Who’s the boss?

Jul 26 2013

Many newsrooms have an inherent hierarchy comparable to the British monarchy, clearly a newsworthy topic, thanks to royal baby obsession. The editor-in-chief, or the head of the publication, can be compared to Queen Elizabeth II, the matriarch of the monarchy. Other editors under the chief follow the line of succession in order of importance, starting with Prince Charles, then Prince William and finally ending with that famous baby. The many interns fill the role of the unwashed masses also known as commoners.

This typical structure calls for a reporter to submit his or her work to a superior who scrutinizes the accuracy, relevancy and organization of the work to ensure the content’s quality.

We value those attributes at STEMwire, but we don’t think that the historical newsroom structure is the only path to a professional publication. We strive to format our articles through nontraditional story forms – think infographics, lists and sidebars. Naturally we’ve found a nontraditional newsroom structure that works for us, too.

The other STEMwire reporters and I work on an equal level. There isn’t just one person in command – we are all the commoners. Even though we don’t answer to an editor, we still value a second and third pair of eyes on our work. Our editorial process starts with one reporter emailing their article to two other reporters. After one person edits the draft for grammar, flow and AP Style, the other takes a second look. Because glaring factual errors and awkward run-on sentences become camouflaged to the writer after they’ve spent hours mulling over an article, this proofreading process is crucial to content quality.

Our work benefits from this structure, because each person brings a different expertise, such as AP Style or science knowledge, to the publication. We can also easily get a second opinion when we get stuck on a project or want to gauge whether our latest idea is creative or just weird.

We also benefit from the advice of the lab’s directors, John Clark and Sara Peach. Their advice takes a “phone a friend” approach, meaning we ask questions when they arise. They also hold mini workshops for us on different multimedia skills. The level of autonomy we enjoy is rare for students, and it has definitely improved our project management skills.

If we had more than four reporters at STEMwire, we might have to reconsider our fluid structure as someone could easily skive their responsibilities. But for our small group, the level playing field has facilitated a positive work dynamic. No one lords power over anyone else, because no one person has that power. We also feel greater accountability for the quality of our work, because we don’t have a person whose sole job it is to go behind us and clean up a bungled project.

In some ways, our audience acts like the boss. A good journalist knows that a key way to gain readership is to personalize the news for readers; for example, the way a community journalist would include a local angle to a national story.

Since many of our readers are educators, we know they look for news about the teaching aspect of STEM education, such as teacher professional development, tips for teaching effectively or STEM initiatives founded by teachers.

We consciously look for stories to fit the reader’s need and sometimes reach out to past contacts for a new story or for new contacts. We also monitor which stories get shared the most through social media to see what types of articles to pursue in the future. We realize publications don’t accomplish much without a reader base, so we’ve learned whom we really should be listening to.


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