Students sift through college newspapers to study best practices in journalism.
By Michele Snow ’13
Managing Editor, Quinnipiac Chronicle
This spring, I was promoted to managing editor of the Quinnipiac Chronicle, the university’s student-run newspaper.
Even though I applied for the position and really wanted it, the title originally felt like an oversized T-shirt. I was suddenly apprehensive to assume more responsibility on the paper, considering that I am a history major with only a media writing course under my belt and not a trained journalism authority. My experience consists of the few hundred hours I’ve spent in the Chronicle office.
So when I got an email from my oh-so-generous and thoughtful editor-in-chief, Lenny Neslin, with an invitation to a seminar for college editors at the University of Georgia, I jumped at the chance to grow into my new position.
On July 24, after playing in-flight trivia with 50 high-school students who were on a youth group trip, and enduring a shuttle ride past Chick-Fil-A ads, a billboard with nothing but the word “JESUS” on it, and a sign for “Hot, Boiled Peanuts,” (exit 53 if you’re interested,) I finally arrived in Athens, Ga.
My fellow attendees of the Management Seminar for College News Editors had already been tweeting with the #mscne11 tag, deft, social-media-centric journalists that they are, which conveniently allowed me to find them. I was also pleased to discover that meeting my roommate was like staring into a personality mirror.
The other attendees were mostly editors-in-chief, which made the few of us who were managing editors feel that much luckier to be there. Although working on college newspapers was the one thing we all had in common, and though we came from different corners of the United States and universities of different sizes, we were all passionate about making our papers and ourselves better.
All week I was so impressed by the quality of the presenters.
On Monday morning, Butch Ward of the Poynter Institute, spoke to the 60 of us about being leaders in our news organizations.
Adults I’ve known in the past love to talk about leadership, taking initiative, being a good listener, claiming responsibility and encouraging communication. Then they have the students engage in fluffy team-building exercises in matching T-shirts before sending everyone home.
Ward didn’t do that. He gave us real, attainable goals that we could work into our own schedules and tailor to our own processes.
We learned the most from him, but perhaps more importantly, we learned from each other. We shared difficult situations we had all faced on our papers and later, in the legal seminar, we shared stories about censorship and valiant attempts at gaining access to public records.
This became a theme throughout the week: learning from our presenters and learning from each other. The longer we sat in that seminar room, the more comfortable we felt addressing each other directly or offering up solutions that had worked for our own papers.
Our presenters were all prominent, experienced editors and professors, from the Associated Press, the Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others.
Similar themes emerged from their presentations:
- Build relationships, they said.
- Identify who you’ll need in the future and start establishing contacts now.
- Build these relationships with officials both at the university and in the community, but also with your staff.
- Cultivate and coach your team in such a way that they can turn around and shape an even better team when you’re long gone.
- Use as much technology as possible and use it as often as possible.
- If you’ve heard the news industry is dying, it’s not; it’s just morphing into a multi-platform conversation. The best editors learn how to take advantage of this and they do it with video, social media, photos, social media, user-friendly websites and social media. Did I mention social media?
Students toured the CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
We had the opportunity to tour CNN’s headquarters, and an overhead view of the central newsroom revealed at least two monitors in every row of computers running TweetDeck. The importance of a social media presence was not lost on any of us. It’s Newspaper Survival 101 at this point.
Have a plan in place to handle breaking news, the industry veterans urged. Wednesday’s itinerary centered around a staged bus crash, complete with actors, vehicles and caution tape. The mock crisis combined the importance of covering breaking news effectively and the critical nature of covering all your multimedia bases.
Divided into teams of seven or eight students, we covered the event with an impressive seriousness and had two hours to get the “breaking news” up on our “website” with lots of multimedia content.
It was incredible to watch everybody ditch their nonchalant curiosity in the classroom and shift into full-blown journalist mode.
And if nothing else proved to us the importance of having a plan for breaking news, it was the presentation from the managing editor of The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper.
On April 27, a devastating tornado hit the area that devastated their community. The success of their coverage came from their effective use of Twitter, one of their only lines of communication after all cell service shut down, their ability to create a system for confirming student deaths before the university released the information and their brilliant idea of posting a Google map of the area which linked their coverage to spots on the map. This way, they saw what neighborhoods they hadn’t covered, and they went out and covered them.
This week was one of the most exhausting, challenging, enlightening and rewarding experiences of my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity, for the contacts I developed, the friendships I made and the knowledge and ideas I gained.
I realized the Quinnipiac Chronicle is already a fairly excellent paper as far as student newspapers go, but now I’ve got several ways to make it better. Plus, we do it all with a relatively small group of dedicated individuals working out of a student media trailer. We don’t have a marble building with two floors of cubicles, we don’t have a circulation or distribution team and we don’t pay everybody on staff. But our product is just as good as some of the best papers in the country that have all of those resources at their disposal.
We’ve been fortunate to have some really talented leaders at the Chronicle in the past as well as this year, but it’s time for our underclassmen (myself included,) to start rising to meet the standards that have been set. Butch Ward, of the Poynter Institute, told us on the first morning that journalists are a combination of patient and busy. It’s a healthy balance of the two that turns out some phenomenal work.