One of the toughest things journalism students must learn to cope with is speed - newsroom speed.
Most students are accustomed to the pace of classes they've taken in high school or college, many of which tend to move fairly slowly. But newsrooms move at a much, much faster pace, one that can be a real shock for students.
The most obvious aspect of this is deadlines. Back in the day, if you worked at a newspaper, your deadline might not be until later afternoon or even the evening, depending on what edition of the paper you were writing for. So if you covered a press conference at, say, 10 a.m., you might have six or seven hours to write up your story before your first deadline arrived.
Those days are over. Nearly every newspaper now has a website that must be updated constantly. So even if you cover that morning press conference and your deadline for the printed paper is still many hours away, chances are your editor is going to have you bang out a story right away for the website.
In short, the Internet has dramatically changed the speed at which newsrooms must operate. Reporters must be able to write good, clean copy, on very tight deadlines.
The other development that has profoundly transformed newsrooms in recent years is staff cutbacks. Thousands of journalists have been laid off from newsrooms across the country in recent years, which means those who are left must do much more work to compensate.
So reporters today are writing faster than ever, and typically producing many more stories on a daily basis than was the case, say, 15 years ago. You can decide for yourself whether this is a good or bad situation, but in the end it doesn't really matter much one way or the other. The situation is what it is, and with the economy still being slow to recover, it isn't likely to change anytime soon.
So what should up-and-coming reporters be doing to prepare themselves for 21st-century newsrooms? Write fast and write a lot. Do as many articles as you can for your student newspaper, for local community papers and websites, and for any other publication that's willing to publish what you produce.
And when you write your articles, don't dawdle. Force yourself to bang them out quickly. Most news stories can be written in under an hour. Indeed, experienced reporters can bang out many news stories in 15 minutes or less.
So when you sit down to write, keep your eye on the clock. Force yourself to write your stories as quickly as possible. It will seem tough at first, but the more you do it the better you'll get at it.
After all, writing fast is a skill like any other that is developed with practice. Over time, you'll notice that your writing speed is increasing. Stories that took an hour to write when you first started will soon take you only 45 minutes, then 30 minutes, then even less.
By working this way you are giving your self a much better sense of what it's like to work in a real newsroom. You may see your classmates spending hours on their stories, agonizing over their ledes and the inverted pyramid. They may think they're helping themselves by fussing so much, but they're not. All they're doing is giving themselves an unrealistic sense of what a newsroom is like.
Because, believe me, you won't have time to fret over your articles for very long once you get into the news business. You'll just have to be able to write, quickly and efficiently, because as soon as you finish one article, there will be another one to do, and another one after that.
The pace and speed of newsrooms in the 21st century is relentless, and if you're going to work in the news business you'll have to be able to work at that pace. Now is the time to start preparing.