By Daniel Nott
Have you ever wondered what it takes to put out a daily newspaper?
At the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, an independent newspaper at UMass Amherst, a group of dedicated students do just that. Every night, the staff produces on average an 8-page paper with sections for News, Arts & Living, Editorial/Opinion, Comics, and Sports that makes up the largest College Daily in New England.
The managing editor, Chris Shores, explained how they divide the labor to get each article from a student’s idea to a printed newspaper story every morning, and discussed some of the challenges of the process.
The Collegian office, located in the basement of the Campus Center, is divided into a business room, a newsroom, and a graphics room. The rooms are filled with long desks crowded with computers and old copies of the Collegian, and the walls are adorned with taped-up quotes and inside jokes.
The business room mostly draws its staff from Isenberg School of Management and other business majors. The business staff deals with advertising, which as an independent newspaper, is where the Collegian gets all of its funding. By the time that the writers and editors come in after class at around 4 or 5 p.m., the business room has sold ads to local businesses and placed them in the next day’s layout.
It is then the job of the section editor, or one of their assistants, to come in and electronically collect the stories submitted by writers. Each section may have thirty to forty writers, though most of the writing tends to come from a core group of writers.
When asked how many writers work for Arts&Living, Garth Brody, an Arts assistant, said they have about 40 writers on their mailing list, and every week about 15 show up for the weekly meetings—though they may or may not be the ones writing stories for that week.
Weekly meetings provide a way for each section editor to communicate directly with their writers and plan the content to be covered. The photo editor, Hannah Cohen, also uses this structure to assign photographers to events and discuss the week’s “Feature photos,” which are printed in special boxes in the Collegian as well as published to the newspaper’s Flickr account.
When the section editor or assistant receives their stories, which are almost always sent through email from the dorms or off-campus, they make editorial changes. The section editor or assistant is responsible for making sure the content is factually accurate and well written. From there, the revised story gets sent to the copy editor.
At the time, Felicity Watts was copy-editing a story on the 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” written by Collegian columnist and copy editor, Emily Felder. Watts said that by the time stories get to her, it is mostly about improving grammar and sentence structure, as well as fact-checking names. Each article will also have to be approved by the night editor before being placed by the paper’s graphics staff.
While the articles are going through editing, the section editor or assistant hand-draws a layout based on the word count of the articles they received, trying to balance the text with pictures taken by the photography staff. This layout gets an okay from the night editor, and is sent to the graphics room where it is translated into a digital document where articles and photographs can be placed. The graphics staff may use a “Lorum Ipsum” word-count generator, which provides a Latin story of the same length that can be used to figure out story placement. When both the copy-editor and the night editor have signed off on the stories, it then becomes quick and easy to swap the Latin word counts for the real story.
From there, the last thing a section editor or assistant has to do is write headlines for the day’s stories, and cut lines describing the pictures. The night editor checks the printout for mistakes once more before the layout it is converted to a PDF and checked again by the graphics supervisor, who then sends it to the printing company, Turley Publications in Palmer, Mass. The graphics supervisor and night editor, who are often in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning, give the printer 10 minutes to go over the paper to make sure there are no issues before their job is done.
The last step involves a Collegian distribution team picking up the papers at the loading dock in the morning, and placing them around campus where students are most likely to pick them up.
Of course, the Collegian never runs exactly like this, and there are snags and problems to be solved along the way. Writers often get upset when editors alter their stories, which is an issue Shores said the paper is always working on. “Even sending them an email” to give the writers a chance to defend themselves can make a big difference, he said. He explained that because writers at the Collegian are not paid, it becomes important to work with and not isolate them. There are also nightly issues such as what content goes on the front page, which is a discussion between the night editor and the news editor or assistant.
He also addressed some of the more serious blunders in the Collegian’s recent history, such as a February opinion piece in which a female columnist argued that women who are raped are sometimes “victims of [their] own choices.” The article caused an outrage and debate on campus as well as within the Collegian.
Shores, who took the job of managing editor this year, said that the most important things he learned was the importance of communication, and that it’s important to not just “fall into the rhythm” of the job and assume the content is acceptable.
He said that this year, the Collegian has been focussing a lot more energy on multimedia for the papers website, DailyCollegian.com. The editors require multiple pieces of multimedia- such as podcasts, blogs, and slideshows- to be uploaded by each of the sections every week.
Shores said he spends a large amount of time at the Collegian as managing editor, and really likes his job, also highlighting the community aspect of working at the Collegian. “It’s my happy place,” he said with a smile.