some cases, a bachelor’s degree.

“If you can do it, then we want you,” said Manager for Staff Editor Training Don Hecker, after telling participants that the Times had hired an employee who never earned a college degree, but rather dropped out and pursued journalism.

That was, perhaps, the most disheartening part of the day.  It wasn’t the uncertain future for print journalism, but the fact that all of my hard work has been for naught.  Who needs to be on the dean’s list when you can just drop out and start a job as a copy editor?  Speaking of which, how much do you think a starting copy editor makes for the New York Times?  Guesses ranged from $20,000 to $30,000 — all higher than what a starting journalist can generally expect to make, but drastically lower than what a starting copy editor makes — $90,000.

My favorite part of the workshop was James Dao’s appearance.  Dao is a national correspondent who also covers military and veterans’ affairs.  He also happens to be working on a series similar to what I hope to do for my senior honors thesis (minus the fact that he embeds).  I was really hoping to meet him, so when he finished talking I leaned over to the editor and said, “Is he leaving?  If he is, I’m chasing him down!” to which the editor said, “Go get him!” and I sprinted out of the conference room and ran down the hall (not an easy feat in a skirt and high heels).

Another speaker was unable to speak because he was meeting deadline.  His replacement nevertheless had quite a bit of wisdom to impart.

“I’m gonna change your life with what I’m going to tell you today,” Neil [I missed his surname] told students.

With the sort of wit and bluntness lacking in most conversation today, Neil was refreshing and honest in addressing the attendees.

“We don’t need one trick pony in the room.  You can be what you want to be,” Neil continued.  “Never take a step back to get ahead.”

Whether the “step up” is a higher paycheck or another step closer to a goal career, Neil told students to keep that in mind and live without regrets.

“Be true to yourself.  Do you really know who you are?” Neil asked, then continued that he frequently closes his interviews by asking his sources what sort of fruit they would be, as it tells him about their characters.  “I’m an apricot.  Apricots don’t grow in bunches; I’m an individualist.”

What sort of fruit are you?

Neil also talked about his “three, five and dime” plan for the future, which requires people to envision where they want to be in three, five and ten years.  Students should plan and and prepare for the future, for the real world that comes after graduation — which, for most of the attendees, is swiftly approaching within either one month or a little over a year.

“If you’re here because you’ve got talent, and you are because you do, someone believes in you,” Neil said.  “You need to believe in yourself.”

[Quotables]

“Journalism is not a dying art.  If you believe in it, you can make it.  The cream rises to the top.” – Neil

“I thought you were just mesmerized by New Jersey.” – Speaker, after noticing students staring out the window at paper fluttering through the air for some unknown reason.

“One thing reporters learn to do is to fudge the details of what we’re doing.” – Speaker

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