Last weekend I had the joy of spending some time in State College, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the student newspapers that would come to be known as the Daily Collegian. The paper is as much a part of Penn State's history and everyday student life as the elms along the Mall.
Most newsroom veterans have a story about falling in love with journalism, a moment when they knew there was no other business, no other life, that suited them. My Collegian story doesn't have a single instant like that, because it lives in my mind as one long moment, a two-and-a-half-year swoon into the profession, and culture, that brought me a career and a life (I met my husband, perhaps inevitably, in a newsroom).
In my early-90s days in Happy Valley, the Collegian was my extracurricular activity, a daily work-study, the center of my social world and the place I made friends who will be in my life forever. Now approaching the middle of our careers, folks from my Collegian "classes" are working in every level and type of media, including the New York Times, the Daily News, the Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Comcast ... we are everywhere.
But as good as we were (or thought we were), as hard as we worked, we had nothing like the Sandusky scandal to cover. A highlight of the two-day Collegian reunion event was a panel discussion with students from the news and business sides, talking about the experience of running the paper through that time. From coaxing nervous advertisers into staying on board, to meeting the overwhelming demand for papers, the Collegian staff got as much experience in those days as they'd get on any internship.
Make no mistake, these kids have the fire in the belly, but they're embarking on careers in an industry whose guiding sentiment is uncertainty. Every day you spend on the staff at the Collegian is a day you choose journalism.
It isn't absolutely necessary to work at the Collegian to be successful in the news business -- hell, look at Dan Victor, he didn't work for the Collegian and he's already held half of the jobs in the industry. Thanks to outlets like Onward State, ComRadio, the CDT and the Centre County Report, chances to do media work of all kinds are plentiful.
But you'll never convince me that there's a better place in the country to learn the skills, craft, spirit and ethos of daily journalism than at the Daily Collegian. College Media Matters called it "startlingly good." I'm proud to call it alma mater.