Summer project number one: Check

It is finished.

The draft is, anyway. The Elm’s first (as far as I know) staff manual has been PDF-ed and emailed to editors. There’s no turning back now.

I don’t know why we never had a manual. I’ve been on staff for three years; I’ve watched three editor-in-chief transitions, and no matter how involved the outgoing editor has been with training and preparing her successor, things fall through the cracks. Policy changes are forgotten, only to be readdressed again in the fall. The staff asks the same questions year after year, each editor trying to remember what the unwritten procedure was in past semesters. Writers and photographers make glaring journalistic errors, and we editors can only bristle at the results, try to edit them into shape, and move on. We can’t reprimand our staff for making mistakes when there’s no resource that dictates where they went wrong.

Last year’s editorial process felt like we were constantly putting out fires our staff members started, not out of malice, but out of pure ignorance. They threw in unknown hours of interviews and writing, but the end result was far too often an unusable mess, a jumble of first person narrative and twelve-sentence paragraphs and unanswered questions. As furious as these “Wall of Shame” worthy articles made us, we struggled with holding the writers accountable for their mistakes, because how were they supposed to know any better?

I’m a natural worrier. I tend to anticipate the worst, so naturally, once I was given the official title of rising Editor-in-Chief, I started thinking of all the worst-case-scenarios that might pop up during my term. What if we have to cover a student death? What if we get a letter to the editor from the school president? What do I do if I have to fire someone? Has that even happened before? I had just spent two semesters correcting writers who literally didn’t know any better. How could I, in good conscience, do that to my editors?

Enter my overly-ambitious brainchild, the Manual.  It’s a simple solution, really: Compile every conceivable Elm policy, guideline, and style rule into one organized document. It was writing the 17-page monster that killed me.

I made the manual my first big summer Elm goal. I had no idea it would take half of the time allotted to me, but I like to think it was worth it. I just sent it to the staff to review, and I’m sitting on the edge of my office chair, waiting for responses.

I’m already breathing easier about all those potential conflicts that are going to worm their way into my editorship (we love a good crisis at the Elm). At least when those issues arise, I can point to a specific page and defend myself. And I can finally, guiltlessly reprimand staff members when they make mistakes.

“You can’t say you didn’t know that was the rule. Didn’t you read the manual?”


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