When I first started writing for my school’s online newspaper, it was its second year. We had just established the website and there were 14 of us. Even though the focal point of the year seems like our censorship debacle, several other things went into making the paper something we were proud of.
During the first few weeks of our newspaper period as well as throughout the year, our journalism adviser made sure to go through each point of the SPJ Code of Ethics to make sure we grasped the concepts of it and applied them to each story we wrote. Not only did this ensure that every story and photo we published on the paper was created and edited following SPJ’s guidelines, but also it showed how professional we were trying to be.
Designating editors was something we did in the first month of the school year to initially make sure we did not fall behind with our deadlines. This also ended up becoming a reason we had easier communication and also helped us balance more projects so we weren’t all working on the same thing.
We had so many designs for our news site. We were constantly changing our logo, what we featured on the home page, etc. It could have been easier to keep the creative decisions made inside our circle of editors, but allowing each staffer to contribute their ideas helped us weigh our options. We also asked our student body what they preferred to read/see in slideshows by taking polls on our website and engaging with students on our social media.
Although it was easy for our staff to feel like family because of how small we were and how much time we spent with each other, this was still a crucial point of teamwork to me. Understanding what each staffer was working on and a part of outside the newsroom made our pitch meetings easier and also helped us realize why some students were more on top of their deadlines than others. Especially when we had problems with publication and our administration towards the end of the year, being so tight-knit helped us come out of those issues even stronger.
I don’t know if we’d be the best example of this, but communicating everything we could to our administrators without giving them full control was imperative to us. The minute we strained our relationships with school officials, it became harder for us to get interviews, finish our stories and publish whatever we could come up with. Rebuilding relationships with our administrators also meant educating ourselves of what our local and legal school board policies for school-sponsored publications entailed. These policies helped us grasp what our administrators truly had control of when it came and also gave us an idea of what resources to provide them with in terms of student press freedom.
Having our publication fully student-led was normal my first year on staff because our journalism adviser was willing to put us in the driver’s seat when it came to choosing what was fit to publish. We didn’t realize how much freedom we had or how many schools around the country did not until we no longer had these rights. Our adviser often gave us opinions on certain story or design ideas, but the responsibilities we were given helped us learn the most in the long run.
There are so many definitions and statements the JEA provides online that can be used as talking points with school administrators, advisers or other students. There are also endless FAQ’s, quizzes and dates for conference calls that can be set up with the SPLC to ensure staffers know the most about student press law. Even though we wished we had known about these resources sooner, they ended up being what *quite literally* saved our newspaper.
Reaching out to our friends at the SPLC, our adviser and others for help when we were struggling was the most important thing that made our newspaper something we were proud of. Although we had the option to sweep problems under the rug, we understood that truly being “professional” meant swallowing our pride and letting student press experts give us tips to ensure our publication could continue.