Shake, rattle, and roll

How are seismic shifts in the media felt here on campus by student journalists?

SCM Editor Steven Boyd Saum put a few questions on the topic to Gordon Young, lecturer in communication and adviser to SCU's student newspaper, The Santa Clara. A veteran freelancer himself, Young has written for publications ranging from The New York Times to The Industry Standard to the East Bay Express. He writes the blog Flint Expatriates and is completing a book about America's dying cities and the people trying to save them.


SCM: What big changes have you seen for student journalists in recent years?

Gordon Young: The news cycle—The Santa Clara is set up to report and edit stories on a weekly basis. There's a fairly elaborate editing process and an emphasis on longer stories that might take weeks or months to complete. But now there's a real expectation of a 24-hour news cycle, with breaking stories going up on the Web quickly. It's almost as if The Santa Clara could be a daily and a weekly at the same time now, and that's not an easy thing to pull off. It really forces students to prioritize and determine quickly which stories are the most newsworthy.

SCM: What role does student journalism at a university play today?

Young: Given the vast number of media outlets available now via the Web, it's easy to forget that The Santa Clara is still the primary source of campus news for the SCU community, especially students. That's a big responsibility and a great opportunity for student journalists. They aren't anonymous bloggers writing for an unknown audience of three people in cyberspace. When they write, they get feedback, often face-to-face. The concept of hyper-local coverage is gaining a currency in the larger world of journalism now, but that's been the school paper's approach for almost 100 years. The most consistent dilemma students face involves their connection with people they cover. There is a constant discussion about potential conflicts of interest. All journalists face this, but it's much more pronounced on a college campus.

SCM: As a native of Flint, Mich., you launched the blog Flint Expatriates, chronicling economic and urban planning issues related to your hometown. And that's led to a book.

Young: The book is called Tear Down (University of California Press). It covers several cities but centers on Flint, which has lost 80,000 General Motors jobs and half its population over the years. A third of the city is abandoned and real unemployment is at least 40 percent. That's a horrifying fall for a city that had one of the highest per capita incomes in the nation. After some disastrous attempts at revitalization, Flint is pioneering what's often called the shrinking city movement. The plan is to accept that Flint's population isn't going to bounce back anytime soon. Abandoned houses and buildings would be leveled and replaced with parks, urban gardens, and green space. Eventually, incentives could be used to lure residents into higher-density neighborhoods that have been reinvigorated with infill housing and rehab projects.

Numerous Rust Belt cities face the same reality. The foreclosure crisis has given cities like Las Vegas and Fresno a taste of what Flint has been battling for years—abandonment and all the problems that come with it. Flint holds lessons. In the end, the Vehicle City may end up exporting a radical urban planning idea instead of cars.

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Spring 2011

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