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A few weeks ago, I asked student editors from across the country to share tips with their peers: What would they like to know before taking on an editorial or leadership position?
A collection of responses below, with tips on managing time, setting boundaries and delegating responsibilities. Some students requested anonymity to speak openly about their past roles.
The thing I wish I knew when I became an editor was that it was really important to set boundaries. While The Eagle is a big part of my life, it’s not my whole life, which I think is very healthy and natural. Sometimes it seems difficult to separate the two elements of student journalism: the student side and the journalistic side. But just because we’re student journalists doesn’t mean we can’t just be students sometimes too, and we have all those regular college experiences. Learning to split these experiences has been very helpful to me.
I wish I knew how much less writing you can do as an editor. I really miss him. Also, I wish I had honestly realized how much sexism still exists in the industry.
I wish I knew how important it was to not let work relationships interfere *too much* with the personal relationships I had within the student newsroom. As student journalists, nearly all of our time is occupied by work in the school and the editorial room. Naturally, you’ll develop a social life within the editor’s group (for your sanity too!). But remember that in an editorial/managing role, sometimes you’ll need to put your foot down with the people you’re friends with. Try to navigate this line in a healthy way – keeping the paper on while keeping personal relationships separate.
The most important thing I wish I had known beforehand: It’s okay to take breaks. You still have homework and possibly another job, take time to focus on it and your mental health.
You don’t have to be an editor. I wanted to be an editor when I first started, but I stopped having fun with it. I was checking out the moves, working a crazy number of hours and hated it, so I quit. But this was very rare in my student paper. If you were selected for a coveted editorial position, almost everyone stayed until you graduated, so it was uncommon for me to leave early and was concerned about the impact on my career.
If you don’t want to be an editor or you don’t like editing and you think it’s better to use the time to focus on your reports, there’s absolutely no shame in that. If you feel you wanted an editor position but didn’t get it for any reason, it’s not the end of the world or your career. It shouldn’t be an expectation to dedicate ridiculous amounts of hours to a research paper at low pay because you feel you have to be in the industry, and we need to fight that mentality.
I wish I knew it was okay to mess around because I was still a student. I also wish I had taken more time to invite the professionals to speak with my colleagues and myself. I wish I would have taken more risks by reporting.
Going into the photo editor position, I wish I had known how much work could actually have been done. I did not have formal training, just an email with a general description of the job and what my assignments would be outside of it. It sure was the first time my advisors had dealt with a fully managed student newspaper from Zoom and they weren’t quite sure what to expect.
Looking back on that year, what would I have done differently? I would have opened a better line of communication with my advisors rather than relying on them to do this before the start of class to get a better understanding of what was expected of me. I would reach out to the previous editor with questions, any and all. And I wouldn’t say yes often. I took so much on it wasn’t necessary.
The biggest thing I wish I had known is the lack of reporting I would do, the number of meetings, damage control, and political games with the press department I would be doing.
The most important thing I wish I knew before taking on a leadership position was exactly how much time I would have needed. Once my term was over, I had so much free time that I didn’t know what to do, but during that it took all my free time, mostly editing and planning.
I didn’t have the time to work face to face with my book as I wanted. It should all be general instructions only because I couldn’t make one-on-one calls, especially because it was during COVID-19. I haven’t met all of my writers in person and couldn’t help them improve.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I would have less time to write the news, and instead, I would have to delegate more. It’s hard to love writing and don’t do it often, but I learned a valuable lesson about tasks that require more time.
Many student editor roles make it difficult to live a life outside of your own newsroom. I’ve missed things with non-journalist friends during the year I’ve worked as editor-in-chief – these relationships can be really hard to manage plus the ridiculous time commitment that these leadership positions require. I hope future editors know that it’s okay not to spend every waking moment of your spare time thinking about the editing room and getting sucked into the things you can’t control.
The most important thing I learned during my EIC training is that it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” You are not supposed to know everything. It’s best to ask for help when dealing with difficult situations for which your coursework no longer prepares you, especially in independent student editorial rooms without faculty guidance. You will be grateful that you did.
One of the hardest things I’ve found in my editor/leader role is managing my colleagues. Student journalism is really peculiar in that you are reporting on your colleagues/people you may interact with frequently, but managing your colleagues and especially friends is also a challenge. I had to learn how to create better boundaries as well as try to separate work time and friendship time, but I wish I did earlier.
One of the issues I wasn’t prepared for at all was that two of my editors were sleeping together and they were a mess. The news site we ran was a graduation requirement, so there was no opportunity to step down or leave. …when you have a decent-sized program for journalism students, chances are good that some people will sleep together, which makes it difficult for them to work together if things go wrong.
I wish I knew professors and deans would look at you and treat you differently based on your reports. I wish I knew that was good!
This is part of The Lead’s series on editing and management. Previously, we covered the lack of training for editor roles and the digital transformation of a single student newspaper.
With applications for internships starting up again for next summer, here are some resources from The Lead’s archive:
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Young interviews up to 40 people in an article about a single pandemic in the Atlantic. Common threads in those interviews? Real empathy and curiosity.
“Doing interviews is not just to get quotes from people — but to actually understand them. And if you approach it that way, you’ll get better quotes,” Young told Nieman Storyboard.
Yong sets expectations with sources at the beginning of the interviews and comes up with topics to cover, but allows the interviewer to ask questions. These questions and answers are packed with interview lessons for every journalist.
💌 Newsletter last week: COVID-19 pushed us to digital first, and it may have saved our newspaper
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