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I followed a common path at my student publication in college: I was a beat reporter for the university news section my freshman year. In the spring, the current editors encouraged me to apply to be a section editor the next year. It was the natural path for moving up at the paper.
I applied and was hired to edit the “campus projects” section, then later the university news section. I was suddenly responsible for hiring writers, deciding which stories to pursue, editing them and making sure we covered all the needs of the section.
The new editors did have some training, but most of my knowledge moving into that role was based on what preceding editors had done. They also based their roles on the editors before then, and, well, you get the idea.
The student journalism world doesn’t talk enough about how beat reporting gives you subject area expertise, but reporting and editing are totally different skill sets. There are great reporters who are not suited to be editors, and editors who would much rather work in those roles than go out and report. Covering breaking news doesn’t prepare you to manage reporters or edit complicated stories. Professional journalists face this same issue, often entering editing roles with little to no training.
But that’s the natural progression: be a reporter, then a section editor, then maybe eventually the editor-in-chief/managing editor. (Of course, this applies to roles beyond reporting, too — there are similar pathways for photographers, copy editors, designers and others.)
A lot of The Lead’s past 116 issues (!) have focused on reporting. But for the next month or so, this newsletter will focus on editing and managing, which aren’t discussed as often in student publications or journalism schools. Editors need to know how to manage a staff effectively, how to structure stories and coordinate projects, how to fact-check and prevent errors, how to approach tricky ethical decisions.
You don’t have to follow this typical path. If you don’t want to be an editor (or you’re hesitant about the time commitment, which is a very real concern), don’t let others pressure you into it. Your work is not any less if you decide you want to keep reporting, or photographing, or working on digital strategy, without managing other staffers.
But if you do want to try out editing and managing, this next series of issues is especially for you. The best way to learn journalism is by doing it, and I’m hoping that better preparing editors will help student publications prevent overwhelm and burnout. Editing and managing are specific skills that don’t come naturally to every journalist, and we need to treat them that way.
I want to hear from you
If you’re a student journalist or recent graduate who held an editor or leadership role at your student publication, you can help others learn from your experience:
- What do you wish you’d known before starting an editor/leadership role at your student publication? What would you do differently?
- If you had effective training when moving into an editor/leadership role, what did it cover?
Email me at email@example.com with your name, student publication and an answer to one or both questions. I’m hoping to use a collection of responses in a future newsletter issue.
One story worth reading
Simone Biles gave props to The Indianapolis Star’s investigative journalism as she testified to Congress about her abuse by doctor Larry Nassar. “I didn’t understand the magnitude of what all was happening until The Indianapolis Star published its article in the fall of 2016 entitled ‘Former USA Gymnastics doctor accused of abuse,’” the Olympian gymnast said this week. Elahe Izadi reported for The Washington Post about how the Star reported the series and continues to publish groundbreaking investigative work despite corporate buyouts and staff reductions.
Opportunities and trainings
- Poynter’s internship database lists paid newsroom internships at publications around the country (with lots that are now open for next summer).
- Register for the fall National College Media Convention, to be held virtually Oct. 14-16.
- Register for the FIRE Regional Conference on student online speech, to be held Oct. 16 in Nashville.
- High school students, enter The New York Times’s “Coming of Age” multimedia contest by Oct. 27.
- College students, enter the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Student Innovation Competition by Oct. 31.
- Take a free Poynter webinar on understanding and reporting on Title IX. (A personal endorsement: I took this last week for reporting I’m working on at my day job at The Seattle Times, and it is great, with tons of good story ideas.)
💌 Last week’s newsletter: Journalism curricula lack audience engagement skills. Here’s how to make up for it
📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.