Something that I’ve struggled mightily with is the trouble of recruiting technical talent for college news organizations. It appears to be a common problem, and yet I have heard few good solutions.
I’ve often been asked by my colleagues at the YDN what we can do to recruit more people to the web team. There are clearly people with the requisite skills on campus, but running house ads, putting up posters, and sending campus-wide email blasts have been completely unsuccessful this year.
Many college news orgs pay their student staff, which is one way to incentivize work, but the YDN is a volunteer-only organization. No one gets paid, and that’s really not even an option, no matter how desperate we may be. So if you won’t get paid, why would you work for us?
I’ve struggled with this question over the past year or so. There are a number of intangible advantages of working for a news org, especially one with a powerful list of alumni like the YDN, but it is hard to convince people on the basis of intangibles alone, especially when it is so easy to get paying jobs elsewhere on campus or online.
One of the big draws for me was having my work seen on a scale uncommon to most freelance projects. The YDN gets tens of thousands of pageviews per day, and have had peaks of up to several hundred thousand in a day when our stories get picked up by some popular aggregation services (e.g., Drudge Report, Huffington Post). Large amounts of traffic bring some interesting new technical problems to building a website, but is that alone sufficiently attractive to prospective staffers?
I often hear people recommend giving a pitch at a Computer Science class, but I’ve often wondered what kind of talent you can get. If you pitch at intro-level classes, they likely won’t have the programming skills to be immediately helpful anyways. If you pitch at a high level class, you need a really damn good pitch to convince people who have skills that are high in demand.
So I ask you, fellow college news folks, what means have you used to recruit and retain technical staff?