Editor Application: Jake Smith

Editor ApplicationOct. 21, 2005JAKE SMITHSecond Year Graduate StudentMultimedia Journalism Major3.89 GPA9696 Majestic WayBoynton Beach, FL 33437 There have been several issues that I am proud of and several problems that I was responsible for while I was editor. One of the earliest accomplishments was the “Florida Athletic University” cover during the summer. It was written within a 24-hour period, and the design was done just as quickly. The photo editor, art director, managing editor, and myself went out to shoot the cover image. Then it was quickly photoshopped and designed. Many people praised the staff for that issue, including Koretzky who described it as, “the best summer cover ever.” Another highly regarded issue was the football season preview, which was the first issue on the racks after the New Student Edition. It was a collaborative effort that had its own problems, but turned out in the end as a great issue and a great clip for those involved. My first research article on Dr. Kerr was praised by several faculty members, but didn’t seem to be read by any students. In terms of final product on the racks, we put out a clean paper with the resources we had this term. The biggest problem this semester was dealing with our printer, which trickled low morale down on all of us. Before the semester even started we were constrained to 16 pages and limited color pages. While this limited the amount of content we could have, it forced us to focus on creating a tight issue. The second most common complaint I had was that the issue was too thin.

Describe any academic, professional, and/or extracurricular experiences that qualify you to lead the University Press.

My academic qualifications to lead a newsroom are solid – even if they are based in a field other than true journalism. I am a graduate student in the Communication department and a Teaching Assistant. Originally when I began the program it was in the concentration Public and International Journalism, this has morphed into Multimedia Journalism recently. When I was an undergraduate in 2002 I took a ‘news reporting’ class in New Jersey, and that is the extent of my classroom experience with journalism. My graduate classes explore pure theory and do not venture into techniques of journalism at all. So, my undergraduate degree in Literature and Creative Writing was more helpful with my writing. My work at the UP has been more useful for my future than any class I could have taken. While learning the real basics of newsroom experience, I also gained real world experience. Working at the UP gave me the opportunity to freelance for New Times magazine, which is where I initially wanted to work once I graduated – but couldn’t have because I wouldn’t have had any clips. At New Times I’ve learned to work with editors, an advertising staff, and even public relations people. Having my work professionally edited while being paid as a freelancer, and having to write to fit a specific audience, has improved my writing. Dealing with advertisers and PR people let me experience the real working conditions of that type of publication, and solidified my interest in pursuing it. This holiday season I’m writing the advertising section for New Times annual Wrappin’ insert, which gives me first hand experience in the crappy jobs I’ll be getting get right out of school as a freelancer. My most important extra-curricular activity that qualifies me for being editor in chief is that I am currently editor in chief of FAU’s largest student newspaper. As editor this semester, and last, I have had bylines in most of the moving parts of the paper. I have distributed the issue before and I trained the distribution manager’s replacement. At one point I managed budgets, both story and monetary, and trained individuals to take over each when I moved on. Over the summer, and more recently, I shot photos for my own articles and have taught myself how to operate inDesign.

Describe a major strength and major weakness of the University Press this semester. Cite specific examples.

Communication has been an ongoing problem until very recently when we had a large brainstorming session and increased e-mail and phone contact. There are still some issues about contacting each other, part of that stems from some of the staff having outside jobs and full-load coursework. The other part is that some people had personal problems and ignored them instead of speaking up. One of the more troublesome examples of this was when the photo editor told me that he had been having problems with information on the article budget for the past six weeks. If it had been discussed earlier it could have been fixed earlier. Another problem was with distribution, and dealing with Boca News. My distribution manager didn’t return my calls for two days after he failed to distribute an issue, which in turn made it too late to put on the racks because the next issue was printed early.When fall began I had to start rebuilding the staff from scratch. Most left for all of Summer B, or just quit and never came back. With a lack of bodies in the newsroom, those that remained were forced to struggle to put out the issue. That rippled throughout the first part of the school year as everyone fought to catch up.There have been problems fixing simple mistakes in cutlines and headlines, but this is improving because now we have three pairs of eyes final proofing and signing off on pages. Also for the first time in many months we are building up a decent copy desk. Sadly, the biggest weakness we had in the newsroom was offering too much freedom. I structured the paper in a very loose laid-back fashion to allow for everyone’s different styles and personalities. I thought this would foster a creative atmosphere where people could work in their own way. But, I was wrong. People who wouldn’t be good at freelance had a hard time with the system.In the beginning of the semester people felt that the laid-back environment translated to laid-back rules and norms. So, together with the Art Director and input from the senior staff, we set solid deadlines for each section that were staggered for what made design and copyediting most efficient. It took a few weeks but the deadlines began to sink in and are being followed by people who typically miss deadlines. Although there were problems, I can honestly say that this is the most talented staff I’ve worked with at the UP. We are all skilled in our own ways and usually like each other. The senior staff unites easily, examples being the first football issue, or the lack of bodies during summer B. Also, the homecoming review photo spread is a good example of how we all worked together. There were four photo bylines and three different people writing cutlines. Overall the greatest strength is our unity and shared concern for the paper.

Describe the most important goal you want to accomplish as editor, and detail exactly how you will do so.

I’ve been working on building up a talented staff since summer, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come in the past few months. We’re figuring out the basics of running a newspaper. But, while we didn’t do any shocking in-depth coverage this term, we have learned many of the lessons needed to take the paper to the next step. The UP has always been about learning the craft so that we can get a job. Now that the staff has learned the basics of operating a newspaper we can take it to the next level and begin some serious reporting. I know that in a short time the UP can go from a bare minimum college paper to a serious alt-news weekly style magazine that focuses entirely on FAU. This semester I have done my best to limit our coverage to our university. While not every article of every issue was entirely FAU based – I would wager that my percentage of localized coverage is higher than the past two years at least. Of course, not having an opinions section for part of my term helped. I have a four-part plan to make this change and I am clearing my schedule for the upcoming semester to see it through. I’m not returning as a TA next semester, and will reduce my class work. Even if I lose re-election, I will push to see these changes through, as long as the new editor is on board. I believe in the UP and I want it to be a great paper years from now.

FIRST – Total focus on FAU

Some see this as limiting, but it is actually liberating because it keeps a steady focus on a single location. This is a real world life lesson in the sense that FAU is its own cosmos complete with a governmental body, police force, big-businesses, scientific community, party animals, drug dealers, figureheads, and more and more and more. Anything can be found at FAU, and there is a limitless supply of stories to cover. Anything can be covered properly if FAU is used as a starting off point.

SECOND – Establish beats and assignments

In the past I allowed people to work on what they wanted to because it’s easier to learn when you are covering something you care about or are interested in. Unfortunately we missed a few stories because we had no one interested in covering them. You don’t always get to choose what you write about in the real world, and it shouldn’t be different here.

THIRD – Know the readers

We need to be with the student body more so that we can explore the personalities and events in greater depth. The UP doesn’t have the ability to cover breaking news, so we have to change our angle to focus on the experiences of the students and members of the FAU community in general. We have to get away from hurrying to complete a story so we can move on to the next one just because we are short staffed. Good stories should illustrate the uncommon to the common reader. There are some amazing stories waiting to be written out there. As part of this, we need to bump up the level of reporting. The easiest way to do this is to free up the time of the senior staffers so they can focus on these types of stories. We can assign newer people to work on briefs and small news stories. After a very sparse semester we finally have a group of writers that can progress and the senior staff don’t have to worry about stressing to fill pages.

FOURTH – Give the students what they really want.

Free alt-weeklies are slaves to their listings section. Many people pick up New Times or City Link because they have an easy to read listings section that shows local concerts and events. We need more in-depth events listings and I’ve started having our listings editor look into finding free food every week to list as a sidebar that can be prominently displayed towards the front of the issue. It wouldn’t hurt if we had two listings editors working on these things all the time. Listings are boring to create, yet important section. If anything, a proper listings section would get people to grab the paper just to see what was going on around campus – which is how it should be. Listings shouldn’t be a slapped together afterthought, but it tends to be handled that way by all of us.

As editor, what measures will you take to ensure the University Press covers every FAU campus?

Covering seven campuses spread over 100 miles of coastline is difficult. At the beginning of this semester I drove to Jupiter to speak with a potential writer who worked out for a short period of time. While there I spoke with their Governor and Senate Speaker and asked them to contact with me with any ideas they had for coverage, or if they knew anyone who had any ideas for the paper, or work for us – they never did. I assigned a writer to cover Broward recently, which we’ve had problems with covering in the past. Usually someone pops up to cover Broward, and then vanishes just as quickly. Recently there haven’t been any writers down there willing. The few I’ve spoken with disappear after they learn the pay isn’t high. With more time off this coming semester, I will be able to chase any leads, or assign them to be chased, that involve other campuses. Now that I have built up, and continue to build, a larger more competent staff, it will be easier to cover these stories.

As editor, how will you recruit and retain a qualified staff of editors, writers, designers, and photographers?

Recruiting is the most depressing part of working at the UP. You speak to 50 people and one shows up, and they in turn have a fifty/fifty chance of working out in the end. It is an imperfect art and you never know when speaking to a group who will stick around. Even at the start of the semester when the newsroom is filled, it is obvious that within a week or two it will be back to five core people. The classic formula seems to be: go to classes and speak to hundreds of people every semester and beg the students through house ads. So far this has maintained a senior staff and a few extra writers. But, some key players in the newsroom, myself included, came in by word of mouth. One reason I wanted to TA was to have an opportunity to have a captive audience to talk to about the UP. It didn’t work. Over the summer I attended 10-15 early morning orientation sessions and spoke to between 250 and 300 pre-freshmen or transfer students over several weeks. A few dozen of them showed serious interest, and even called back or e-mailed, none are currently on staff. Koretzky spoke to one incoming student for half an hour and he was willing to bet she’d come in and contribute – I should’ve taken that bet. If speaking with hundreds of students to get a handful is the tried and true method, then I will continue that tradition and speak with as many people as will listen. I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses and I’m better recruiting one on one than giving a canned speech to a crowd of uninterested students. There seems to be a higher retention rate for speaking with students personally. The most important part of the whole thing is getting the student in the door, and then maintaining and building a relationship with them.

Sadly, there has never been any real progress at the UP. We never build upon the past. I have personally witnessed this as the torch passed from Vanessa to Lily, and then to myself. With each change, there was a whole new staff that came in. After Vanessa left and Lily took over, we recruited a few new people, but lost even more. During the summer, the rest left. When I began in summer B, there was a staff of six, including the distribution manager and managing editor. For all of fall I pieced together a staff to work with the senior editors and designers that is just now starting to work. We are filling out the positions and rebuilding the sections I killed over the summer because they weren’t fitting with my vision of the UP. With a major change coming in the near future in the form of a new printer or even self-printing, I don’t want to have to start from scratch again. If our future is with a major corporation, we need to progress in the ways I’ve described, not start over again.

REFERENCES:Chuck StrouseEditor in ChiefMiami New Times305-576-8000

Deirdra FuncheonCalendar EditorNew Times Broward Palm Beach954-233-1584

Gail ShepherdDining Editor/Staff WriterNew Times Broward Palm Beach561-547-4867

Mark FrezzoAssociate Professor of SociologyFlorida Atlantic University561-297-3275