Not to encourage looting, but…be ‘American Swipers’

Most college journalists likely have a clip file. But how many have a “swipe file?”

Every one of them should. They should be like Mike and Frank from The History Channel’s “American Pickers.” They should be mining other college journalists’ garages and attics for ideas and inspiration.

My swipe file began in the summer of 1991 as I prepared for my duties as executive editor of The Chart at Missouri Southern State University. The top editors had graduated and I was charged with freshening up the paper’s look.

So I went to the local Hasting’s Books and Records, which was carrying Sunday editions of major daily papers. I bought a stack of papers.

Then I started to steal.

Many elements of the 1991-92 Chart were swiped from the Detroit News-Free Press. Yeah, I liked the Freep of that era. So I emulated it.

What student journalists need to do is find things they like and clip them. Save them. Copy them. Not in content, of course, but in the spirit of inspiration. Several sessions at the upcoming Associated Collegiate Press media convention — GO12 — tout “swipeable ideas.” The principle is not only widely accepted, it is encouraged.

So what should you swipe?

Swipe everything. Design elements. Font usage. Story ideas you can localize to your campus. Cool house ads. Great and inspired headlines and ledes. Anything and everything that hits you as really cool or well-done goes in the file.

In a few weeks, look at all those crazy people (like me) carrying around a stack of newspapers at GO12. The freaks that hit the display table every day and grab papers from every possible college. We aren’t grabbing them looking for the next great cutline. We aren’t grabbing them for extra reading material.

We are looking for “swipes.”

We are like the “American Pickers” of journalism. We are looking for something to take home, share with others, make our papers better and make us look really cool.

Yeah. We look and seem like idiots. But we are really just looking for best practices. And we don’t compete with many of these other papers, so we can learn from each other without ripping them off in readers or dollars.

Currently, I have three swipe files. I have one for newspapers, one for magazines and one for yearbooks. And I have a multimedia swipe file in its first stages.

Chicago is in three and a half weeks. If you don’t have a swipe file, are you going to start one?


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