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Structure of Newspaper Staff

The structure of the staff changes from year to year depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the incoming group and the size of the class. Some years, I have had as many as 65 students in the class which means that I will have more editors and associate editors to handle the workload. Other years, the class has been 45-50 students and the number of editors will be reduced.

Students learn their role from the previous year's staff since they are in the program for two years. They start when they are in tenth grade taking beginning journalism. Then in eleventh grade they are in page editor positions learning how to do layout, design and editing. The twelfth graders are the editors and so they have had opportunity to observe how and shadow their predecessors. Naturally, many seniors do not end up as editor, but continue on as page editors for another year. This has been somewhat of a problem in the past since these students frequently do not feel challenged enough and sometimes lose interest and do not perform as well as they could. It is incumbent upon the teacher to create meaningful positions for these students so they have new challenges for the coming year. I have been successful most of the time, but not one hundred percent of the time. Some of the positions I have created include Section Editors who supervise the page editors; graphics editors, who supervise obtaining all graphic elements of the paper and additional page editors. For example, I added pages such as the Teen Health page, the Environmental Issues page and so forth. It is important for the teacher to be creative to meet the needs of the class and the students.

At the present time, this is the staff organization:

  • Three editors-in-chief
  • Three associate editors
  • One technical editor-in-chief
  • Two to three page editors for each of the following pages:
    • News
    • Editorial
    • Opinion
    • Features
    • Entertainment
    • Reviews
    • People
    • Technology
    • Sports
  • Circulation Manager
  • Business Manager
  • Advertising Manager
  • Ombudsman
  • Photography Editor

Each of these students learns his/her specific role from the section editor or from one of the editors. At the beginning of the year, students work in teams with one experienced page editor working with an inexperienced one. If there are not enough experienced ones, then the editors work with several page editors. It is an apprenticeship-like program requiring specific procedures, layout skills, design skills, factual information, specific strategies for getting the job done. The organization of the staff and the organization of the class provides the necessary overall structure of the program allowing the teacher to fade to an adviser or coach.

Everyone has a different learning style

If a student does not learn as fast as another in any of the skills required, the editors are required to work with that student again until they learn. One important teaching philosophy stressed in beginning journalism is that all students learn at a different pace and in different ways. I say that repeatedly in class: no two people learn the same way. In advanced journalism I make it clear that students who do not learn certain skills right away are not "stupid." They just have a different learning style and that we all need to work with them until they understand. This is also reinforced by the revision process for the stories. Some people revise more than others, but eventually they will all learn how to write better. Students who are really poor writers and have consistent problems are helped by the teacher as well as the students.

Some rules for editors: no other extra-curriculars for editors

The editors-in-chief and the associate editors may not have any conflicting sports or club obligations. If they want to maintain other extracurricular activities, they cannot be editor. This is to protect the staff from waiting for students to complete their other activity before devoting time and energy to the paper.

Changes over the years

Over the years, I have made many changes to the operation of the staff. Initially, I had one editor-in-chief, but I found that they worked better in pairs because it was "lonely at the top." When the staff grew, I added more editors to balance the power at the top with the size of the class.

I also added the technical editor-in-chief whose responsibility it is to be up-to-date on everything connected with technology and help implement it in the program.

Everyone has a defined role

The fact that everyone has a defined role and the cycles are standardized makes it easy for students to function effectively in the learning community. In fact, they become experts in their own right, teach each other and a couple months into the semester, they can function well without teacher intervention.

Role of the teacher as adviser

The question is then so what does the teacher do when the students no longer need the teacher? The teacher transforms into an adviser and literally advises. I tell my students now that I am adviser my advice can be ignored; after all it is advise. If I switch from adviser to teacher and dictate what to do, which is rare, that means that they have in someway violated a basic law of the press: libel, obscenity or inciting to riot. Sometimes I have to intervene on the issues of obscenity or what can be called ‘poor taste' or ‘juvenile humor.' However, since I ask them to censor themselves before I look over the paper, I rarely have to take any action.

© 2002 - Esther Wojcicki - Email: thewoj@hotmail.com