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A few weeks ago, I asked student writers across the country to share some advice with their peers: What would they like to know before taking on a writing or leadership role?
Below is a collection of answers, with tips on managing time, setting boundaries, and delegating responsibilities. Some students have requested anonymity to speak candidly about their former roles.
Something I wish I had known when I became a publisher is that it is really important to set limits. While the Eagle is a big part of my life, it’s not my whole life, which I think is very healthy and normal. Sometimes it seems difficult to separate the two components of the student journalist: the student aspect and the journalist aspect. But just because we’re student journalists doesn’t mean we aren’t sometimes also students and we have all of these normal university experiences. Learning to compartmentalize these experiences has been very helpful to me.
I wish I knew how much less you have to write as an editor. I really missed it. Plus, I wish I had really understood just how much sexism still exists in the industry.
I wish I had known how important it is not to let work relationships interfere * too * with the personal relationships I had in the student newsroom. As student journalists, almost all of our time is spent working in school and in the newsroom. Naturally, you will develop a social life within the group of editors (for your own sanity too!). But remember that in an editing / management role there are times when you will have to step up to the plate with people you are friends with. Try to navigate this line in a healthy way ± keeping the paper running while keeping personal relationships separate.
The most important thing I wish I had known before: it’s okay to take breaks. You still have homework and probably another job, take the time to focus on it and your sanity.
You don’t need to be an editor. I wanted to be an editor when I started, but I stopped liking it. I was doing things, I was working an insane number of hours and I hated it, so I quit. But it was very rare in my student journal. If you were selected for a coveted editor-in-chief position, almost everyone would stay until graduation, so it was rare that I left early and was worried about how that would affect my career.
If you don’t want to be an editor or enjoy editing and think your time would be better spent focusing on your story, there’s no shame in that. If you felt like you wanted an editor job but didn’t get one for some reason, it’s not the end of the world or your career. You shouldn’t expect to devote a ridiculous number of hours to a low-paying student newspaper because you feel you have to be in the industry, and we have to fight that mindset.
I wish I had known it was OK to mess it up because I was still a student. I would also like to take more time to invite professionals to speak to my colleagues and to me. And I would have liked to have taken more risks with the report.
Upon entering the position of photo editor, I would have liked to know how much work that would have been. I had no formal training, just an email with a general job description and what my assignments would be outside of it. Granted, this was the first time my advisor had participated in a student journal that was run entirely by Zoom and they weren’t sure what to expect.
Thinking back to that year, what would I do differently? I would have opened a better line of communication with my advisor instead of relying on him to do it before the start of the semester to better understand what was expected of me. I would have contacted the former editor with any questions. And I just wouldn’t have said yes as much. I took too much, it wasn’t necessary.
The most important thing I wish I had known was how little reporting I would do and how many meetings, damage control and political games with the journalism department I would play.
The most important thing I wish I had known before taking a leadership role was exactly how long it was going to take. After my term ended, I had so much free time that I didn’t know what to do, but during that it took up all of my free time, mainly for editing and planning the cover.
I just didn’t have enough time to work one-on-one with my writers the way I wanted. Everything had to be general instructions just because I couldn’t make one-on-one calls, especially since it was during COVID-19. I didn’t even meet all of my writers in person and couldn’t help them improve.
I had to deal with the fact that I would have less time to write short stories, and instead I would have to delegate more. It’s hard to love writing and not overdoing it, but I learned a valuable lesson about tasks that take more time.
Many student writer roles make life outside of your newsroom difficult. I missed things with non-journalist friends during my year as an editor – these relationships can be really tough to manage on top of the absurd time commitment these leadership positions demand. Hope future writers know that it’s okay not to spend every moment of your free time thinking about the newsroom and dwelling on things you can’t control.
The most important thing I learned during my IEC training is that it is okay to say “I don’t know”. You are not supposed to know everything. It’s best to ask for help when navigating difficult situations that your coursework hasn’t prepared you for, especially in freelance student newsrooms without faculty guidance. You will be thankful you did.
One of the most difficult things I have found in my role as a writer / leader is managing my peers. Student journalism is already weird in that you are reporting on your peers / people you can interact with frequently, but dealing with peers and especially friends is also a challenge. I had to learn how to create better boundaries and try to separate work time from time with friends, but I wish I had done it sooner.
One problem I was totally unprepared for was that two of my editors had slept together and fell out. The news site we were running was a requirement for graduation, so there was no way either of them could quit or leave. … When you have a decent-sized undergraduate journalism program, there’s a good chance some people will sleep together, which will make it harder for them to work together if things go wrong.
I wish I had known that professors and deans would consider and treat you differently depending on your relationship. And I would have liked to know that it’s OK!
As internship requests start up again for next summer, here are some resources from The Lead archives:
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Yong interviewed up to 40 people for a single article on the pandemic in The Atlantic. The common threads of these interviews? Empathy and sincere curiosity.
“Interviewing isn’t just about getting quotes from people, it’s about actually understanding them. And if you approach it that way, you’ll get better quotes, ”Yong says Nieman Storyboard.
Yong sets expectations with the sources at the start of the interviews and suggests topics to cover, but lets the interview guide the questions. This Q&A is packed with interview lessons for every reporter.
Newsletter from last week: COVID-19 pushed us to go digital first, and it may have saved our diary
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