The Newspaper Balancing Act

The Newspaper Balancing Act

A few thoughts on the tense relationship between improving the paper and improving your class

7/7/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

Journalism class exists for a reason. The student body wants a newspaper; some brave souls in the school want to write, edit, design and publish it. And indeed, that is what journalism is all about when we boil it down to its roots: production of a paper.

I’m not going to call this mentality incorrect. There wouldn’t be much point to take journalism if it weren’t for the publication process. All the same, there comes a danger when a newspaper class is so focused on improving the newspaper that they forget about improving themselves.

I speak from experience. My junior year, I was co-editor in chief of the McLean Highlander, a northern Virginia paper. Forgive me for boasting, but I think our class had a pretty good year. The copy that reporters were bringing in was excellent; our layouts looked better than ever; we tackled stories that our administration was hesitant about. What can I say? We were a production-oriented group. Every millisecond of class time was spent trying to make the next issue better than its predecessor. (We found time for a little Text Twist and Facebook, too.)

Even so, I could tell that something was amiss with the Highlander—something I take full blame for. None of us were that interested in innovating the paper or the class. Room decoration and staff appreciation were never top priorities; consequently, we rarely celebrated anyone’s birthday or spruced up our environment. As editors in chief, we spent plenty of time brainstorming and editing but only a few days actively teaching the class.

None of this was the adviser’s fault or the class’s fault. It was my fault. I was so intent on making our paper look and read great that everything else, even the journalism lessons and staff parties, fell out of the picture.

Publication is important, but a class that does nothing but churn out papers will turn out uneducated, bored and disgruntled. In other words, there must exist a balance between what I’d call the production side of a journalism class and the non-production side. That balance is what I’d like to spend some time discussing today.

This year, I had the chance to serve as the Highlander’s co-managing editor. This proved to be a great opportunity, seeing as I could focus less on general management and more on developing new themes and projects for the paper. Not surprisingly, the first thing I wanted to do was give our paper more balance between its production and non-production aspects.

What I and the other editors came up with is something called an “Enrichment Team.” In short, it’s a rotating group of, say, 4 to 6 journalism students who dedicate much of their time to staff appreciation, class innovation and journalism lessons. This team still writes and designs for the paper, but the core of their effort is spent on non-production stuff.

This is just one of the many ways to create the balance I’ve been talking about. It’s a touchy topic, no doubt. The more journalism lessons and class parties you have, the less time you can spend on brainstorming, editing and layout. Then again, any class that focuses wholeheartedly on getting the paper printed is going to end up with a pretty shoddy publication—or, at the least, one that doesn’t improve.

I’d now like to open the floor up to anything that’s on your mind. If you have a question about the “Enrichment Team,” feel free to ask. I’d also like to hear about the situation at your school. Where do you think you are in terms of this balanced staff that I keep talking about? Is your staff centered on production, or do you wish you spent more time developing the paper and less time with lessons, activities and such?

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