Tyler Dukes is the production assistant for student media at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Prior to taking this job this summer, Dukes was a Web producer for cable news station News 14 Carolina. He also has experience in print media as editor of his college paper, Technician, and as a Dow Jones editing intern at The Wall Street Journal. He is also a freelance writer who specializes in science and technology. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Dukes talks about his return to his alma mater, his editing experience and the outlook for student media.
Q. Describe your new job. What is your typical day like?
A. I’m responsible for training, advising and assisting college journalists at N.C. State in the production of print and online media. That most often means the staff at the Technician, but it also includes reporters and editors at the Agromeck yearbook and the Nubian Message, the university’s cultural weekly.
I started over the summer, when the Technician switches from daily to weekly production, but I’m already getting a sense that there won’t be a typical day at Student Media. I essentially work for the students, and their needs change day to day. In the last two weeks, I’ve done everything from helping brainstorm coverage ideas and working one-on-one with reporters on stories to teaching AP style and good design principles.
Once class starts in the fall, my schedule will become a little more routine — but not by much. I’ll be here at night while students are working hands-on with the next day’s edition. I’m also committed to getting them out of the deadline environment for an hour or so each week to work on honing their skills, whether it’s with me or other local media professionals and Technician alumni.
It’s important to point out that my role is to support students and empower them to make their own decisions, because the content of these publications is determined solely by the student editors. My most important job is to make sure this staff learns from their successes as well as their failures.
Q. In 2007, you were a Dow Jones editing intern at The Wall Street Journal. How has your experience as a copy editor affected your workday as well as your overall career?
A. One of the great things about working for The Wall Street Journal as a copy editor is that it wasn’t a typical internship. The day you walk in, they treat you like you’re a part of the desk. You’re expected to work — and work hard — and those high expectations in that kind of environment really push you to perform.
Spending 10 weeks checking every fact and figure in the stories I edited made me a better writer, and not just from a grammatical standpoint. I’m more skeptical. More detail-oriented. I have a better understanding of how precious credibility is and how easy mistakes can undermine it.
The job also taught me the most important role of a good editor — to be an advocate for the audience. I’m always struck by how easy it is to forget that when you’re bogged down in daily production. I try to take that concept with me, and I really hope to drive that point home as I’m advising students.
Plus, I was in the newsroom the summer when News Corp. chased down and finally secured a deal to purchase the Journal. The issue announcing the decision was actually published on my last day. So I attribute much of my awareness about the changing media landscape to getting owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Q. The Technician newspaper had a difficult spring semester, with the suspension of the editor and talk of the paper shutting down. What is its outlook now?
A. I think the outlook is good. There was never any serious talk of the Technician shutting down, but I think what the students learned from last semester’s turmoil is how much support the paper really has from the N.C. State community, local media professionals and its alumni network.
We certainly have plenty of challenges coming into the fall. This is a young staff for the most part. They will benefit from more experience and training. We also have to work really hard at recruitment and retention to build our staff back up. But these are recurring problems here and at other student media operations, so the big difference this year is a just matter of scale.
The important thing is that we have student leaders in place. Now it’s time for me and other members of the professional staff to do everything we can to help them succeed.
Q. Student media are different from their media counterparts in audience and purpose, yet they face some of the same struggles for readership and advertising revenue. What do you see as the future of student media at N.C. State and on other campuses?
A. Student media has a unique advantage over other news organizations. Nowhere else will you find a more homogeneous audience — 30,000 well-educated 18-to-25-year-olds with substantial financial investments in N.C. State (tuition). The staff is part of that audience. They go to class with readers, drink in the same bars and face similar life challenges. By those virtues alone, no news organization is better equipped to create relevant, valuable content that will inform and entertain (and sell advertising on it).
Granted, student media faces other challenges like inexperience and rapid turnover, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun, right?
Our challenge is to ensure that student media, here and at other universities, is fulfilling its role as a learning lab for journalism. Innovation should start here, in a nimble organization with a constant resupply of fresh, tech-savvy talent, instead of trickling down from professional outlets.
If we can’t adapt to the way our audience is consuming our content and understand what content our audience wants and needs to consume, no one can.
To learn more about Tyler Dukes, read his blog and follow him on Twitter.