What it's like to work at the Daily Emerald

Students who work on the Daily Emerald opinion desk publish weekly columns on various topics. The 2015 spring term opinion desk team included (left to right) Eric Schucht, Aly Ferguson, Bayley Sandy, Tanner Owens, Jessie Foster and Cooper Green.
Students who work on the Daily Emerald opinion desk publish weekly columns on various topics. The 2015 spring term opinion desk team included (left to right) Eric Schucht, Aly Ferguson, Bayley Sandy, Tanner Owens, Jessie Foster and Cooper Green.

Story by Eric Schucht

Although the Daily Emerald has not been directly affiliated with the UO since the early 1970s, the newspaper is the largest student-run publication on campus, staffed almost entirely by UO School of Journalism and Communication students. It provides a valuable service to campus, and it’s a rite of passage for many SOJC students as well as a great place to gain experience in writing, editing, graphic design and multimedia storytelling.

But what's it like to actually work there? How do you get hired? And do you get paid?

I’ve worked at the paper on three desks over eight terms. There are a lot of opportunities in graphic design, public relations, advertising and general business positions, but I was a writer, so this post will be an abridged guide to writing for the Emerald.

How to get hired

The first step of the Daily Emerald adventure is getting a job there. In most cases, each desk editor handles hiring for that area. Everyone’s experience is different, but here’s mine.

The summer before freshman year, I emailed my resume and work samples to the news editor, whose contact info I found on the Daily Emerald website. I didn’t hear back for two months. When I did, the news editor gave me a challenge: Write a story in a week, and if he liked it, the gig was mine. So began my career as a news reporter.

Most don’t have to go through an ordeal to get a position, as other desks editors are more relaxed. Some students are hired after just submitting a resume and portfolio, and others simply walk in the door and talk to an editor. The news desk is stricter about hiring, while the video desk has been known to take anyone and everyone.

If there’s not an opening for the position you want, just apply for what is open, as it’s easy to transfer from desk to desk. After two terms on news, I transferred to the opinion desk after just talking to the opinion desk editor. So if you want to blog about video games, you just might have to write about crime for a while first.

The main lesson is to be persistent. Reach out to people who work at the Emerald to get a foot in the door. They’re students just like you and want to help. Don’t give up if it takes a while to hear back. Feel free to call the office to ask about open positions.

And no, you don’t get paid. I hear the senior staff and editors get $40 a month, but the rest of us make do with published clips, hands-on experience and campus-wide fame. 

Writing the news

The paper has four main writing desks: news, arts and culture, opinion and sports, consisting of 8-12 people.

Reporting for the news desk is one of the most demanding positions at the paper. It’s a lot of work and not always fun, but if you want to be a journalist, the experience is invaluable.

Each news reporter is assigned a beat, or topic, to cover. Beats change depending on what's needed, but generally they include Greek life, campus organizations, campus faculty, campus administration, construction and campus housing, local and city politics, environmental issues and general science. All beats have their strengths and weaknesses. Some beats, like student government, are easier to find story ideas for, as there’s always something happing on campus. Others, like Greek life, are more difficult because it can be hard to get people to open up to reporters.

Although I am definitely not a scientist, I had the science beat. One pro of writing about science is that it’s fairly easy to track down sources, since everyone’s contact info is online. Although there’s always something going on in science, the con is that it’s difficult finding news that’s relevant to the general student body. All desks require writers to pitch three story ideas at the weekly desk meeting: two related to your beat and one about anything you want. The news editor decides which ideas are the best and assigns stories and events that need to be covered.

The writer gets a week to track down sources and write a 500-word article. After editing, all stories are published on the Daily Emerald’s website. The best-written and most important stories also make it into the print edition.

My life and times on the Emerald

Some of my favorite stories I’ve worked on include a profile of a student from Easter Island, a profile of a biology student who researched zebrafish heart regeneration, and a story about a buzz-saw shark art exhibit at Museum of Natural and Cultural Art.

But my favorite story of all was one on the Geology Department's new major. I learned that the department was adding a second major focused on geo-mapping and computer programming. It felt good to discover something nobody knew about and bring it to the public's attention. The people I interviewed were all super passionate about it, and it was nice to share that with others.

All desks are structured similarly, except news also has breaking news. Each active-duty reporter has a couple two- to four-hour shifts each week when he or she is responsible for covering anything that comes up, from press releases to car accidents, fires, and other disasters. Often the shift involves a lot of sitting around, but sometimes you get to run across campus to talk to police or firefighters. Breaking news is time consuming, stressful and not for everyone. But those who like it really like it. And if you survive, you’re well on your way to becoming a professional reporter.

Auto accidents are never pleasant. You and everyone around, including onlookers are affected. The physically weakening, emotionally overwhelming, in worst cases, fatal scenarios, and damaged property are clear signs that you are having a bad hair day. Scott Gottlieb, car accident lawyer has a reputation for achieving positive outcomes in personal injury cases.

I also worked on the opinion desk, which involves writing a weekly 600-word column on your beat. Opinion columnists get a lot more freedom in style and formatting than other Emerald writers. Some columnists write stories similar to the news, while others write something more like a personal blog. I struggled with topics, as I’m not particularly political or opinionated. I mainly wrote about video games and pop culture, and once I wrote about recipes.

Finally, I worked on the video desk, which creates all the videos for the Emerald website. Similar to the producers on the photo and podcast desks, videographers create content to support written stories from other desks. Most of the time, however, you get to make short documentaries about whatever you want.

As a videographer, I pitched stories, just like writers do, but I got two to four weeks to produce each piece instead of just one. Overall, I enjoyed this job the most, as it was the least stressful. So if you’re not set on writing, consider other media, such as video, audio, or photography. Many people write for a desk and work for the podcast or photo desk on the side. 

Working at the paper isn’t like being in a club. The people there treat it like a professional job, and so should you. Before applying to the Daily Emerald, you should know that it’s hard — really hard if you’re inexperienced. But it is probably the best place on campus to gain firsthand experience in reporting. Much like the real world of journalism, it’s always changing and adapting. This constant flux can get a bit crazy at times, but it allows you to try out something new. If you’re ready for that, the campus paper might be the place for you.

Eric Schucht is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the SOJC as well as a minor in multimedia and a certificate in film studies. He has worked for the Daily Emerald as a news reporter and has freelanced for The Cottage Grove Sentinel.