Student editor has to decide: Math or journalism?

Robert Carpenter is a 22-year-old Applied Mathematics major at Texas A&M, and editor-in-chief of The Battalion. What does he do after graduation? “I love journalism and the thrill of investigative reporting, but I also enjoy the intellectual challenge that mathematics provides and appreciate its structure. Fortunately, I don’t have to make this decision today.” A few questions for the college senior:

Robert Carpenter

At what age did you become interested in journalism and how did that happen?
I’m actually a bit of a newcomer to the journalism art — or at least the production side. I’ve always followed politics, and was glued to print and television media during the 2008 election cycle. I grew to appreciate the critical role that journalists play in a functioning society and applied shortly thereafter to the student newspaper at Texas A&M. I suppose that was when the ‘journalism bug’ set.

What publications do you read daily?
I make time for the Wall Street Journal and maintain a subscription to the Houston Chronicle. I also frequent the Texas Tribune website for state issues and have a copy of the latest edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education sitting on my desk.

Your journalism heroes/role models?
One who comes to mind is Norman Pearlstine. I admire his organizational accomplishments with The Wall Street Journal and Time Inc., and his diverse background covering domestic and international stories.

How many hours a week do you spend in the campus newsroom vs. hours spent in classrooms?
I had a conversation with one of my editors a few weeks ago about his grades. In the course of the conversation he said The Battalion is the most important class he will take at A&M. While I’m still concerned with his (and my) academics, I agree with the sentiment. The newsroom and classroom aren’t necessarily distinct units.

But answering your question, I probably average 50-60 hours per week in the newsroom and around 5-10 in the classroom.

Are your journalism instructors on top of the latest tools ands media trends, or are they stuck in the 20th century?
I feel that I need to qualify my response to this question. As an applied mathematics major, I haven’t taken as many journalism classes as the majority of my peers. I’ve been exposed to both kinds of instructors, though, and I don’t think that’s a bad background to have. With the instructors who may be a bit too nostalgic for the history of print media, I’ve learned the importance of responsible reporting and to respect the finality of sending stories to press. Others have been more ambitious about adapting to the future — teaching me to engage the reader in previously-unconventional ways and not to fear change.

Everybody’s looking to your generation to “save” the news business. Your ideas?
Great question. I wish there were an easy answer. With the interactive nature of social media, I believe news outlets have to find ways to make the news consumer feel involved and invested in the product. We’re trying to do that on a small scale with The Batt, but I don’t know what it looks like in the grand scheme of things.

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