How to make a deadline

“Early is on-time,” they tell me. “On-time is late.”

I have a lot of band students on my yearbook and news staffs, and I think it’s time to take a page from the band director’s doctrine.

The band students know his theory is, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”

True to form, band, as a class, starts 30 minutes before first hour for the rest of the school. As teachers and students pull into the parking lot to begin the day, band is already practicing their marching program, and they’ve been doing so since 7:15 a.m. They didn’t arrive at 7:15. They started marching at 7:15.

I tell you that to tell you this:

We need to be early to be on-time with our yearbook and news deadlines. The simple reason is that there are always unexpected obstacles – always.


This year, we are switching from a fall delivery yearbook to a spring delivery yearbook. Previous staffs have all preferred to have the entire year in the book so we’ve worked two or three (or more) weeks into the summer to create one complete book delivered in the fall. This year, we’re trying a spring book, but the last deadline is just before spring activities. We’ll create a summer supplement to cover those.

Spring books mean earlier deadlines with more pages, and they have to be met or we won’t get the book in time to deliver before graduation.

Yesterday was the first day of our Fall Break, which extends through Tuesday. Our first deadline is Monday. That meant we showed up yesterday to finish pages for the first submission. I was thinking this qualified for “early”.

Granted, this first few weeks has been full of learning how to yearbook. And there have been dozens of decisions to make – big and small – regarding design. Deciding the theme itself was a big one, but few realize the number of tiny decisions that have to be made and then implemented throughout for consistency. Will the number for the caption AND the lead-in be demi-bold? Will we use a period after the photo credit? Are non-staff members “Photo by …” or “Courtesy of …” and how do we credit news staff when it’s their photo? So. Many. Decisions.

So a little more than half the staff was able to make it to workday yesterday, and while many were finishing spreads, many were editing for all that tiny stuff.

One obstacle after another got in our way.

The morning started right off with a corrupted InDesign spread that wouldn’t open.

We spent half an hour or so trying to troubleshoot that one. I used Mac’s Time Machine option, going back to an earlier, saved version, but it still wouldn’t open. I called Herff Jones’s tech support, and the specialist had me email the file to her. She couldn’t open it either. Just when it looked like the staffer was going to have to design from scratch (I actually felt tears welling up behind my eyes), I tried Time Machine again, going back an hour earlier in the previous day’s files, and we got a version that would open – minus a couple of steps that hadn’t saved.

That was the big one, but we had photos that wouldn’t place for mysterious reasons, links that went missing for mysterious reasons, and the regular stuff that comes by learning. Photos needed lightening because they print darker than the screen shows. Stories had been placed without being edited because it was someone’s first time. Captions needed more information. Name spellings hadn’t been double-checked. We had to make a decision to add periods after photo credits that didn’t have them or remove the ones that did have them.

You just have to plan to need more time.

You have to plan for the people you need to interview to be unavailable.

You have to plan for photos to need to be retaken sometimes.

You have to plan for InDesign to crash.

You have to plan for a photo to not be where you thought it was.

You have to plan for links to be broken.

You have to plan for people in photos to defy being identified.

You have to plan for a power outage and the fact that you hadn’t saved since you created that last mod.

You have to plan to finish early or you’ll be late.

We’re meeting again Sunday afternoon to finish, and we’ll meet that Monday deadline. Then we’ll celebrate being awesome.


Been a long day, but it’s worth it


It’s 11:25 p.m. and I’ve just gotten home from work. I’m a teacher – a journalism teacher. Tonight was what we call “late night,” and I know not every high school journalism staff has this tradition, but it works, mostly, for us.

Even on my college staff, we had late night, and while it was also fun, it lacked the shenanigans and surprises that the high-school level late night encompasses. For the most part, I work on my own stuff, grading, lesson planning, cleaning piles on my desk…

I do have to stop every once in a while when I’m asked to read over someone’s final draft or look over a layout – I do read over everything before it goes in the paper, offer my editorial advice and my adviser advice, but really the editors and staff run the show. I love to eavesdrop on conversations. I get to hear them teach each other photoshop tricks or how subjects in photos “can’t face off the page, but if you just switch these two…”

I hear conversations about headline hierarchy and hamburger layouts (three horizontally designed stories on a page that resemble bun, patty, bun). Tonight I watched as the editorial staff got together because they no longer felt “passion” about their chosen staff editorial topic. They sat atop or leaned against tables, brainstormed about what they felt passion about (yes, I heard them use that word). One thought led to another and another, hands clapped together and their voices raised as they hit on an idea and each added to it, and they got excited. A young, new staff member who is full of motivation and ambition really, really wanted to write it, so he was given the reigns. After settling down, he produced an editorial piece they were all impressed with. There was more input and a little revising, a little cutting (cut your darlings!) for space, and the thing was done – with no bloodshed.

As pages were finished, one editor pinned them above my whiteboard, visual proof of work completed, as well as a reminder of close editing for tomorrow before press deadline at 5 p.m. They trickled out the back door as understanding parents came to pick up the non-drivers, and the drivers left too, one taking someone else home. I’ve been criticized a few times for keeping these kids out so late, but it’s important for them to understand meeting deadlines and that the work they do leading up to the deadlines makes all the difference.

These days are long, but full of production, silliness, learning and teaching. I’m tired, yes, but I wouldn’t trade this part of my job.