Future of College Media: How The Nevada Sagebrush can become a better paper

This post is the tenth and final in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country.

My final post in this college media project is quite simple really. It’s a portion of my application to the position of Managing Editor for the Nevada Sagebrush next year. Rather than send in the list, and then keep it private, I thought it best to publicly write down a list of improvements and ideas that I want to implement next year, as a way of making sure that my promises will be kept. And if I don’t get the position, then this document can serve as suggestions to whomever is running the paper next year. I’ve tried to implement many of the ideas that I’ve covered and written about during the course of this series, and I would greatly appreciate any comments, concerns or ideas you have.

The changes I have proposed below are, for the most part, an overhaul of the inner and outer workings of the Nevada Sagebrush. As Managing Editor, I would take an active role in not only the production of the weekly paper, but also in online content, recruitment and future volunteers, keeping personal relationships in check, social media and the public image of the Sagebrush. If kept to the current course of action, the Sagebrush will cease to be a cutting-edge publication, and fall into a shadow of it’s former self, lacking in content, delivery and staff. My proposals seek to reverse this trend and to take a more active role in the university community and the lives of its students.

 Recruitment:

The lifeblood of any collegiate organization is recruitment. As Managing Editor, one of my main focuses would be to find, recruit and train volunteer writers. Here’s how:

  • Journalism Class Presentations: Although many people on staff will be in upper-level journalism classes, there is a huge, untapped resource in freshmen and sophomore journalism students enrolled in 107 and 207 classes. I would begin a regular schedule of presenting to these classes about the benefits of writing for the Sagebrush, as well as addressing concerns by students in such classes. Presentations would happen during the beginning, middle and end of each semester, with myself and at least one other person delivering the pitch.
  • Tabling: By having a regular, noticeable presence in both the journalism school and on-campus, staff members should be able to make a connection with potential writers, obtain their personal information, and be able to constantly communicate with the potentials to determine their writing ability and willingness to volunteer.
  • Overhauling Boot Camp: The Nevada Sagebrush Boot Camp, as it currently stands, is a bit of a joke. I would propose two different forms of Boot Camps: one for staff and one for volunteers/potentials. The staff boot camp would focus on essentials for working in the office: managing inDesign, making the best use of the production flow, AP Style, etc. Boot camps for volunteers/others would be hosted by staff members, and focus on requirements for writing, but also on forming a personal connection between volunteer and staff member, as to keep them feeling involved and important to the production of the newspaper.
  • Production Night Visits: The office for the Nevada Sagebrush should not be a place for volunteers to fear or not know. As Managing Editor, I would organize regular visits to Sunday production nights, allowing volunteers to oversee the process that puts the newspaper together and the steps necessary to avoid mistakes. After a while, I would allow volunteers to assist in several of the production steps, such as copy-editing or attempting to write headlines.
  • Performance Reviews: Much like the regular staff meets semesterly with the EIC, I would begin a system of having volunteers meet with upper management on a semesterly basis. I feel as though this system would, as mentioned above, not only tie volunteers to the members of staff, but also allow them receive critique of their work thus far, ideally helping them in future stories.
  • Online/summer advertising: During summer, a story should be on the rotator for the website regarding volunteering in the fall, as many future and potential students will visit the website. Likewise, staff members should utilize social media over the summer to advertise to potential writers and stay involved, including using volunteers to write stories during the summer.

Staff Management:

It goes without saying that staff relations were less than ideal the past academic year, which ultimately lead to a hostile work environment and a noticeable lacking in the actual product. In the position of Managing Editor, I would take steps to avoid such conflicts before they happen, and address problems between staff members or volunteers head on. Here’s how:

  • Staff retreat: Many government agencies and companies sponsor retreats every year, in order to both brainstorm ideas and improve staff relationships. During summer, I would either host or find a place in Tahoe/ outside of Reno to have a staff retreat. As many of the newly hired staff members won’t know each other, this scenario would provide a kind of introduction before the year begins. These kind of excursions can help identify problems before the year starts and lay the groundwork for productive working relationships in the future.

  • Revamping Staff meetings: As opposed to the current free-for-all form of staff meetings, I would entirely change the structure of said meetings in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and to decrease the amount of time required to go through a meeting. If chosen, I would run meetings by a modified form of Robert’s Rules of Order, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a hostile back-and-forth, and setting a time limit for discussion. These changes would require story ideas to be mostly finalized by the time of the meeting, required section editors to sort out the details of their CPs before the meeting begins.

  • Addressing problems head-on: If a conflict does arise between staff members or volunteers, part of the responsibility needs to be placed on upper management to manage the situation. As Managing Editor, I would place myself, the editor-in-chief, or a professional staff member (Amy Koeckas) as the arbiter of any dispute. Finding a common ground is crucial in resolving any conflict, and problems need to be nipped in the bud before they sprout to destructive and pointless arguments.

  • Newsroom rules: The newsroom should be kept professional during production nights, as formal or even semi-formal wear increases the professionalism in the office environment, and promotes better standards of behavior. Attire will be business-casual, with a minimum of a collared shirt and jeans for men, and this guide for women. Once a month, staff members can wear regular clothes to work. Headphones should be used to listen to music and videos, and conversation kept to an inside-tone- no yelling across the room. Desks should be cleaned at the end of Monday night, and relatively clean by the beginning of Tuesday. Violation of these rules will result in first a verbal warning, and repeat offenses will result in docks in pay.

Public Relations:

While it’s not a new problem for the Sagebrush to be strongly disliked by many members of campus, this year has seen, at least in my experience, a new low in relations with individual students, on-campus agencies and student groups. While there is a built-in resentment to the Sagebrush already present, there are methods of avoiding unnecessary conflict and building strong, professional relationships with students on campus, relationships which result in increased readership and potential sources for the future. The campus newspaper should be part of the campus.

  • Outreach meetings: Just as senior staff usually meets with the President of the University each year to discuss possible issues and topics of controversy, senior staff should have some speaking relationship with on-campus leaders, including RHA, Greek life leaders, ASUN officials, club presidents and more. Rather than schedule individual meetings with dozens of officials, I would schedule and plan a large presentation discussing the goals of the Sagebrush, the standards of accuracy used by staff members, contact information for story ideas or complaints, and what role these groups will play in commenting and reading the Sagebrush. The event will be catered, and open to anyone on campus, but focused on student leaders.

  • Follow-up: As Managing Editor, I would hold a weekly meeting with the Editor-in-chief to discuss the stories presented in the past four weeks, and review those stories to see if follow-up is needed in coming issues. That way, contentious stories about subjects such as ASUN and Greek Life can be monitored for an extended period of time, and dealt with before issues explode.

  • Dealing with critics: With a move toward commenting through Facebook and Twitter, it becomes easier to identify which members of the community have issues with the Sagebrush. As Managing Editor, it would be my responsibility to respond to allegations of lying or insults to articles, and to engage in a conversation with the individual having an issue with the coverage.

  • Alumni Relationships: The Nevada Sagebrush has thousands of alumni, scattered throughout the country, involved in either journalism or other areas of business. One long-term project I will begin as Managing Editor will be to find, contact, and record alumni both local and prominent. Doing so will create a donor base to easily solicit, and also help the paper’s public image as a crucial component of the University.

Online / Social Media:

Although many college students still prefer actual print newspapers than their online counterparts, it’s apparent that the future of news will have an overwhelming online component. It’s obvious that as future journalism professionals, we must strive in all ways to interpret and set the trends for online reporting and news, and yet also remain grounded in the standards of accurate reporting that separates real journalism from tabloids.

  • Website overhaul: Updating the newspaper website is an extremely important goal for the immediate future, as the current website is slow to load, buggy, and frequently crashes. While it’s a more of a long-term goal, here’s my plans for an updated website:

  • Facebook logins required to post comments

  • An increased social media presence: Twitter tracker, Facebook posts, etc.

  • Event tracker, linking to Facebook events

  • More informational pages on topics like ASUN, football, and other popular subjects (like this NYT page on Newt Gingrich)

  • A simpler, more Web 2.0 layout

  • Current Website fixes: With an increased focus online, staff members will be spending more time working with the website to attract traffic. Here are some plans that would immediately improve the Sagebrush’s website:

  • Linking: Linking to past articles, and updating past articles with links to what happened in the future.

  • Increased content: Stories on the rotator should shift about every day, in order to prevent staleness and give other stories an opportunity to reach more readers. Online editors can either use stories from that week’s edition, or preferably use new, online-only content.

  • Increased blog presence: As Managing Editor, I would reach out to current bloggers on the UNR campus and contact them about moving their blog to the Nevada Sagebrush website. Not only would these bloggers bring a built-in audience with them, they would provide constant content on the website, allowing other editors to focus on more in-depth and time-intensive stories.

  • Additional multimedia: Although it falls more along the lines of recruiting, as Managing Editor I would develop and recruit volunteers within the world of broadcast to produce video-intensive stories, and partner those volunteers with writers to fully cover a story in both print and video format. Additionally, I would partner more closely with Wolf Pack Week, and focus on integrating content between the two outlets.

  • Aggregation pages: Rather than forcing a reader to look up different articles from several different weeks to learn how a story developed, I would work with editors to publish aggregation pages, summarizing an issue or series of events, and link out to articles in greater detail.

  • Facebook: Facebook is the best way to reach students, which is why it’s important to not abuse readers. Using social media as a ‘link-dump’ will work at first, but will eventually frustrate readers with over-saturation of links. Rather, I would incorporate a more 24/7 method on Facebook, using the main page as a way to provide content either not available or not able to be posted on the main website. Updating in-progress stories, linking to work done by other outlets or persons, and attempting to build a community of readers who are both willing and able to contribute their input and ideas on stories and plans.

  • Opening the News: I would move this group completely to Facebook, and facilitate mature and reasoned discussion on newsworthy topics. Obviously, the people most likely to use the group are people within ASUN or Greek Life, so I would encourage participation from those groups by both direct messaging/emailing, and meeting with group leaders during ASUN Senate meetings and IFC/Panhellenic/MGC meetings. Their participation in a group like OTN is critical because they are a vocal, intelligent group of people who are regular readers and invested in the university.

  • Twitter: Much like Facebook, Twitter isn’t designed to be a link dump. Rather, it’s a resource for students and individuals to find out what’s going on instantly. While it may seem counter-productive for a small news organization like the Sagebrush to have a significant impact on events happening in real time, I feel as though with the right training and timing, Twitter can be an incredibly useful tool for readers, which will turn attract more attention and eyes to tweets by the website.

  • Live-Tweeting: One of the best ways to attract Twitter followers is by being on the ground during large or important events. Providing content not seen by ‘regular’ media outlets attracts much attention to a Twitterer, and can be used for news, sports, and art events. As Managing Editor, I would require those section editors to plan on attending an event every three weeks where live-tweeting can be utilized. Afterwords, a Storify post can be linked to on other social media outlets and the website to let readers late to the event know what happened

  • Re-Tweeting, and creating a community: Twitter is not a link dump. As Managing Editor, I would spend several hours searching for UNR students, local residents, recent alumni and local journalists to increase the number of followers, and to gain a greater sense of what’s happening in the community. With a great increase in the number of followers, it would become necessary to create lists separating people into different demographic groups. Additionally, the Twitter account should be used at a minimum five times a day, more or less spread out. Retweeting statuses and actively participating in the community by responding to questions and talking to individuals will also lead to dedicated followers, more likely to click on links.

  • Mandated Social Media: Staff members, especially editors, will be required to have and use a Twitter account and Facebook page, linking to their content and updating readers on their research or story progress. By doing this, readers will be able to interact directly with the author of an article they greatly enjoy or have issues with, allowing for a greater communication between writer and reader. Additionally, I will draft a social media contract for members of staff to sign, making sure that the organization is protected in any legal issues that may arise.

Print Production Changes:

With an increased focused on online content, it will be necessary to make some changes to the current production schedule for the print product. Although I understand that online presence will need to be increased in the coming year, it is important to not forget that a significant portion of The Sagebrush’s readership only or primarily consumes the print edition. With that thought in mind, here are some of my proposed changes to the current format, separated by section.

  • Overall:

  • Increase in ‘Second-Day’ stories: Being a weekly publication, the Nevada Sagebrush works better as a news magazine, as opposed to a daily newspaper format, based on it’s weekly production cycle. As Managing Editor, I will work with section editors to ensure that the vast majority of their stories are more analysis and ‘second-day’ stories, focusing more on the ‘why’ than on the ‘what.’

  • Skyboxes: Information above the fold of the front page is what readers look at first, which means that the news section nearly always gets most of the reader’s initial attention. As Managing Editor, I will personally make sure that a skybox is used at least bi-monthly, advertising either sports, A&E or opinion coverage.

  • Unique content: The Nevada Sagebrush is not a place to re-write press releases. As a weekly newspaper, editors and writers should strive to write and create stories unique to the UNR/Reno campus and community, creating a wealth of unique content that will undoubtedly attract readers and increase audience size.

  • Partnerships: As student reporters, members of the Sagebrush have a unique advantage and insight into what’s happening on campus, but lack the resources, money and time required to regularly dig deep into controversial and/or investigative issues. As Managing Editor, I would take steps to begin a partnership with the Nevada News Bureau and/or the Reno Gazette-Journal to produce quality reporting addressing or covering contentious topics on the UNR campus. Ideally, the news department would begin working with either organization once a semester, but different sections could begin to work with any portion of either organization to work on content.

  • News:

  • Adoption of Beat Reporters: Through either staff members or volunteers, topics such as ASUN, Greek Life and campus health need to be assigned to one or two reporters. Using this methodology will decrease the amount of mistakes made in coverage via the reporter’s expanded knowledge on a topic, and will also lead to better and more in-depth story ideas by reporters becoming experts in a certain topic. Adoption of a beat allows for volunteer writers to feel more connected to the paper, and help lighten the burden for regular editors.

  • Dedicated coverage: Every two weeks, the news section will be required to run a ‘special section’ on page A4. The topics should be broad enough to compass several stories, but narrow enough to appeal to a specific target audience. Examples include Inside ASUN, Inside Campus, Health, Election fever, etc.

  • Sports:

  • Elimination of Agate/stats: The day after the Sagebrush prints, many of the statistics and numerical data in the print copy will be wrong. Keeping with the theme of a weekly paper, numerical data should be used sparingly, with changes being made to B2 and B6 to reflect the rapidly changing statistics. Rather, sports editors can use game summaries, additional sports briefs, and schedules to fill the space.

  • More than just game summaries: While there is a place for game results and highlights, sports editors should strive to diversify their content to attract not only sports fans, but a wider audience. As Managing Editor, I would require the sports section feature one non-traditional sports story every two weeks.

  • Arts and Entertainment:

  • Less Reviews: The past two years have seen an over-saturation of reviews in the A&E section. I firmly believe that few students, if any, take these reviews seriously, and quickly flip through the section as they can get their information from a huge variety of other sources online. As Managing Editor, I would limit the number of CD, movie and video game reviews in the A&E Section to three per month, forcing the editor and writers to find local events and interesting features to write and cover for their section. These include concert reviews, interviews with local bands and highlights from Reno or on-campus events.

  • Opinion:

  • More diversity: Too often, most of the columns in the Sagebrush are written by staff members in different positions. This personnel decision severely limits the breadth and scope of opinion and knowledge at the University, and is a lazy way out. In response, I would limit the number of columns written by paid staff members per week to two, requiring the rest of the section be written by volunteer writers and columnists.

  • Focus on campus: Most of the columns in the opinion section should relate back to the University. Readers of the Sagebrush respond more to local and on-campus issues than to national or abstract issues, because they are closer and more in-tune with local issues. Although the opinion editor should not deny his/her writers the opportunity to write about what they care about, columns in the print edition should have about a 60/40 focus on the UNR campus, with other columns either going online or waiting a week to be published.

  • Guest columnists: UNR faculty and staff are, for the most part, pretty intelligent. As Managing Editor, I would make contact with faculty such as Dr. Elliot Parker or Stacy Gordon to ask them to write a guest column in the newspaper. Not only would it raise the level of discourse in the opinion section, but guest columnists attract more attention than regular student writers, again increasing the audience for the paper.

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