Finishing up

As I write this, we have nine papers left this semester.

This is also my last required blog post for my online media class, so I probably won’t be writing again until it’s over and I have my summary judgment.

So, here’s a list of the things I learned that I didn’t expect to:

  • The daily beatdown will get you every time. The daily wear-and-tear is something you don’t really take into account when you get into a job like managing editor. I had this huge vision for what I wanted to accomplish and the things I wanted to improve, but in the end, I was hampered by my daily duties at the paper — like putting together the calendar or doing payroll. That’s not to say that I didn’t accomplish any of those lofty goals, but the everyday struggle made it many times more difficult than I anticipated.
  • If there’s a recurring problem, it will probably happen again. Call it hubris, but I had always attributed the Alligator’s minimal staff to management just not trying hard enough to keep a full staff at the paper. After feeling like I was running repeatedly into a brick wall with that problem, I don’t think that anymore. I only have theories on why we can’t keep a full staff — the economy, the state of the industry, lack of incentives — but none of them include management not caring. One of my top priorities going into this job was having a full staff, and it was one I didn’t achieve. Maybe there is a way to get out of the cycle, but the problem was more deep-rooted than I had ever imagined. Falling back into that cycle of being shortstaffed was one of my greatest disappointments this semester.
  • I don’t want to be a manager again for about 20 years. I think I’ve done a reasonably good job as managing editor, but I’m ready to go back to being a peon. It’s so much harder to take care of 20 other people’s concerns and put out a good project. Sitting in class for half an hour today, I got text messages from four people about Alligator-related issues. The work of a manager is never done. I’ve had a good run, and it was fun while it lasted, but I feel like I was playing at being 45. I’m ready to go back to being 21.

Also, reading the post about editing student newspapers that Meranda Watling wrote in response to me starting this blog, I feel like I understand her feelings now in a way I didn’t at the beginning of this semester. In particular, this sentence stands out to me:

I remember making mistakes that decades of other students had made before me, and I’ve since seen people make mistakes I made.

In a way, it’s comforting to know that I’m part of a cycle. Yes, I’ve made mistakes, and the managing editors after me will, too. But maybe — and I’m holding out hope for this one — they can learn from the mistakes I’ve made.

If that happens, even in a small way, I’ll feel like what I’ve done here has been a success.


Filed under Editing, Managing

Setting boundaries on my job description

When I decided to make this my last semester at the Alligator, I did so knowing that it would be hard to leave.

What I didn’t realize was how much I might worry about the future of the Alligator after I left.

I have no idea who is going to take over for me after I leave. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it — but no one who would be capable of doing the job wants it. We’re having the same problem with section editor positions: our section editors are moving on, but no one is stepping up to take their jobs.

Maybe this will change by the end of the semester. I hope so.

It’s just bad timing. Ever since the Alligator instituted the trimester system two years ago, making summer a real semester with a full budget, our turnover has been huge. People move up into positions more quickly over the summer, and then they leave, having “done their time” at whatever position. It’s also difficult to attract new blood with our work hours and pay.

I also think the general state of journalism dissuades people from working at the Alligator (ironically enough, since they need the experience to get jobs). People are jaded about journalism jobs in general, and the head-in-the-sand mentality makes them avoid anything having to do with real journalism.

It seems like the general mentality is the same as in a jaded post from the Student Newspaper Survival Blog:

“Maybe philosophy isn’t so impractical after all. At least opportunities for philosophers aren’t evaporating before their eyes.”

So with all this, what do we do about next semester? I have no idea. But I’m sticking to my guns and saying I have three weeks left.

This is a situation that is out of my control. And as frustrating as it is, when I’ve worked hard for a semester to make a better newsroom and a better newspaper, it’s not my job. I’ve got a semester term limit, and I’ve done my job to the best of my ability within that semester.

Sometimes you just have to know when to let go.

1 Comment

Filed under Managing

Representing the Alligator

Being a journalism major, I tend to eavesdrop on conversations.

My ears especially perk up when I hear the words “Alligator” and “burn that place down” in the same breath.

I was finishing up a project for my design class in one of the journalism school labs today when I heard a group of students start discussing the Alligator.

Then one of them said: “I hate the Alligator. I would burn that place down. Seriously, watch me.”

I wasn’t really offended, and I definitely didn’t take the arson threat seriously. But I did wonder what inspired this passion in a fellow UF student. I figured he was probably a student in reporting class who had been turned down for publication.

So, I finished up my design project and walked over to the group.

“Hi,” I said. “Mind if I ask you a question? I heard you all talking about the Alligator, and I was wondering what makes you hate it so much.”

One of the students, a friend of our freelance editor Jen, said she loved the Alligator. Then again, she’s in reporting class and had gotten published.

The student who hated the Alligator with such a burning passion turned out not to be a reporting student at all. He was a journalism student who wanted a letter to the editor published and didn’t understand the system.

We had a good 15-minute conversation about it. I found out that he was a member of Tau Epsilon Phi Fraternity and had been offended by an editorial about a recent hazing incident. I got a chance to explain how our editorial system works — and he found out that we don’t publish anonymous letters to the editor.

It’s part of my job to to be a PR rep for the Alligator. One of the students told me she thought it was cool that I had come up to them because it showed that I cared.

And I do care about what students think. After all, they’re our readership as well as the people we’re trying to recruit. Being a top editor at the Alligator extends past the newsroom; it’s more of a public position than I sometimes realize.


Filed under Managing

The end of election era in the newsroom

It’s a strange feeling whenever a long-term news story wraps up.

And when it’s a story like the election — one that’s been going on for about two years — it’s a kind of void in the life of the newsroom.

No more stories slugged “election,” “voting,” “Obama” or “McCain.” No candidates or celebrities coming to town to stump. No political groups relentlessly pestering our section editors for coverage.

Although it’s weird not to have those things, which have been staples of our fall semester, the general newsroom feeling is one of relief. It’s like crossing a finish line, and everyone is sick of the constant stream of political stories. Sure, it makes it easy to fill the paper, but it gets old fast. I can name every leader of the on-campus political groups and every official remotely involved with local elections.

Our metro editor was ridiculously organized: she knew exactly what each freelancer and staff writer was working on, and got stories in at a great pace. It was one of those nights when you’re not sure how things get in by deadline — but somehow, they do.

In the end, I’m really proud of our election coverage. I think we were able to do the job of both a local and a student paper. We summarized the amendments. We broke a story about one of UF’s prominent Republican students voting for Obama that gained national media attention. We did the everyday election stories and the offbeat.

I’m proud to have been a top editor over these stories. At a campus newspaper, you have a rare opportunity to concentrate on aspects of the election ignored at larger papers. I’m glad our reporters have clips that reflect that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editing

Six weeks left, for real

I’ve made my decision — in six weeks, I’ll be done with the Alligator.

I can’t come back and do this again another semester. I’m so happy I’m here, and I’m honored to be in my position.

All of the editors started out this semester bright-eyed and ready to go. Our editor in chief had a game plan, and everyone was ready to follow it.

It hasn’t been a bad semester. There has been awesome news coverage and a staff I have been proud to work with. But I’m finally beginning to understand the burnout past editors have experienced. I’m exhausted, I never see anyone outside the newsroom, and I’m starting to stress out to the point where I feel like I’m bringing down the newsroom environment.

I used to not understand the low turnover at the Alligator. But now, I feel like I can’t try to talk any of the people here into staying. They’ve completely sacrificed a semester of their lives to the Alligator. Relationships and schoolwork have suffered — and I can’t, in good conscience, ask any of them to sacrifice any more time and energy.

I love the Alligator. I love what it’s been to me and how it’s helped me grow. Almost all of my best friends are people I have met at the Alligator.

But I can’t dedicate any more of myself to it. I appreciate the job our section editors are doing this semester. I’m proud of us — I think we’ve made the paper stronger this semester than it’s been in ages.

I care about what happens to the Alligator in the future. I just can’t take that responsibility upon myself.

And maybe that makes me a bad managing editor; I’m not really sure.


Filed under Managing

Managing when you can’t control things

I’ve mentioned before that I hate doing payroll.

I guess part of the reason I hate doing it so much is that I see how much everyone gets paid — and it’s so depressing.

For how much everyone in the newsroom works, it’s honestly a slap in the face how much we get paid. It’s hard for me to send the paychecks to the controller each week when our section editors are there until 2 a.m. and aren’t even making enough to cover their rent payments.

I do what I can, but I work within the restrictions of the Alligator’s budget. And believe me, those are big restrictions. On the one hand, I don’t want to send the Alligator into bankruptcy with the newsroom budget. The future of the entire industry is unclear, and that includes college papers. I want the Alligator to be here for years to come, but I don’t really know where we stand — I’m not included in those kind of financial meetings.

But while I do worry about the paper itself, the Alligator Mom in me would like people to be able to buy food.

As the managing editor, it’s my job to stick to the budget. It’s just hard when I interact with these people every night to see them do difficult jobs for no recognition and meager pay.

I don’t see an easy way of solving this — maybe alumni donations would help. Maybe we could get some kind of grant — after all, the Alligator is a nonprofit. Any ideas in the comments would be greatly appreciated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Managing

Grades, commitments and managing my life

When friends, grandparents or recruiters find out that I work 50 hours a week,  I usually get asked if my schoolwork suffers.

The answer: Not this semester.

I can’t say that’s always been the case. I’ve had semesters at the Alligator when my schoolwork has definitely suffered as a result of spending too much time in the newsroom.

When I announced via Twitter that I was the managing editor for fall and that I wanted to keep my GPA up, I got encouraging (and semi-encouraging) replies from Pat Thornton and Kevin Koehler, fellow young journalists. But I don’t know that I actually believed I could do it.

This semester, I’m not having the low grades problem, despite spending more time in the newsroom than ever. I have a chance at pulling all A’s for the first time in college.

I’m honestly not sure how I do it, but here are the things I consciously do to give my life some semblance of order.

  1. I don’t sleep (sorry, Mom). Actually, I do sleep, but I do it on a rigid schedule. I have class at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but I get to sleep in on Tuesday and Thursday. I wake up for class and I stay up the rest of the day. It’s not fun, but it’s what I do if I want to get anything done.
  2. I use my weekends. Saturday is the only real day of my weekend — since I work on Sunday and have class on Friday — but it’s the day I usually spend doing homework and other necessary tasks, like occasionally cleaning my room. I don’t have much time during the week, so if I have a huge test or project due, I try to get the studying or research done on Saturday.
  3. I have a pretty easy class schedule. You do need to plan in order to take on a full-time job like managing editor. I’m only taking four classes, and two of those have a reputation of being fairly easy. I hand-picked my classes with the goal of working at the Alligator this semester.
  4. I don’t question myself. I’ve got a strict no-panic policy. Every morning, I wake up assuming I’ll be able to do everything I need to do that day. I’m a perfectionist and a little obsessive; it goes against my nature to work this way. But I have to work with the schedule I have, not the unlimited schedule I wish I had. Somehow, I get everything done. I’m writing this blog post in between doing the calendar for tomorrow’s paper and editing the opinion section.  I don’t make to-do lists — those just make me waste time freaking out about assignments due two months down the road. I’m trying to take each moment as it comes while always being aware of what I have to do. So far, it’s working out well for me.

1 Comment

Filed under Managing