You've got a big campus
and a plethora of story ideas, but few writers and little time. How do you get
the job done? Here are some tips:
- The newspaper business is a service
business, and our readers come first. But how can you give them what they
want if you don't know what they want? Sure a comprehensive readership study
may be beyond your budget, but assessment can be done:
a.) Try one-page questionnaires
at info desks in your union or dorms, or drop them in student group mailboxes.
b.) Short, simple surveys can
be published in your paper as cut-and-return advertisements.
c.) Listen. What are your fellow
students talking about at the lunch table? What are the hot button topics
on your opinion pages?
- Realize that you won't be able
to assign a writer to every event and/or department on campus. Sigh.
- Make a list of the top five interests
of the students (your readers - remember assessment). Consider putting more
emphasis on those academic areas and activities that generally define the
school and population. As mentioned, what topics generate letters to the editor?
- Gear your coverage toward the
priorities. If baseball is what fills the seats, don't use a writer's precious
time to cover golf. Report the other sports as sports agate or briefs.
3. Be Creative.
- Think out of the box! Do you really
need a features section filled with CD and movie reviews (yawn)? What about
a "Your Money" page focusing on college students as consumers?
- Packaging. Not many things will
present wider coverage and more information on a specific issue like packaging
your stories - not to mention make it look like you know what you are doing.
Make a hot issue a whole staff piece. If the story is about parking, do a
sidebar on what other schools are charging, include a guest commentary from
the police chief, add an info graphic on the best and little-known places
to park, and ask production to put it all together (maybe a tread mark across
the length of the page). Get the idea? Get excited and have fun.
4. Vanishing resources? Use your
resources (staffers) efficiently.
- Do you have a talented writer
doing music reviews? Reassign her to a priority story or beat. Use commentary,
columns and reviews as rewards.
- Use event calendars to preview
upcoming lectures, concerts and activities, freeing up your reporters for
more complex stories.
- News and feature briefs can be
easy ways to give wider coverage with out getting writer's cramp. You could
even try distributing forms - fill in the blanks - to student organizations
to get the info. This basic lead writing can also be good practice for new
- Let pictures tell the story. For
events that are visual, use a photo to relay the news. Many stories can be
told succinctly with a stand-alone photo with an extended cutline. Photographers
should be responsible for gathering enough information to write two or three
sentences - again, this frees up writers. And hey, readers like a good photo.
- Use your news judgment. Eliminate
the junk - not every event or incident is a story. But make sure your reporters
are savvy enough to look for trends and patterns amid the routine stuff.
- Use team coverage on investigative
stories or complex financial articles. Establish a "structure" for
the story, i.e. main bar, two sidebars, chart and photo - then divide the
- Do editors write stories? They
should - it keeps 'em in touch. Just don't hog the good stuff.
- Remember that motivation is a
resource too. Whatever you use to motivate your staff is really not as important
as how it is applied. For example, if you are one of the few papers that pay
writers, don't pay by the inch - pay by the story. Why? Because students tend
to write too long as it is, and modern readers glance and scan more than they
read. Plus, you are rewarding a writer of a movie review more than the writer
of a short, tight, well researched story. You as managers must find what motivates
your staff - and use it fairly.
4. Turn writers into reporters.
- Establish a beat system so that
each staffer has an area of the campus - or an issue - to cover. Allow your
priorities to dictate beat coverage. Beats can also be a management/motivational
tool; popular beats to reward a writer, easy beats for newbies.
- And remember that the beat system
gives writers more responsibility. Ownership in the paper by staff makes for
- Are you an editor or section editor
that has to do EVERYTHING? Are you a savior (if one of your staff drops the
ball, you pick it up)? Keep in mind that staffers may not take their responsibilities
seriously if they know you will always get the job done. You may have to grit
your teeth and allow others to fail once or twice in order to get your staff
to take ownership. This is called freedom to fail. It's good to be the king
- but it's tough, too.
5. Make routine tasks easy. And
the easy things easier.
- Editors are more than journalists
- you are also managers. Be problem solvers. Review your internal processes.
Too many steps? Is your organization top-heavy? Short chains make for strong
- Do you have to hunt for phone
numbers or turn the office upside down for a correct titles ? Organize! Time
is precious - you and your staff should be focusing on the job, not looking
for a pencil.
- Use wire or other press services.
Don't be a snob - your readers appreciate a good story, even if it doesn't
always have a campus byline. Better yet, take a wire story and localize it.
Again, great "cut-your-teeth" training for entry-level writers.
- Are you glorified typists? Use
disk submission or e-mail submissions to free staff from the tedious.
- Learn to use formula formats for
simple stories (meetings, etc.)
- Budget stand-alone photos.
- Drop back punt. Before (or after)
your publication schedule, hold a retreat. Explore ways to make the process
smoother - because once you are into your publication cycle, you won't have
- Watch out for the 2 a.m. Brain
Crash. This malady is when your section editor calls in sick, the story you
were counting on isn't in and your production staff turns to you at two in
the morning and asks, "Now what?" Learn to think on your feet.
- Ed's Axiom: When given a problem,
the later it is on production night, the simpler the solution should be.
6. Make the information come to
- During the first weeks of school,
send "fill-in-the-blank" forms to all student groups requesting
information on upcoming activities and events.
- Keep press release forms in high
- Recruit volunteer stringers within
groups and academic areas to provide info and stories. Copy will most likely
need to be edited; still this frees up your staff for priority stories.
- Become friends with your school's
News & Information bureau or University Relations office. Are you on their
- Ad a "Tips Line" filler
ad in your paper and link in your web site.
7. Plan ahead. And then plan ahead.
- Set goals at the beginning of
the semester - the more concrete and specific, the better.
- Hold brainstorming sessions with
staffers. Good stories can be generated by everyone - editors, photographers
- At your editorial board meetings,
you should be critiquing your last issue as well as planning your next issue.
But don't stop there - plan an issue several weeks away. This makes for less
deadline problems and better issues - which can be a plus at contest times.
By the way, you are holding meetings, aren't you?
8. Things we didn't mention.
- Recruitment. After all, this session
is about wider coverage with a SMALL staff. But recruiting should be everyone's
job. New writers may walk in your door, but they will disappear if you can't
give them the attention, training and support they need.
- Journalism or communication classes
as staff for academic credit. These classes can be excellent and dependable
resources. Be careful not to endanger your status as a public forum in the
- Communication. E-mail and phone
trees are great, but nothing beats face-to-face meetings. If you aren't holding
regular meetings, your staff may not feel like a team nor take ownership.
We know you are busy with classes, home and work - but meeting as a group
is essential to the life of the group.
College Media Advisers,
CMA Presentation, November
page is part of the web site at http://ksumail.kennesaw.edu/~ebonza/