By Matt Fortuna
A funny thing happened when I visited my alma mater last spring.
While back at Penn State for a reunion, I was among a few alums asked to spend time with students at our school newspaper, The Daily Collegian. When told via email that the staff needed a little bit of an infusion of passion, I rolled my eyes and began muttering to myself all of the typical stereotypes of today’s college kids. You all know how this goes, because no matter the generation — or the field of work — the playbook of complaints from the jaded remains the same: How lazy these kids are. … How easy they have it. … How much better things were in my day.
And then Matt Brown, Michael Weinreb, Jim Buzinski and I sat down with about a dozen aspiring sports writers and quickly received an education of our own. Sure, us alums were there to talk and act as resources for kids who were about to enter a crowded job market. But the tables quickly turned, with us asking more questions of them than they were of us.
When most of us were in school and were lucky enough to have professionals speak to us, the conversations were, in many ways, one-way streets. That’s not to suggest that our speakers weren’t accommodating or helpful, because they were. But there was a certain way to make it in this business back then, a by-the-book hierarchy of sorts that rookies had better adhere to. Or else.
As we have all seen in the past decade or so in this ever-changing media climate, there are now many more acceptable ways to skin a cat. And the studs we met with on the second floor of the James Building in April were the perfect embodiments of that philosophy.
They showed us the social media innovation that they have used to engage with the student body. They explained the expanding media ecosystem of what has always been a small-but-competitive market. Most importantly — and without overstepping — they engaged with Matt, Mike, Jim and I about what they like and dislike the most about what folks like ourselves are doing out there in the real world, giving us a clearer picture of how we can connect with our audiences in our day jobs.
This is journalism today. Hell, this is football today — all of us who have been writing about RPOs and spread offenses for the past decade have been on the student side of that conversation, laughing as the pros in the NFL finally begin to embrace such verbiage in their relatively unimaginative football lexicon.
As the 76th president of the FWAA, it is my duty to keep pushing us into the future, adapting to the new-school ways of the business and spreading our mission to the journalists of tomorrow while honoring our storied past. I am here as a resource and, most of all, I am here to learn.
No one knows the ins and outs of our great sport better than you folks who are out there on campuses across America every day, and it is this collection of talent, experience and cooperation that makes the FWAA what it is. See a development out there that warrants recognition? Sense a better way for us to make a difference, be it with student-athlete exposure or our own working environments? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am lucky to enough to already call so many of you friends, and I am looking forward to developing more relationships throughout our membership body and hearing everyone’s perspective.
You see, that infusion of passion that I was told those students needed? It had nothing to do with their attitudes, as I had wrongly assumed. It turned out that they had just been chopped from a daily print operation to a twice-a-week print operation, while also being informed that Penn State was planning to demolish the paper’s headquarters of 30 years. I hadn’t heard about either development because no one there had bothered to complain about it. Instead, these kids took a harsh real-life industry lesson and viewed it as liberation from the constraints of the previous 130 years of the way things had been done.
Their dreams were, and are, greater than their memories. As this business continues to throw us curveballs, we could all serve to remember that life lesson.