By Jager Robinson
My time at the Potter County News in Gettysburg, South Dakota showed me that the lessons about journalism that I’ve learned at Stony Brook are true: listen to your editor, and don’t call Republicans stupid. But the most important rule of all is never to be afraid of finding your voice.
Your voice is your work. Your work reflects your voice. These two things together make up what I’ve learned to be my niche in journalism, column writing, and I have South Dakota to thank for that realization. Something as simple writing a weekly column in the paper has also let me better see how to apply my voice in straight news writing. Instead of opinionated writing scattered in my news work, my column allowed me to express a part of me that I could then set aside when I needed to for other work.
The highly Republican nature of South Dakota lent itself to a clash with the New York ideals I brought with me, but the people of South Dakota opened up to that “kid from New York” and let me try to persuade them that the rest of the world isn’t as flat as South Dakota, or as dry as Gettysburg, or even as Republican as the state’s U.S. Senator, John Thune.
One of my best experiences came as I was leaving Gettysburg with my father at the end of my time there. A man came up to me and said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I loved every one of your columns. This town will miss you.” Truthfully, I didn’t remember the man, but he gave me one last bit of clarity that maybe I did some good, and that last bit of validation helped me realized that I’d like to be writing columns for the rest of my life.
At Stony Brook, students are taught that as they progress through the rigorous courses, their workload will increase to the breaking point. When I arrived at the one-hill town of Gettysburg, I realized that my workload would begin to look much different from the expectations at Stony Brook. At Stony Brook, between the three or four journalism classes each semester, you might be expected to call five to six people a day for stories you’re working on. I didn’t feel that was necessary at PCN, as most stories were worked through research and traveling to locations as opposed to calling people. I haven’t worked at a daily newspaper yet, but I imagine my school workload would look a lot like that with much higher stakes.
Each of the styles has its challenges, of course; daily stories carry with them harsh deadline constraints, while weekly stories can carry with them a sharper sense of expectation for the work. I think I would prefer the faster-paced environment over the weekly newspapers.
About my journey to South Dakota, I can’t say that it was my first choice of internships or even my second, but I will say, I’m glad two other people dropped out to give me a shot at understanding what I want to do.
So here is the advice part.
Well, I’d carefully consider what you know before you jump halfway across the country. I would never have been able to do this job without a class like JRN 320 under my belt. Learning how to produce news quickly and efficiently provided me with a background I felt I wouldn’t have had before the class. Professor Calvi’s class taught me the basics I needed for working somewhere far away, in a community very different from what I consider the norm.
Everyone learns at a different pace, but for me, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without my junior year at Stony Brook between the lessons from 320 and the workload management from combining 320 with the rest of my classes. That said, I wish I had known how to be more open upon my arrival in a place that was 1,736 miles from home. I was lucky enough to have been welcomed into Gettysburg so lovingly. I learned how to take in new environments much better than I could have before.
I’ve seen people who are extraordinarily outgoing succeed in journalism, and I’ve seen people who are entirely introverted succeed, but you need to find your specific niche in the field. It could be sports writing, it could be investigative reporting, or it could be one of the hundreds of other jobs associated with being a journalist. But after my time in South Dakota, I feel like finding my calling in column writing became my greatest lesson so far.