Young writer finds an outlet in College Park

University of Maryland student Rachel Karitis, 18, hopes to land a writing gig -- at a newspaper!
University of Maryland student Rachel Karitis, 18, hopes to land a writing gig -- at a newspaper! (J. Freedom Du Lac/the Washington Post)
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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

Seven Washington Post reporters fanned out to coffeehouses across the region Wednesday to find stories that tell us something important about life at this time, in this place. The result was seven stories of love and passion, of people striving to be something more or learning to be at peace with what is. Readers of The Post's Story Lab blog then voted on which of the stories should be published in Friday's paper. The winning story is below. Excerpts from the other stories appear on Page B2. If you have a story we ought to tell, let us know at storylab@washpost.com.

Rachel Karitis wants my job. Or maybe Manuel Roig-Franzia's, because she's obsessed with the Alvin Greene-for-U.S. Senate story. Either gig would be good work, if she could get it.

"A job at The Washington Post would be great," she says. Karitis is studying the ancient trade of journalism at the University of Maryland. She's especially enamored with print journalism. Never mind that print is a sickly medium and that most of her friends -- at least the ones who aren't also aspiring journalists -- never pick up an actual dead-tree edition of a newspaper.

"They don't read it," she says, sounding disappointed. She's read the print version of The Post since she was a young KidsPost consumer. "Now, I read the real Post." Nothing against the Internet, she says, "but I like to read the paper as the paper. I just like the way it feels."

Is the 18-year-old from Olney an anachronism? Not necessarily: According to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, 18-to-29-year-olds "prefer reading the online version of newspapers more than any other age group, but most still would rather read the print version."

Still, most of those surveyed probably didn't intend to become journalists. Karitis does. "I'm good at writing. It just kind of makes sense for me."

Consider her Twitter bio. (And yes, she lives a little online. Nothing against the Internet, etc.) It's a lyric from a Belle & Sebastian song: "Nobody writes them like they used to, so it may as well be me."

And then Karitis spills a secret: "That part of the song usually makes me think of newspapers. People don't read the actual newspaper anymore; everything's online." She'll think of that if Belle & Sebastian sings the song, "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying," at Constitution Hall in October.

Karitis wants to find an internship. She tried this summer, but there was a problem: News organizations want clips, and she'd never been published anywhere. Hmm. Could she write something about herself and the future of print as part of this Story Lab experiment?

"I could try."

Would she mind if this only appeared online?

"Not really, I mean, anything is great. It's the most exciting thing that's happened to me in months."

Here, then, is what Karitis wrote from The Post's coffeehouse bureau at the Coffee Bar in College Park, where she took my job for part of a day:

"Print journalism will die out within the next five to 10 years," professors are constantly telling us. "But this is an exciting time to be a journalist! You'll all be just fine." (They also tell us to never, ever begin a story with a quote.)

Every time I hear that, my stomach aches a little. I think to myself that if only I had been born 10 years earlier, then everything would have been easier, and I would have had a clear-cut path to a career.

These days, of course, you can't just be good at writing. You have to be good at writing, recording video and audio, and putting it all together in a way that will make people want to read it when they only really want to read 140 characters.

Everything will be fine, professors assure you, as long as you get an internship as soon as you can. But getting an internship is hard, especially when all you can say is, "Hello, I'm a very enthusiastic but completely inexperienced journalism student with absolutely no published work, but I promise I'd be great. Please hire me?"

It's hard to remain optimistic when professors keep reminding you that your dream job will be gone as soon as you graduate college and start looking for it. But if today is any indication, maybe I will be just fine after all.


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