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WV Press Convention Review: With college recruitment, diversity, inclusion and a sense of purpose should be new focus of newspaper recruitment; ‘Pale, male and frail’ leadership is out

Today’s college graduates said most racially and ethnically diverse generation so far

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – What is the best way to attract today’s college students to the newspaper industry? 

Experts from West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media provided their answers to this question during the 2022 West Virginia Press Convention, held at the Four Points by Sheraton from Aug. 4-6. 

In a special Friday education session, WVU Teaching Assistant Professor David Smith, WVU Director of Student Media Madison Cook, and WVU Director of Student Careers and Opportunities Eric Minor told publishers, editors and other media personnel that attracting students for possible employment is vastly different than ever before. 

Watch the presentation here.

To increase success, instead of focusing on traditional newsroom traits and values, employers might pay attention to what students want from a career and workplace.

In addressing the college and industry representatives at the seminar, West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith, who arranged the session and has worked with students from WVU, stated that part of the problem in today’s news industry is that most of the decision makers are jokingly referred to as “pale, male and frail.”

“Too many leaders in our industry look like me. We are 60-year-old white men who have been in the business for decades,” Smith said. “That’s a fact, and I think we need to address that.” 

Smith said inviting new leaders with new ideas to the table will help the industry prepare for a future that is more digital than print.

He continued that journalism is no longer “600 words and a headline.” 

“It’s spoken word as much as it is written word,” Smith said. “We haven’t done that well as an industry.”

He concluded that many students are graduating with the ability to produce content in print, video and for social media that a growing audience wants to see. 

“I think that is something we need to look at.”

According to WVU’s Professor Smith, one important element in student recruitment is developing a relationship with those at the Reed College of Media. 

He said employers should visit the introductory journalism classes, speak to students, introduce those students to their organization and place an emphasis on the value of journalism provided to local communities. 

“Early exposure to the value of local journalism is really important,” Smith said, adding that students need to know a West Virginia employer is interested in their skillset, before they start looking at opportunities in other states. 

Additionally, employers can work with students in upper level courses, and their professors, to create projects for possible publication and provide collaborative opportunities, Smith continued. 

“You can work with them to develop ideas, which is what we’ve done a lot with ‘100 Days in Appalachia,’” Smith said. 

He explained that students in various classes, like beat reporting, investigative journalism and multimedia, will often have stories ready for publication. They are also receptive to working with news organizations to develop quality content for use in both print and online formats. 

Next, Cook discussed the value of internships. 

“You need to treat the recruiting process like a marketing campaign,” Cook stated. “There is a lot of noise out there and a lot of options for students, so just be very straightforward about what they are going to learn at your internship and what makes your internship different from any other internship that they have opportunities for.” 

Don’t just expect students to get coffee, Cook continued. Students want to get more out of the internship–like gaining important skills and exploring the possibility of future employment. 

Other things students expect from a potential employer, Cook continued, is an “inclusive and equitable environment.” 

Employers can achieve this by providing fair pay, being flexible with remote work, assisting with housing during the internship and showing understanding, patience and empathy, Cook said. 

Speaking last, Minor noted that employers should research the characteristics of “Generation Z” – those currently graduating from colleges and universities. 

For example, he said they are the “most racially and ethnically diverse generation so far.” They have a strong need for “authenticity and transparency.” They “are always searching for purpose and value in what they do,” and they are the “most socially conscious generation.” 

Pay is always important, but it isn’t the most important factor in recruiting today’s students, Minor continued. Following the pandemic, quality of life has become extremely important for many, and students are looking for a “culture where they are valued and appreciated.” 

He said that media outlets nationwide are creating recruitment videos as a way to attract talent by showcasing their newsrooms and the community in which a potential employee will live. He encouraged each local publication to develop their own recruitment videos and show-off what makes their community unique. 

Lastly, Minor said employers shouldn’t focus as much on a well-polished resume full of traditional news experiences and internships – especially when considering first-generation college students who may have had to work outside of the journalistic field to support themselves or their family. 

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