Leadership, editing and team building
2020-21 Editorial Board
Cartoon courtesy Sophia Pan, Managing Editor (used with permission)
Leading the biggest staff we’ve ever had (nearly double last year’s) is one of the most difficult things I’ve been tasked with. To begin, I had goals for the Spoke this year so that we could hit the ground running as school began. Here is a sample of all the ideas I wanted to implement this year.
I implemented every one of these practices with the exception of 10 because we are in a virtual environment and 2 because we decided that 3 story ideas gave everyone more practice.
In every year of the Spoke’s history, it has been a goal to have every reporter and editor write for the print issue every issue. So, when we started off this year with a 50-person staff instead of the usual 25-30, we were determined to keep this up.
I quickly realized that pairing up enough reporters so they could all write for print reduced the quality of copy, did not allow us to individually assess new reporters, and inundated our advisers and section editors with an impossible amount of work. For this reason, I made the difficult decision to split up the staff with the following steps:
accomodating the biggest staff in spoke history
The web/print split
We gave every reporter a writing diagnostic test, created a rubric, and graded the 50 stories that came in. We were then able to determine everyone’s baseline skill level. For those who were in severe need of writing instruction, we set up multiple presentations with our copy adviser whose goal was to bring those reporters up to the baseline for the Spoke.
Next, we split the remaining reporters into two groups, group A and group B which were equal in size, skill level, and distribution of reporters and editors. From there, each group rotated between writing for the website and the print issue.
I also somewhat altered the traditional roles of the web team, instead of each one of them simply dealing with content management, I gave them each a section to edit and they began to serve as web section editors.
I set up a new system of deadlines that keeps the two groups connected.
Issue cycle under a new system...
Week 1: Story Ideas due for both groups on Wednesday
Week 1: Budget due for both groups on Friday
Week 2 is a work-week
Week 3: First Copy for print due Monday
Week 3: for print due Friday week 1
Week 4: Production Monday, First copy for web due
Week 4: Production Wednesday
Week 4: Web revisions due Friday
Week 4: PDFs sent to printer
Here's our diagnostic test rubric, web/print split and more.
Training the editorial Board virtually
In addition to the changes I made to the way staff runs, I also led classes on a day-to-day basis, held meetings with reporters and editors who needed it.
During the summer, after finishing my proposal to keep our website independent, I briefed the entire editorial board on everything that had occurred in order to keep them informed and train them for the future.
We set up multiple meetings to gauge what they were worried about as we lost our normal training period when we ran our first issue as this year’s board in the May of 2020. In that issue, we came across the problem that many editors had yet to learn InDesign. In order to pick up what others could not do due to our loss of training period, I worked on 6 of the 12 pages during our May issue in order to make our deadline. However, I knew this was not a solution and wanted the editors to learn the skills they were missing.
From August to September, I ran weekend InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Lightroom sessions for 2 months to train the editors. Additionally, I ran live copy editing sessions so they could hear my thinking process out loud.
In addition to managing and handling staff affairs, I have written every front page this year and involved a different mix of editors each time in order to train as many people as possible. I set up planning documents to walk the editors I am training through the mental steps of bringing together a front page.
Training editors to write
This is the copy editing system I implemented on staff this year.
What is the focus?
What is the angle?
Does the reporter stay on task?
Is there a quote to break up reporting in the first 3 paragraphs?
Do I know what the story is about in the first 2 paragraphs?
Is there enough detail? If you knew nothing about this story would you understand it?
Does each quote add something to the story?
Does each sentence have a purpose/try avoiding being redundant or repetitive?
Did the reporter explain all relevant terminology?
Did you include color quotes? Did each one add something to the story?
Do quote introductions just restate quotes (never do this)
ABCs (is the article, accurate, brief, concise?
Are all AP Style conventions being followed (names, dates, times, titles, descriptors, oxford commas)
Cut any passive voice
Read out-loud for awkward phrasing
Watch out for sentence fragments!
Are all the quotes formatted correctly?
Did you feel like you were in the reporter’s shoes?
Did the advisers have any concerns?
Would you be willing to run this on the page if your own name was on it?
Samples of my editing
By Gavin Merschel, staff reporter (December 2019)- Link to final copy here
Sample #1: Original Copy
Running for a cause: Family runs Philadelphia Half Marathon in honor of student's uncle
On a cold late November morning, the streets of Philadelphia closed as the participants of the Philadelphia Half Marathon ran and walked 13.1 miles in the city. The Ben Franklin parkway was crowded with the participants, over 14,000 of them, and their thousands of supporters as they crossed over the finish line. The energy and adrenaline filled the air as the feelings of accomplishment and pride gripped the hearts of everyone in attendance. Some run for fun, and others run for a deeper purpose, one of these runners was Sophomore Maddy D’Arcy. D’Arcy and her family have been running the 8K for the past three years. As they debated over the 8K and Half Marathon for 2019, an event occurred that would completely change and solidify their decision.
D’Arcy’s uncle passed away from heart disease this past August, it was a shock to her family. From then on, it was apparent that they wanted to honor him and raise money for heart disease awareness and research in some way. Since her uncle was a “good runner" when he was younger, they turned to the Philadelphia Half Marathon. We were kind of considering doing the half and once that happened my dad came up with the idea that definitely pushed us to the next level", said D’Arcy. So, she began training three months prior, starting by running 3 miles and working her way up to 13.1. She ran in honor of her uncle, doing something extremely difficult for him. At the race, she finished 2:40:00, feeling good to have done something honorable for her uncle. "When something that big happens it's hard to honor it in a way that’s big and doing it for not just him but other people suffering the same thing"
Through their run, they raised money for the British Heart Foundation. D’Arcy was born in England, where her family is from including her uncle. The British Heart Foundation is a charity organization that is dedicated to “beating heart break” from heart and circulatory diseases. The main purpose is to raise money for heart disease research, spread prevention methods, and form a community of those affected by heart disease. Through donations, D’Arcy were able to raise around $1,500, which was more than her goal. It was “definitely rewarding to have some kind of contribution” said D’Arcy.
Although the run was for a serious cause, D’Arcy was able to really enjoy it and take in the full experience of running in a major event. “It was a really great atmosphere”, said D’Arcy. She plans to do more in the future and may consider a full marathon in the distant future.
Accomplishing her goal, D’Arcy is left with a good feeling for doing something strong and making a positive thing out of a negative situation. Through the experience, Maddy will always look back on the run as something truly meaningful to her and her family. "Doing it for a good cause was really motivating and it felt really great to finish it"
I guided my reporter through the process of writing this story by first establishing a set of questions he could ask, as the reason this family decided to run the marathon was to honor the loss of a loved one. I wanted to begin by making sure we were phrasing our questions in a way that would not be insensitive to the family’s loss but still encourage Maddy D’Arcy to be able to talk about her experience frankly.
When the article was first written the structure was quite different, it began with a fairly brief description of the atmosphere of the marathon’s site itself. However, as the purpose of this article was for D’Arcy to talk about the motivation for running this marathon, I strongly advised my reporter to make that incentive clear within the first sentence of the article. After that, I also advised my reporter to emphasize the atmosphere of the event as it was such an exciting one and I wanted to make sure readers could visualize it. From there, I advised my reporter on some more technical aspects of the story such as AP style, grammatical errors, and rephrasing of some sentences. But the real challenge with this article was the interview, we knew going into the story that it would be a little difficult. However, after the first interview did not go as well as we had hoped, I advised my reporter to try interviewing D’Arcy again and guided my reporter through the process of being more conversational in order to make it more natural the second time around. I recommended that he only take 3-5 general questions into his interview to make the process less mechanical and allow their conversation to flow.
This proved to be a lot more effective as D’Arcy was a lot less guarded and openly discussed details that she hadn’t felt were as important the first time around. This interview ended up giving the story exactly what it needed and breathed some more life into the piece.
By Zakiyah Gaziuddin and Grace Kuryan, news editor and staff reporter
(October 2020)- Link to final copy here
Sample #2: Original Copy
Pennsylvania adapts mail-in voting
For the first time in recent American history, an unprecedented number of individuals will be given the opportunity to vote by mail in the 2020 presidential election. In Oct. 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77, a bill that altered election laws in Pennsylvania by creating an option for individuals to vote by mail without having to provide an excuse. Pennsylvania previously required voters to provide a reason, such as having an illness or disability or being away from the municipality in which they reside on Election Day, to cast an absentee ballot.
The bill has proven to be particularly important, as states across the nation, including Pennsylvania, adapt to circumstances hindering the general public from going to the polls this Fall. Pennsylvania previously required voters to provide an excuse for choosing to vote using an absentee ballot but have now moved towards more forgiving voting laws with the option of what’s commonly known as the no-excuse absentee ballot.
Senior Katie Chuss, president of Young Democrats Club, considers mail-in ballots to be a substantial option considering the fact that the nation is still grappling with the pandemic.
“I think it might make it easier for people to vote. I don't think it really makes it harder [...] as long as they're willing to take an initiative to request their ballot and fill it out, which is about the same amount it would take to actually go to the polls on election day,” Chuss said.
With concerns about following social distancing regulations and the potential transmission of COVID-19 at polling places, many Pennsylvanians are choosing to utilize mail-in voting. Although it isn’t an entirely new process and has been utilized by many individuals in the past, mail-in voting hasn’t been this widespread in all of American history.
Fear surrounding transmission of the virus at traditional polling places is accompanied by concerns about the security and efficiency of no-excuse absentee ballots and whether or not the process may lead to heightened voter fraud.
“There are a lot of claims going around, especially in my party, that there's some voter fraud going on. It can happen, it has happened,” said junior Linc Zdancewicz, vice-president of Young Republicans Club. “One of the biggest things with this, you don't know whether your vote is counted, once it's in there. A lot of ballots have been thrown out.”
But senior Lena Pothier, co-president of New Voters, disagrees. She sees voting by mail as a secure option and believes many of the claims about voter fraud are unsupported.
“If we can get prescriptions in the mail, if we can file our taxes by mail. There's a lot that's done by mail. And so I think the notion that voter fraud will occur by voting by mail is largely unfounded, as voter fraud is already very rare,” Pothier said.
With Pennsylvania positioned as a swing state coupled in this year’s tense political climate, mail-in ballots could play a decisive role in determining who will be elected president of the United States.
“(Pennsylvania) could be very crucial to either candidate's success, which is all the more reason for everybody to go out and vote in person. So we have more of a conclusive vote,” Zdancewicz said. “Because I feel like if we vote by mail, there will be a lot of recounts, especially in (Pennsylvania),”
The surge in mail-in ballots may also complicate the process of counting ballots as has been indicated by delays in some state’s primaries, including Pennsylvania.
“I think it'll be frustrating on Election Day watching the results come in,” Pothier said. You can see even from the primaries, it took Pennsylvania a long time to figure out some local elections specifically Delaware County. I think it's going to take a long time.”
On Thursday, Sep. 17, Pennsylvania’s supreme court ruled that ballots postmarked on or before election day will be counted so long as they’re received by Nov. 6. The tedious process of counting ballots has also led some to suspect that rather than having an election day, we might be in for an election week or longer.
“It takes a long time for these ballots to get counted. I have my doubts, I think everyone has doubts that we're going to know who the President is on election night,” Zdancewicz said.
Oct. 19 is the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and placed in the secrecy envelope provided with the ballot in order to be counted.
I included this article because it serves as a good example of the editing I had to do as I moved from being a section editor during my junior year to when I became Editor-in-Chief during my senior year. While as a section editor, my concern was to make sure the structures of stories were accurate, once that was done I mainly narrowed in on much more copy editing and AP Style editing. However, being Editor-in-Chief has allowed me to take on more structural issues and leave other edits to our section editors. This is an example of a news story written by our news editor and a staff reporter. When I first looked at this story, the minor edits in phrasing, incorrect grammar, and AP style had been dealt with.
I immediately looked at the story, I broke it up into individual paragraphs and realized the issue was that it was incorrectly structured. I noticed some of the most important details about the story at the bottom. I also noticed that the quotes were somewhat abrupt and lacked purposeful introductions.
Once I re-ordered the story (explaining why I did so in order to make sure the writers knew why) the transitions needed to be rephrased and finally, I polished the story with some movement of the quotes, most notably, moving Lena’s quote to the ending to give the story a more complete ending.
Additionally, we continue to encourage collaboration and an exchange of ideas even in our current virtual environment.
When I first joined the staff, I was the youngest and most inexperienced reporter in the room. However, over time by seeing the back and forth between editors and the suggestions from other members of the staff, I learned what to look for in a story. Even with the biggest staff we’ve ever had, this is a practice I’ve strived to maintain.
Final copy editing
In addition to the changes we make on our section report, we also make edits once our pages are laid out in InDesign. In the classroom, we would print the pages out and hang them up so people could edit. In the virtual environment, we upload our pages to Trello during specific times during production so we can all edit each other's pages.
In our virtual environment, our greatest concern was that new reporters wouldn’t feel connected with the staff. Another hindrance to us was that we were unable to teach basic hard skills such as photography and newsgathering in the classroom.
For this reason, instead of having reporters sign up for games on their own as they normally would, I implemented the creation of a sports game sign-up sheet so that one editor and 3 reporters could cover each pertinent game during the Fall season.
Zoom production sessions
While due to the Pandemic we no longer stay in the building with our advisers after school, I was determined not to lose our long-standing tradition of production. In response, I run every production session via Zoom. We schedule check-in times and exchange PDFs and InDesign files through Trello. I separate section editors into breakout rooms so they can still work with each other and share their screens. I assign the managing editors to sections so they can move through the rooms and check in with each editor. Through these practices, we have been able to maintain almost complete normalcy.
Post-issue reflection calls
While it is difficult for the whole team to come together during classes when many underclassmen feel too intimidated to turn their cameras on, it still remains a vital goal that we can check in with them after each issue and engage in discourse. For this reason, after each issue, especially those which are especially busy or difficult, we hold drop-in zoom meetings where freshmen can visit individually or in groups to openly share what could've been better. This way we get to know every member of our staff and still maintain the collaborative effort that is the Spoke in a normal environment.
Changes I implemented as sports section editor
As a section editor, I set up smaller goals along the way during the time we were given to write our stories to make sure major issues with articles were not falling between the cracks. In order to do this, I hosted section meetings where we could all discuss and write interview questions, I think this practice was one that really made a difference because it dramatically helped with the quality of interviews being conducted and as an added bonus, helped us all get to know each other better.
I also set up week-to-week calls with each of my reporters individually to make sure photos and interviews were going well. I also held in-person meetings with reporters who were struggling initially with writing in order to review some journalistic style.
I accompanied multiple reporters in my section when they were first going to games so that they could learn sports photography as well as paired them and sent them to cover events together so they could bond. Through these practices, I was able to teach everyone the basics of an issue cycle. This really made an impact because reporters could begin to incorporate some of my tried and tested advice into their issue cycle. From there they could learn from their own experience and build their skills. While it meant an investment of time and effort up-front, I truly believe that it was worth it in the long run as I watched my reporters take the lead and become increasingly independent with every issue.