It isn't every day that a journalism undergrad gets to choose his own beat at a metropolitan newspaper. But that's basically what happened to Stephen Lynch , former editor in chief of the Daily Northwestern at Northwestern University.
It's a classic case of being in the right place at the right time.
Lynch, who will be the Orange County Register 's first cyberspace beat reporter, just happened to be at a Register staff meeting about reconfiguring beats while he was interning there this past summer. Health and Technology Editor Terry Wimmer asked him what beat he would cover if he had his choice, and it so happened that the paper was already considering just such a beat.
Asked why a large newspaper would hand such an opportunity over to a rookie, Wimmer explains, "He's done something that's very rare. He prepared himself for this era and he's extremely computer literate."
"Originally they were looking to start a Generation X beat, which would be the most horrible thing in the world," says Lynch, who, like many 22-year-olds is extremely wary of slacker stereotypes. So Lynch wrote a memo describing his ideal beat, the wired world of cyberspace. "If this pans out right," he explained, "the beat will be extinct in three years."
Though it sounds like the pessimism of a typical Generation X-er, Lynch has a point. Soon, he figures, the cyberspace beat will be incorporated into other beats, as well as into the average reader's day-to-day life. "The Internet will be thought of like the telephone," he says. "No one would think to have a telephone beat."
Until his yet-unexplored beat makes the endangered species list, however, Lynch has several story ideas in mind. For example, he is currently working on a story about the much-anticipated debut of Mortal Kombat III, a CD-ROM computer game, and he's already identified the interview he wants to do "more than any other in the world." Lynch hopes one of his first articles will be about William Gibson , the novelist who coined the term "cyberspace."
Lynch does admit to being a little anxious about the all-encompassing nature of his new beat. "I'll be stepping on toes right away," he says, explaining that online issues often tread on other beats, such as business, politics and entertainment. "I'm worried that [other reporters] will say, 'This is the story that I should do, not this little punk.' "