Fall Workshop Report

How technological change can affect
staff motivation, management

Marcie Young, yearbook adviser from Presque Isle High, shares ideas with panelists including Lindsay Coppens, adviser of The Harbinger at Algonquin Regional High, Lindsay Wise, adviser of The Sagamore at Brookline High, Mackenzie Condon, editor of The High School View at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High, and Jeb Brunt, adviser of the television news broadcast at Norwood High (photo courtesy of The Rebellion at Walpole High).

Marcie Young, yearbook adviser from Presque Isle High, shares ideas with panelists including Lindsay Coppens, adviser of The Harbinger at Algonquin Regional High, Lindsay Wise, adviser of The Sagamore at Brookline High, Mackenzie Condon, editor of The High School View at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High, and Jeb Brunt, adviser of the television news broadcast at Norwood High (photo courtesy of Emily Smith, The Rebellion at Walpole High).

Representatives from a variety of scholastic media discussed motivating and managing staff while meeting challenges of technological change.

At the fall workshop Friday, Nov. 2 panelists included advisers and an editor from award-winning broadcast, print and online media.

“Keeping a line of communication open and celebrating strengths while being OK with weaknesses are really powerful things that the best functioning staffs are able to do,” said Lindsay Coppens, adviser of The Harbinger, the print and online publication at Algonquin Regional High.

She emphasized the importance of communication to ensure that the staff meets deadlines and maintains motivation. She said The Harbinger staff does all of its work after school.

Within a student-run publication or television production, editors and staffs are faced with an array of challenges, said Helen Smith, executive director of the New England Scholastic Press Association in her introductory presentation.

‘Structure enables flexibility’

“Learning to write and edit is a process that never ends, “ Smith said. “Be candid, not defensive about what’s wrong. Structure enables flexibility.

“Staff motivation means encouraging high standards so that staff members care about what they do. The goal is for the staff to approach their jobs with dignity and with commitment.”

During the first part of the program, Smith asked those in attendance to write down a challenge they had had or were dealing with in regards to staff motivation. She encouraged them to share it with everyone. Members of the assembled group then gave reactions and suggestions.

Assessing students’ skills is vital to assigning roles, said Conor Cashman, adviser to The Rebellion at Walpole High.

“Make sure they have a job that fits their skill set,” he said. “You are constantly looking for students to find purpose in your paper.”

According to Coppens, tweaking job descriptions to suit individual students’ strengths helps to create a motivated staff.

“If they don’t fit the jobs, you can fit the jobs to them,” Coppens said.

Along with Cashman and Coppens, panelists included Jeb Brunt, adviser to the television news broadcast Mustang Magazine at Norwood High, Mackenzie Condon, co-editor in chief of The High School View, a weekly page of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Lindsay Wise, adviser to The Sagamore at Brookline High, and Marcie Young, adviser to The Ship, Presque Isle High’s yearbook.

Tom Fabian, adviser of The Newtonite, Newton North’s online and print publication, was the moderator. He encouraged audience members to contribute to the discussion.

Helpful strategies

“Staff motivation is a real problem for journalism students and advisers—and most extracurriculars—so I found it really interesting to hear about how different staff leaders and advisers motivate their staffs with events or incentives,” Cashman said about the workshop.

“I really liked what Lindsay Coppens from Algonquin said about motivating her students. At the start of the year, she has her students camp out overnight on school property and do workshops and team-building activities.”

Another strategy, which Newton North’s Newtonite uses, is to change positions in the middle of the year instead of at the beginning or the end, since seniors are available then to help teach the younger students become editors and leaders.

Condon said showing new members articles staff have written gives them confidence to write their own.
“By showing them impactful articles, staff are motivated to not just be a shadow in a larger publication,” Condon said.

Presque Isle High has three journalism classes, Young said.

“We have Journalism 1, which is unit-based with around 30 kids, and Journalism 2 and 3, which provide a workshop-like environment.” she said.

Similarly, Norwood High School offers advanced journalism classes, level two Journalism courses for sophomores, and level one classes for people with no experience, Brunt said.

Wise commented on the importance of timeliness.

“We are very firm with deadlines,” Wise said. “If your article is not ready for the print issue, it goes online.”

According to Wise, The Sagamore uses a Google spreadsheet and separate folders on Google Drive to store and place articles.

Deadlines and cycles

Brunt said Mustang Magazine uses binders rather than Google folders.

“We would like to go completely digital,” Brunt said. “However, we struggle with social media, and every time we try to go completely digital, we always go back to binders.”

Kacie Chapman, the yearbook editor in chief from Presque Isle, a town in rural northern Maine, described the struggle with yearbook responsibilities during harvest break, a three-week period in September and early October when farmers harvest their potatoes, and there is no school.

Since the break comes near the beginning of the school year, the staff does not yet know its responsibilities, Chapman said.

Brunt suggested they work during their time off, as his staff does during the summer.

“We know that the beginning of school can be challenging and that there’s going to be a big speed bump there, so sometimes it’s really motivating for the staff to see a great story a student worked on during their time off,” Brunt said.

“Before that break, sit down with your staff and brainstorm what you can do during the break from school so you’re not behind.”

Young raised another challenge: students wanting to be involved with yearbook but unable find room in their schedules for the class, which meets one hour per day. She said some students take on aide positions.
“If they have had experience and still really want to be a part of that culture, that is how they keep themselves involved,” Young said.

Cashman compared publishing in print to publishing online where there isn’t a strict deadline.

“This year we tried to improve our online deadlines, so we can prioritize both equally,” he said.

“Yearbook is a different flavor,” Young said.

She spoke about their difficulties with the strict deadline they face in early April, and how they can not include events that happen after the print deadline. To incorporate these events, the yearbook publishes information about them online and on Instagram.

Coppens spoke about the importance having the staff focus on admitting and improving on their weaknesses in order to help create a stronger publication.

“After every print cycle, the editors in chief ask all editors to reflect on the issue, and include their strengths and weaknesses,” Coppens said. “We value the strengths editors have and help them acknowledge their weaknesses.”

She said these check-ins create the strongest and most motivated staff.

Emma Kahn, Jordan Watts and Sabrina Zhou, editors of The Sagamore at Brookline High; Sophie Murthy and Helen Xiao, editors of The Newtonite at Newton North; and Jessica Ferguson and Caitlin Kahaly, editors of The Rebellion at Walpole High contributed to this coverage.

Pivotal questions for staffs, advisers to discuss

Tom Fabian, who moderated the panel, raised questions about technological changes’ effects on staff organization and motivation.

These questions suggest pivotal topics for members of the scholastic press to think about and discuss in relation to their own staffs and media.

  • Describe your copy flow. How do you integrate copy flow for print and on line? TV folks, what is your process?
  • How do you hold staff members accountable for social media and other parts of your online presence?
  • How do you organize your staff around social media?
  • What new roles have you developed? Do you have anyone on staff who addresses tech issues specifically? Do you find you need an IT person? Do you still have graphics people?
  • How has the role of photography/videography changed? How do you organize those departments?
  • What, if anything, has fallen by the wayside as you do more work online? Do you feel your standards are better or worse?
  • Has being online affected your budget in any way? What role does advertising still play?
  • Advisers, how has your online/social media presence affected your ability to teach journalism?