How the New York Times Taught Two Campus Editors to Hope (and Write Better Headlines)


Bochu Ding (left) and Sarah Asch. COURTESY PHOTO

For aspiring journalists, the news industry has been looking grim lately. The media has lost 2,400 jobs so far in 2019, and after months of flipping between cover letters and articles about layoffs, the New York Times Student Editors Conference was like a small, hopeful oasis in the middle of busy Manhattan. 

We arrived Friday morning along with 98 other student journalists from schools across the country, walked past the Times’ Pulitzer Wall and took our seats in a giant conference room. We spent the day learning from industry experts, including Sam Dolnick, the assistant managing editor of the Times who helped launch The Daily, and Meghan Louttit, who explained how the Times has stayed at the forefront of digital journalism and storytelling. 

Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer prize winning columnist, also dropped in to visit and regaled us with tales about being chased through a jungle by a warlord after a plane crash. 

The conference included some useful workshops, such as a digital headline-writing session, during which Mark Bulik taught us how to grab readers attention on social media without falling into the category of clickbait. In discussing The Edit, a Times newsletter geared toward college students, Lindsey Underwood asked us to brainstorm ways the paper can better cover our generation. 

We also had the chance to meet our peers from institutions in Virginia, Oregon, Iowa, Missouri and Puerto Rico. We learned about the struggles they face in their newsrooms and the truly inspiring work they do as they strive to, as Kristof put it, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” 

If nothing else, the conference impressed upon us that journalism is an ever-evolving medium full of possibility and change. Some stories are best told in good, old-fashioned, written format and some do best in audio or video, or through intentionally illustrated graphic design. This is an exciting prospect to apply to our own work at The Campus as we look for ways to branch out and represent the full breadth and depth of the student experience here with the complicated nuance it deserves.

We left the conference full of hope that journalism has a bright future. This might sound silly but that is the first time we had felt that way in a while. The Times pitched us their brand — their best digital work, their plan to branch into television, their goal to more than double their subscription base by 2025 — and we are not going to lie it all sounded pretty amazing. Plus they gave us tote bags, so what do we have to complain about?

It felt like we were encouraged to dream big about what the news can be, and we saw the mind-blowing work of those who came before us who had those same dreams. As we return to Middlebury, back to our newspaper that is somewhat protected from concerns about subscriptions and competitivity, we hope to harness the creative energy from that room and get back to work telling the stories that matter to our community, in whatever way those stories need to be told.