I write this post at the tail end of one of the craziest fortnights of my life. Most of my time should be taken up with being a final year Visual Culture student. Instead, my day job has evolved into a features editor for Brighton University’s student newspaper. It is one of the most rewarding projects I have ever been involved with, but also one of the most stressful. However, the skills that I have learned while working on the paper I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else in the university and they will be invaluable when I graduate into the job market.
The main problem that we have faced is student involvement. There are over 21,000 students at Brighton University, yet we have an editorial team of eight. I am lucky to have a team of writers to work with, but I can count the ones that regularly contribute on one hand. The team do a lot of multi-tasking, which is great experience, but the quality of the paper goes down as a result. It’s difficult to sub your own work and notice the mistakes – I will happily admit that I make many! Half of the reason why we re-launched the paper was to try to get more students excited about it and contributing, as well as letting others in the local community know about us too. The more people who are involved with the project, the better the paper will become.
The other half of the reason for our team taking the course was so we could take more control over how our paper looked. Previously the design was outsourced to an external designer, which not only cost the university a lot of money, but every month it would come back from the printer with missing articles and a slap dash layout. As none of the team had any previous graphic design experience we did bite off more than we can chew, but we are all very proud of what we have produced, stylistically and content-wise.
When it came to the layout week, we understandably overran. While we sent the paper a day early to the printers, there were several technological issues that came back to us a three-hour intervals. As a result, it meant the paper would not be arriving on time for our re-launch party. While at first we were all understandably gutted and were trying to think of ways to showcase the paper to the public without it being there, we eventually decided to postpone. This way we can showcase it to students first, get instant feedback to discuss at our launch.
If you are a student reading this, I cannot recommend enough getting involved with your student newspaper for experience, even if you don’t want to be a journalist. It encourages you to be content driven, which is great for your media portfolio, but will also have a positive effect on your degree, if you can balance your workload! Through the paper – and I can’t recommend Twitter enough for this – I have made some great contacts and lots of new friends.
Running a student paper? Here are a few other points of advice:
- Know your audience – Our students are based at five different campuses and are all very different kinds of students. Catering for all of them can be a difficult task: some students will love ‘drinking game of the month’ but might hate a special on performance art, and vice-versa.
- Work as a team – This is a skill employer’s look for the most. Everyone in your team has to have a role, one can’t do everything, but helping each other reaps benefits. Similarly, one person must oversee and everything and have the final say. Remember that everyone has different styles of working that may not match yours, there will be arguments and fall outs, so the editor-in-chief must be fair, firm but friendly and approachable to all.
- Diversity is key – You don’t just need writers for a paper; you also need students with business and design skills. One of our failings is that we didn’t have someone technical on board; you never know when someone’s specialisms will come in handy. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help, most students want to get involved with projects like this but don’t know how to go about it.
- Plan Plan Plan – I am a big lover of forward planning, and planning in advance is key to running the paper. Students can be flaky, so have some spare space-filling articles you can pull out if you need to. Things will go wrong, particularly on your first issue. Set your deadline a few days earlier than it needs to be. Make sure any external copy comes in advance of your own deadlines.
- Communicate with everyone – Chances are if you are setting up your student paper it is because you want to voice student’s opinions about the student union, but it is important to work with them, not against them. Has a student written a defamatory piece? Promote an active and unbiased dialogue by inviting them to comment. Use Twitter and Facebook to promote yourself, inviting students to comment. If you receive negative feedback, never ignore it, always look at the issue and turn it round to a positive.
T: @rosiemrogers (don’t forget to say hello!)