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Tips for motivating your college newspaper staff

Jenna Johnson

alex_byers.jpgClasses just started and news is barely trickling in, but here are some tips for getting your entire staff excited for the semester from Alex Byers, the editor in chief of The GW Hatchet at George Washington University in the District.

1) Learn from the best

One of the best (and most educational) ways to motivate reporters is to let them learn from the best. Ask reporters from your local daily if they are willing to speak to your staff and share some tricks of the trade. You could go for one multi-speaker event, or try weekly chats with a new reporter each week.

2) Push for story ideas
At a lot of college papers, too many story ideas come from top editors. Encourage your reporters to become a bigger part of the process by putting them in teams of two, sending them across campus and requiring that they come back with five new story ideas. It will force them to think critically and work together, and they'll grow as reporters as a result.

3) Try something new

In this age of journalism, versatility is a huge asset. Motivate reporters by giving them new tasks (like having a news reporter work on a feature story) and new toys to play with - every reporter needs to know how to use a FlipCam or digital audio recorder. Got some tech-savvy writers? Teach them HTML and CSS.

4) Start an investigation
Got a good idea for a long-term project? Pick three young reporters with potential and put them at the helm. Maybe you want to look at professor salaries or athletic programs. Choose a topic that you haven't covered before, and allow some reporters to get some big-story experience.

5) Praise publicly
If we're talking about motivation, it's a given that you need to let reporters know when they've done a good job. But instead a simple commendation, go a step further and highlight their work in the public setting. You could choose a "Reporter of the Week" and praise his or her work in an all-staff e-mail each week, or publish a blog post on your in-house blog directing readers to check out a particular story.

6) Make a challenge
More responsibility means more work for a young reporter, but you never know how someone will react unless you push them. Choose your eight best freshman reporters and pull them in for a meeting to let them know you like their work and expect even more from them this semester. Your challenge will be a confidence boost that will help them turn in stronger work.

7) Watch a movie
For even the most idealistic and brazen students, journalism can turn into a tedious, repetitive job. Help them remember why they enjoy their craft by hosting a movie night where the staff can relax and watch "All the President's Men," or suggest an inspiring book like "Letters to a Young Journalist" by Samuel Freedman.

8) Consider a promotion
Sure, you've got a nifty editor title. But your paper probably has a few ranks of reporter, staff writer and senior staff writer, and you shouldn't forget them. When a writer is ready to take the next step and has shown enough dedication to the paper, reward him or her with a title boost.

9) Assign a new beat
If a reporter is producing good work but seems a little lost, consider taking another look at your beat system. If a writer has a knack for covering student life but doesn't know what to do on any story involving police, the student government or financial aid beats might be good options.

10) Ask them
A good newsroom should have a clear hierarchy and be a well-oiled machine. But even though reporters are subordinate to editors, they aren't void of good ideas. Make sure your reporters know you're open to their suggestions and ideas. Better yet, be proactive and ask them how you can be a better editor. Allowing their feedback to resonate will make them feel more a part of the team.

About Alex Byers

Alex is a senior political communication major from Minneapolis, Minn. He started at The GW Hatchet in 2007 and worked his way up from sports writer to assistant sports editor to metro news editor. As editor in chief, Byers has revamped the paper's online presence, shifting it toward a continuous news cycle. Byers has also completed internships at the Nieman Watchdog, and Dateline NBC. He is a prolific Twitterer and can be reached at

By Jenna Johnson  |  January 22, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Campus Media  
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