Making News: 16 Empty Pages and a Race Against the Clock
(Editor’s Note: The following article is by Addie Shrodes, editor of The Washtenaw Voice, WCC’s student newspaper).
Producing The Washtenaw Voice can feel like a battle against time itself.
Most of the newspaper’s student staffers take three to five classes, and some work one or two or three jobs outside the paper. Then twice a month, we see 16 empty broadsheet pages staring us down—a daunting opponent for a meager staff of 10 or so.
Sometimes we feel dread, but we also feel anticipation and excitement because we know we will triumph in just two short weeks. The battle will be intense—at times deadening, at times exhilarating—but we always prevail, sometimes in spite of ourselves.
It’s Monday, Aug. 31, the first day of the newspaper’s new two-week production cycle.
It’s also the day our first issue is printed and delivered. Those newspapers don’t distribute themselves. After the printer drops off 5,000 copies, Staff Writer Nicole Bednarski and I spend most of the early morning taking papers around to 38 campus locations.
But the new issue isn’t the only thing to worry about this morning. Writers have until Friday to interview an average of 12-15 sources between class and work schedules. We spend time calling and emailing sources to set up interviews.
The afternoon rolls around and Managing Editor Elizabeth Ross and I go over story ideas and assignments for our various sections to prepare for our 4:00pm staff meeting. It takes more than an hour at the whiteboard with a dry erase marker and pages of story proposal forms, but we finish prep for the meeting.
The weekly staff meeting starts promptly at 4:00pm with Voice Coordinator Keith Gave sharing a few words about the last issue, which it turns out wasn’t flawless. I then take to the board and ask staffers about their story ideas.
As we discuss ideas, Photo Editor Chris Asadian and Design Editor Maggie Reuter go over visual possibilities. New Media Producer Matt Mancour also adds input about multimedia possibilities: video, podcasts, and slideshows. Soon, the board is filled with ideas and red boxes checked for a variety of content.
It’s past 6:00pm before we realize it, and time to wrap up for the staffers who need to attend their Monday night classes.
Tuesday through the weekend are the days when everyone begins to put together content. Writers research, interview, and write. Photographers shoot photos. Designers work on illustrations and infographics. All the while, everyone communicates about how the three elements will come together.
When the Labor Day weekend shows up, writers experience labor—not leisure—as they transcribe notes and tapes of the past week’s interviews and begin to write their stories for deadline. Sunday night is the recommended deadline, and Tuesday is the hard deadline.
The second Tuesday is the start of production week for us because of the Monday holiday. That means we lost a business day we’d normally use to do last-minute interviews, so we scramble to complete articles and revisions for the 5:00pm deadline.
After completing my articles, I review all of the copy that’s done, edit as needed, and send it on to Maggie, who divides up the 16 pages with Designer Kate Bizer to lay out content and ads.
Labor Day also means we lost a day of production planning, since we had to push back our production-week staff meeting to Tuesday. But at our 4:00pm meeting, we have a good idea of what we have to work with—and what still needs to get done—and begin to prioritize content.
Production week also involves chasing breaking news stories and, sometimes frantically, making up work that fell through.
This issue the reporter who did Vox Pop, our question-of-the-issue piece, neglected to get ages, majors, and hometowns from the students she interviewed, so we have to redo that the day before we send pages to the printer. A photographer also lost multiple assignments worth of photos when loading them onto a computer, so we have to reshoot photos, too.
But even though we have to scramble to finish and redo content, we have too much material for our 16 pages of space (as usual). After a few agonizing discussions, we push a few stories to the next issue.
The lack of space, along with the photo catastrophe, also means we have to postpone our Wildcard article and put ads on the beloved back page of Kaleidoscope. We’ve had to put ads on a color feature page before, but it’s never a good feeling.
As designers complete page layout Thursday and Friday, editors and photographers stay busy with copy and photo needs. We might need to get an online stock photo to go with a University of Michigan sports story, write captions for photos to go with a welding story, or type text for an in-house Welcome Day ad.
Racing to Finish
Friday of production week is our nitty-gritty day that starts too early and ends too late. Designers finish content layout and details; writers copyedit completed pages, tweak headlines to fit space, and make any final changes to photo captions.
I also go over content with Webmaster Sue Senn, so she knows where to place and prioritize content on the web when the new issue goes up Monday morning at washtenawvoice.com. And we have web-only content in the form of a video Matt Mancour produced about the WCC welding department. The video goes up on YouTube and Sue will work most of the weekend getting print content web-ready.
By late Friday afternoon we’ve neared completion on the print pages, but last-minute details always take longer than we hope. It’s 7:00pm before we electronically send the pages to the printer, the Daily Telegram in Adrian.
It’s been two exhausting weeks that go by quickly, but we all feel uplifted by the end product: a 16-page newspaper with well-researched news articles, engaging feature articles, striking photos, exceptional illustrations, and fantastic layout (view the PDF version). But I might be biased.
We never cease to trip over obstacles on the journey to what we hope will be an award-winning final product, but we always pick ourselves up and keep walking forward.
And Monday morning we’ll have to walk all over campus distributing our hard-won issue—then excitedly start the process all over again.
Addie Shrodes, 18, attended WCC full time from Fall 2007 through Winter 2009. She’s currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature at the University of Michigan, and is taking one class at WCC while serving as editor of The Washtenaw Voice.