Can I get a Pheonix?

The staff and I survived the production of the first issue. The acceptance of the content, however, remains to be seen.

Last week was the usual craziness, with a few still working on stories that should have been RTG (ready to go) the previous Friday, and there was a general panic over some photo ops assigned to staffers that hadn’t been able to happen for various reasons. Late night – Tuesday – resulted in, not 8 p.m., as is our general goal, but 11:30, with some items left for the following day. Wednesday is supposed to be for pre-press edits, pre-flight checks and sending the pages, but there were a couple photos still to get, many, many edits to pages, information still missing from graphics (with the passing of the proverbial buck).

Amazingly, or not, no one except one managing editor was available after school to finish. Of course, that’s when we generally discover missing links, photos that haven’t been converted to the proper color format or file format, body copy in the wrong paragraph style and more. She did an amazing job, though, calling staffers when necessary, making fairly complex changes and submitting the pages.

The next morning, we went over the problems we had, how they might have been avoided (planning, not procrastinating, working on more than one story at a time), and vowed to do better next issue.  The paper arrived on Friday and was delivered without incident.

Yesterday, Monday, we began the new cycle with the staff meeting, and, as usual, began with critiquing the issue. Several had heard some good things about several stories. But by the middle of the next period, I had been summoned to the office.

Let me back up and explain that one of the staffers had had her heart set on righting a wrong she had encountered over and over. She had set out to defend a group on our opinion page. Now this group had not asked to be defended, nor had she asked them if they would like for her to defend them. In fact, had she gone to them – which, in hindsight, I see that I should have asked her to do this – they probably would have asked her not to. This bit of stereotyping is not an uncommon thing, and the group had been dealing with it on some level for years. To have life breathed into it on the pages of the student newspaper would just increase the level, no matter the original intent. Gotta love hindsight.

Splash it onto the page we did, and even though my metaphorical red flag was raised and we discussed and discussed among ourselves, I was convinced that nothing bad was being said, that the words chosen were in defense and the writer made strong points about the wrongness of stereotyping.

In the end, original intent does not matter at all. What matters is perception. The very fact that the staff brought the topic to the pages of the paper, gave it oxygen so to speak, allowed it to catch fire. People were upset. My early trip to the office was simply a word of warning that such items can be misinterpreted, and I left there still not completely convinced. But a while later I was visited by others who were offended and upset that I allowed this to happen. They looked at the writer as having motive to hurt. The flames were fed as if the truth of her words were dry kindling. It just all went wrong.

Hopefully the fire will die down today. Criticism is hard, but we have to learn from it and move on. From the ashes of this mess we must produce another issue, and another.


About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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