Dead to me: Alligator Special Editions

Allow me to express my hatred of the Alligator’s 40-odd page special editions.

I guess I shouldn’t whine. After all, college students still read campus newspapers — which is why we have enough ads to print 40-page editions in the first place.

But last year when I was copy desk chief, I called the then-editor in tears from the Alligator’s bathroom after working a 12-hour day and still having multiple pages to edit. The culprit? The New Student Edition, which we mail to freshmen before the fall semester starts.

I can’t even look at the New Student Edition anymore. It gives me PTSD.

So, this year, as the homecoming edition approached, I embraced my inner bad cop.

Stories would be due two days before the paper, I mandated. Photo requests should be filled out in a timely manner. We had stories written on the white board and a system for assigning them.

I discussed my phobia of special editions with the staff during our many homecoming meetings.

“Thus, if stories are not in on time, heads will roll,” I said in my scary voice.

And suddenly, the homecoming edition was upon us. All the section editors were terrified about filling space.

Filling out the budget tonight, I had to cut stories or put them online-only. I had the page schedules turned in to production two hours early — we even finished the paper before deadline.

The moral of the story? Organization counts.

And scaring people doesn’t hurt, either.

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Working wounded (or while sick)

One of the most difficult things about working at the Alligator is that you can’t delegate much responsibility — there aren’t enough people to delegate to.

So, when an epidemic sweeps the newsroom, you’re in trouble.

So far, our staff members biting the dust due to colds or flu-like illnesses include both copy desk chiefs, the managing editor for online, the opinions editor, the metro editor, at least one of the freelance editors and probably others that I’m missing.

As of today, add me to that list. It’s hard for me to balance being in the newsroom with my own health. I feel bad going home early to sleep when everyone else is sick, too. But on the other hand, when I’m running a fever in the newsroom, I can’t do my job well.

It’s hard to figure out at what point your responsibility to the newsroom is overtaken by your responsibility to your well-being. I left a couple hours early tonight, and I still feel guilty. Walking out of work and hearing everyone hacking from their own colds, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. When you have a staff as small as the Alligator does, leaving for even a couple hours increases someone else’s workload greatly.

In the end, I guess all I can really do is work while I can, send the other obviously sick people home and google “quick cold remedies” — though I don’t think I’ll be putting hydrogen peroxide in my ear anytime soon.

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Define: Managing Editor

At the career fair this week, I found myself explaining my job to recruiters, which is like summarizing this blog into a few sentences under a lot of pressure.

After a short line about how much I hate doing payroll, I explain my job as managing editor in two parts: first as the managing half, then as the editor half.

Putting on my managing hat, I say that we owe the journalism students at UF whatever experiences they can’t get out of the journalism school. With people like Pat Thornton, a new media advocate, painting j-schools as obsolete — whether or not that’s true — we have a chance to help supplement UF undergraduates’ journalism education. We shouldn’t take that responsibility lightly. The Alligator needs to fully use its online and print departments to give students firsthand experience they won’t get in class.

As editor, I say we owe the UF community information. After all, that’s the Alligator’s tagline: “We inform. You decide.” I used the recent Student Government elections as an example of how we do that at the Alligator and why it matters. I was part of an organization that pushed more than 10,000 students toward the polls for a Student Government election. As an editor, I have an impact on daily events and on how the people who read our paper respond to the news around them. I can’t take that responsibility lightly, either.

Hopefully, that explanation was good enough for the recruiters.

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Living the dream, but for how long?

As I’ve discussed at length in this blog, I love my job.

I love being in journalism and working with college journalists. I love being a part of stories that make a difference.

I feel — no, I know — that I want to work in journalism for the rest of my life. Managing the Alligator this semester has only reinforced that. I don’t care if I’m reporting or editing; journalism is like that elementary school crush I would do anything just to be near. I’ll freelance; I’ll take pay cuts; I’ll live in Podunk, Iowa.

I’ll do anything to be able to call myself a journalist.

But with the economy and industry-wide cuts, and as my time at the Alligator flies away, I worry that this is the last time I’ll be able to work in journalism.

With UF’s journalism career fair on Thursday, I worry not only about me, but about everybody on staff — hey, they don’t call me the “Alligator Mom” for nothing.

I look around me in the newsroom — everyone there is incredibly talented. Ten years ago, none of them would have worried about finding a job. They’re the best and brightest. But as it stands, two of our section editors plan on going to law school, and another is going to graduate school for botany. Those people are amazing journalists, but they have decided to pursue other careers.

It’s depressing to think the newsroom I’m managing could be the last newsroom some of my coworkers  work in.

I just hope it’s not my last.

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Management on deadline

Wednesday night, we had Student Government elections, aka deadline nightmare.

To combat that, we had an extended deadline of 2 a.m., an hour past our normal deadline. We had bloggers, reporters and editors at the event — all waiting for the results.

And those results were not available by press time.

So, what do you do? Well, you write the editorial on voter turnout. You run a vague cartoon.

But that wasn’t the main problem — the problem was getting people to turn in those stories on time when they were waiting for the results and the editor in chief and I were in the newsroom.

Things I learned:

  • Let people know that deadlines are inflexible. No, we can’t wait another 15 minutes. We need it now. Remind them of this every five minutes.
  • Have everyone’s cell phone number. Cell phone batteries die — call the person the reporter is with, whether it’s an editor or photographer.
  • Always leave time to edit, even if it’s only five minutes. We were saved a couple factual errors by on-deadline editing.
  • Be ready to change focus at any minute. Our reporters did a great job of changing the focus of their print story from results to voter turnout in about 20 minutes. Have story outlines written for every possible scenario.
  • Be firm — then be nice. Feel free to get scary on deadline, but after it’s over, make sure to commend people for their hard work. After all, another paper goes out tomorrow.

Good thing the Internet exists — we ran the updated results story online at about 4 a.m. after the results were announced.

And hey, if you don’t make deadline, there are always other stress management options …

Me on deadline, photo by Kristin Bjornsen.

Me on deadline, photo by Kristin Bjornsen.

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Liveblogs!

I’m so proud of our Student Government election liveblogs, despite the aspersions cast on my musical taste.

Seriously, though, they were really well-done. I think the quality was on-par with some of the political liveblogging I’ve seen on mainstream blogs like Gawker.

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Managing during the big story

Despite making calls to the Alligator’s lawyer, filing public records requests and working on school projects, I’ve somehow managed to stay alive through this weekend.

But it’s all worth it — because we just published one of the best investigative pieces on Student Government I’ve seen in my time at the Alligator.

When you get anonymous e-mail printouts sent in a manilla envelope to your office, and especially when they have to do with Student Government, you take them seriously. But that brings up a slew of management issues, too.

We decided to only tell section editors and a few reporters about the documents, mainly to protect our scoop on the issue. And we decided that it was pressing enough to warrant me, Ken Schwencke (managing editor for online) and Jessie DaSilva (editor in chief) being more involved in the story than usual. We pulled public records and made phone calls to the Alligator’s lawyer. I feel like we spent the majority of our weekend just asking advice from professors and any expert we could find.

When a story like this falls into your lap, you don’t take it for granted. But it’s nervewracking. You realize that you’re putting the paper’s reputation and people’s careers on the line.

Sitting in the production room tonight editing pages, I was flipping out over late deadlines and general pressure. Our opinions editor told me to calm down because we had a groundbreaking, amazing story. I responded that worry is what I do best.

I’ve learned that worry is a part of management. My tendency to worry over everything makes me a good manager, I think, because I try to fix everything I see wrong.

But it can take the joy out of doing what I love.

So tonight, I’m taking the 15 minutes before I fall asleep to take a break from worrying, and to remember that — despite having to eat lunch in my car or averaging four hours of sleep — I think my job is perfect.

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