Thursday, December 1, 2011

Editor explains The Mooring Mast

By Heather Perry, Editor-In-Chief

Sometimes I forget that most of the Pacific Lutheran community doesn’t understand all that goes on behind the scenes at a newspaper, let alone The Mooring Mast. I was recently reminded of this ignorance, which is partly our fault.

Before getting into the specifics of what we do, I want to specify that we are a weekly newspaper, not a public relations outlet for the university.

This means we’ll cover upcoming events, but we won’t tell students to go to them – that’s what advertisements are for.

In fact, our primary goal is to give our readers the facts they need to form their own opinions. Our other goals include serving as an opportunity for discussion, a learning lab for students, an educational venture and a service to the community.

Who we are

I feel obliged to mention that fairies do not make the paper magically appear on stands almost every Friday during the semester. Instead, a group of 11 students on the editorial board and almost 20 students on staff contribute every week.

Now wait a second. The Mooring Mast is a 16-20-page paper that comes out nearly every week with multiple articles and photos on each page. And not everything that’s turned in by the staff is run every week.

This means that the staff of The Mooring Mast is often exceeding what the editorial board expects of them by writing more than one article or photographing more than two events per issue. They’re also hard at work keeping up with full course loads, spending time with friends, holding down other jobs and participating in other extra-curricular activities.

Now this shouldn’t detract from the many students at PLU who do the same, but I’ve noticed that many forget we’re student journalists – meaning we’re students first. This isn’t our full time job, although many of us treat it as such.

What we do

(the short version)

The process begins with a story idea received through word-of-mouth, email, some digging on part of a reporter or other methods.

We must then develop this idea, meaning we determine whether it’s actually worth the limited space we have each week, worthy of an online piece on our website or will fall back into oblivion for a rainy day. We’ll look for what’s known as the seven news values: impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, bizarreness, emotion and conflict.

Once we determine whether it’s a topic worth covering, an editor will assign a reporter or photographer. A reporter would interview a minimum of three people and then write a 400-600 word article.

A photographer would take hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs. He or she would then create captions, what we call cutlines, for those they select to turn in, meaning they must identify the who, what, when, where, why and how of the photos.

I should probably mention that all of this material is due Sunday night at 8 p.m., even though the paper comes out on Friday. What would seem like an early deadline isn’t because there’s more to come.

On Monday nights at 8 p.m. in UC 172, the entire staff meets to critique the previous week’s paper, discuss the next issue and to complete the occasional workshop. This means that The Mooring Mast is often working simultaneously on two or more issues.

Between Sunday night and Tuesday night, each section editor and both of the copy editors must read every single written piece that makes it into the paper at least twice. They edit for Associated Press style, grammar, etc.

Meanwhile, the photo editor sifts through hundreds of photos, editing them using Photoshop into CMYK and preparing them for the section editors.

Tuesday night, the section editors begin to layout their pages on InDesign, a design program, if they haven’t already. They’ll create graphics for the pages and make sure everything meets our standardized styles, which that are responsible for consistency throughout the newspaper.

Wednesday is production night. Once all of the text is on the page, each editor must print out the page twice. These flats, the printed pages, are edited for design, AP style, etc. by at least the copy editors, but more other members of the staff pitch in as well.

Editors then place the files into a folder labeled “finals.” I then export these files into PDFs for the publisher, whose deadline is 8 a.m. Thursday morning.

Now this system is the ideal, but every week a wrench somehow is thrown into the plan.

I probably should confess that we’ve occasionally come close to that deadline so I apologize to any professor who has a member of the editorial board in a Thursday morning class. We’re probably still recovering.

But our job isn’t done yet. We must distribute roughly 2,000 copies of the newspaper every week to stands throughout campus Thursday evening so that students can see our hard work.

And by that time the process is already well under way for our next issue.

Why we do it

I don’t know how many hours I put in on average every week as the editor-in-chief, and quite frankly I’m not sure I want to.

It’s not that I put too much work into the paper because I don’t believe that’s possible. Rather, I think even I would be surprised by what I fit in almost every week.

On production night alone, almost the entire editorial board will put in more hours than they are paid for, since we’re paid on a stipend basis per printed issue.

But that’s student media. We do it because we love it. Those who don’t tend to not stick around.

You won’t see another issue of The Mooring Mast until Feb. 17, but that doesn’t mean we’re slacking. We’ll be hard at work updating our website and preparing for spring semester, even though we won’t be paid for it.