July 1, 2020

The Lead is a weekly newsletter that provides resources and connections for student journalists in both college and high school. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning.

This summer, think ahead about how you’ll train new staff members

I know, I know — it’s the beginning of July! If you’re on the quarter system, your summer might have just started. But for student editors, it’s never too early to start thinking about how you’ll structure the next semester. With schools’ plans still up in the air as the pandemic continues, it’s even more important to stay organized and plan for contingencies.

I’m teaching high school journalists this week at Newsroom by the Bay, a digital journalism workshop at Stanford University (except for this summer, when it’s at Zoom University). Preparing for class has helped me think about how to make journalism fundamentals accessible to students without much newsroom experience.

When you recruit staff members for your student publication this fall, their experience levels will probably also be all over the map. It’s important to get them on the same page with your newsroom’s structures and policies.

Summer is the ideal time to start mapping out what you want your new and returning staffers to know so they can hit the ground running in the fall. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.

University 101

There’s an extra level of stress for student journalists adjusting from high school to college, because colleges and universities are full of jargon. My editor asked me to cover the search for a new provost during my first semester at the University of Missouri. The problem? I didn’t know exactly what a provost was, or what they were responsible for (or if it was something from a deli counter).

Creating a tipsheet and a quick training on the university’s structure key players will save your new staff members lots of time acclimating. Your school might have an organizational chart that lays this out for you, but it shouldn’t take time to make your own. It’s important for student journalists to know who makes decisions and who they should contact.

Also important to cover: Who are the relevant spokespeople and gatekeepers to university information? How should you contact them? Building respectful relationships with these people will be key for new reporters to get the access they need to report on your school.

Newswriting and reporting

There are an abundance of resources for new journalists adjusting to newswriting. SchoolJournalism.org has a simple newswriting training, and Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools will help new and experienced reporters alike sharpen their writing.

Poynter’s e-learning platform, News University, hosts plenty of free and low-cost classes where students can amp up their skill level or fill in knowledge gaps with classes about how to interview, how news comes together and ethics, to name a few.

Focus on the basic inverted pyramid structure, and walk through examples with writers starting from scratch. Consider holding a simulated breaking news exercise where new reporters can practice interviewing with less pressure.

Copy chiefs, consider creating an AP style tipsheet with the most common rules (numerals, titles, addresses, etc) and custom entries for your school. Being proactive about these fundamentals will save you a lot of small edits later on.

After your staff is trained up on the basics, organize consistent workshops to cover concepts in depth and critique your own paper. The student who wrote the best lead of the week could get a prize, or another week, you can talk through which headlines were strongest and why.

Workflows and communication

This piece will be especially important if classes are still remote. Think about what technologies your newsroom will use, whether you’re in the same place or spread out.  Slack, Zoom, Google Docs and plenty of other tools will help you stay organized.

The group of editors for next year should also talk through what the editing process will look like and how they’ll keep track of content. How many editors will be required to look at a story before it publishes? Will you have an on-call system for breaking news?

Working across departments

Multimedia elements like photos, graphics and videos can become an afterthought if they aren’t integrated early into the reporting process. What should new reporters know about working with those departments? How will they, or their editors, communicate about stories in progress?

Editors for multimedia departments should sit down with new staff members across the newsroom and make sure they understand what makes a good multimedia story. A centralized training early in the semester will save everyone time and stress later on.

Social media use and policies

Protests over racism and police brutality have led many journalists to reexamine the standards of “objectivity” on social media. Does your student newsroom have social media guidelines for its journalists?

As Poynter’s Barbara Allen, who edits The Lead, wrote recently, “Up-and-coming journalists are increasingly balking when they are informed that, according to ‘the industry,’ their race and gender identity are ‘political issues’ — not to mention the implications of living through an international pandemic.”

The summer is a great time to open up this conversation among editors. If you don’t have guidelines already, write some. (Barbara’s piece, linked above, has a helpful list of questions to think through.) When new staffers start in the fall, talk with them about professional social media conduct and what platforms they should be using.

One story worth reading

Newsrooms are grappling with what it means to be “objective,” and journalist Wesley Lowery reflected on how those standards are changing. “Instead of promising our readers that we will never, on any platform, betray a single personal bias — submitting ourselves to a life sentence of public thoughtlessness — a better pledge would be an assurance that we will devote ourselves to accuracy, that we will diligently seek out the perspectives of those with whom we personally may be inclined to disagree and that we will be just as sure to ask hard questions of those with whom we’re inclined to agree,” he wrote in The New York Times.

Opportunities and trainings

💌 Most recent newsletter: A more diverse student newsroom will make your publication stronger 

📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com.

Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com or on Twitter @blatchfordtr.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com…
Taylor Blatchford

More News

Back to News