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student journalists strike … for not being paid?

Not that I think people shouldn’t be paid for their work, but isn’t not being paid or being paid crap part of the bargain when you sign on for student media?

I just saw this on the Innovations in College Media blog. I don’t know the full story and am actually having a hard time wrapping my head around what little is there in a piece from the Tallahassee Democrat and from the paper’s own editorial.

The basic gist as I understand it is a number of people at Florida A&M haven’t been yet this semester… including the newspaper staffers. Seems to me it’s an error. Hardly worthy of a “strike.” It’s not that the university is refusing to pay, it’s just that somehow the paperwork got messed up.

Hmm. I know of several cases where people’s paychecks were screwed up at Kent State/The Stater. The checks were sent to wrong offices or pushed back until the next month because of an oversight. But then, we only got paid once a month. (They actually switched this semester to bimonthly payments.) It happened. We dealt with it, and we and the world moved on. The thing was, it didn’t really matter. Even as editor, my salary was hardly anything to write home about. It was about enough to keep my gas tank full, food in my stomach, my cell phone connected and to cover a few nights out with friends each month. And I was by far the best compensated person on staff (though not on a per-hour basis at all… I refuse to work out the math on how much I was paid per hour because I’m afraid it will start with a $1… and end with not much else).

I didn’t really look at my work in student media, at the newspaper or any of the magazines, as a job. The purpose was to gain exposure and sample the different positions/media. I wanted experience, not the paycheck. (Though, when I became the managing editor the first time was when I quit my other job, but it was for lack of time not because of the pay. I made more working at the bowling alley.)

The first semester I was hired at the newspaper I didn’t even know I was going to be paid at all. I remember, when the editor mentioned student appointment forms during our all-staff session, I had to ask the copy desk chief (I started on the copy desk at the paper) if I actually needed one. I was only doing it for the experience. I think most students would say the same thing. I can think of only one exception of someone who I worked with who was doing it for the money. And, he no longer works in student media. So there you have it.

4 Responses to “student journalists strike … for not being paid?”

  1. University Update Says:

    student journalists strike … for not being paid?

  2. Dana Says:

    There is one point that’s missing though. This isn’t about two camps of people: those who are there for the experience and those who are there for the money. It’s more about people being able to afford participating in the experience of student media BECAUSE the money exists.
    If you’re a couple months behind in checks from the newspaper, and you’ve quit your other job so you can devote yourself to that paper, it’s hard to just brush off weeks on end with no money (and therefore potentially no food, rent money, recreation funds, no way to pay for books, etc…) I know at least for the editor, they made sure I didn’t have another job and told me my salary was such that I could devote myself solely to my job at the paper. If I had go without my editor’s check for two months I would have had to get another job because that was my only income. My duties as editor certainly would have suffered because, as you pointed out, there just isn’t time to do both, and whether it was an official strike or not, I would have no longer been doing my job properly. An official strike was probably a more professional statement than the sloppy journalism that would have prevailed when all the editors took on 30-hour a week retail jobs in addition to running the paper.
    Not getting paid is fine as long as you know when you sign up that you are a volunteer. But volunteers know they need to adjust their schedule and fnances accordingly. These students did not.
    I joined student media for the experience, but my experiences were magnified by 20 because I didn’t have to hold down a part-time job at the same time. Otherwise I probably couldn’t have spared enough time to advance past the copy desk. Yes it’s a great way to learn. But the fact is if you’re told you will be paid, good experience isn’t going to buy you dinner.

  3. Meranda Says:

    Dana — I agree, you should be paid if you signed on to be paid. I’m not arguing with that at all. You are 100 percent right, being an editor, especially thee editor and having another job is not feasible. Trust me, I almost had a nervous breakdown the semester I was in print beat because I was working for the Burr, Fusion, proofreading for the Stater, working my beat, taking 16 credits and working 25-30 hours a week at the bowling alley. All on top of other personal issues. It sucked. But I managed, and I definitely came out stronger for it. I know you didn’t really know me then, but yeah, I have always been crazy busy. It’s my mode of operation.

    I worked another job until I became an editor at the paper and it was too much. After that, student media was my sole source of income. And it’s worth noting, my parents didn’t pay for anything. I didn’t even get birthday and Christmas gifts. In fact, I lent them more money than they spent on me during my college years. Such is the way of life.

    Somehow, I managed. I managed to eat, to have a place to sleep and to pay my bills on time. I even managed to save enough to buy two iPods, two digital cameras, a MacBook, etc. during college. I didn’t go in debt for these. I did go in debt for some of my tuition expenses that I probably could have worked harder to not carry into post-graduate life. Still, my burden is less than a lot of grads. I don’t know how I did it except to say I manage my money better than a lot of people. (And I don’t really drink, which saves a lot of money.)

    The point I was trying to make is that the strike is, well, silly. There are two reasons I’ll give for it’s uselessness:

    1. first, what’s the point of only some staff members striking? If the paper still comes out, what have you accomplished except making it more stressful for the staffers who chose to remain on. If you didn’t get the paper out, then what have you accomplished except depriving your community of its main news outlet.
    2. second, a strike is usually a method of last resort. seems to me, the university isn’t refusing to pay them, there was a mistake made somewhere. You can’t always fix mistakes as quickly or efficently as you’d like. Humans are imperfect, and systems are fallible.

    :shrug: That’s the way I see it.

  4. Dana Says:

    Well that was a side I somehow missed. I see your point a little more clearly now. Certainly my point about the journalism suffering is null and void if indeed the paper is still being printed. With a handful of staffers taking on the entire burden plus rebalancing their lives to make up for the lack of a paycheck, it certainly will lead to journalism that, well, probably sucks.
    I’m sure the students were hoping a strike would put pressure on the powers that be to get the problem fixed. But now the debate is, what kind of journalists would throw their paper to the wolves like that? I can’t imagine walking out knowing my cops and courts reporter was still killing herself to fill that front page. Ack!
    Not really related, but a point that I cut out of my first post was that in the sliding scale of pay, it is usually the reporters who get the shaft, working the same hours as editors with less pay. I don’t know how anyone does it–I was astonished every day by the work the people on the beat produced (I think it’s why even in grown-up land I’ve avoided being a reporter like the plague).
    Thanks for the reply and the clarification!