Playing the Long Game – Choosing and Training Your Next Editor

Written by Jim Jordan

In the world of yearbook, there is the short game and the long game.

The short game includes everyday stuff like “What are we doing in class today?” “Who’s taking photos tonight at the volleyball game?” “How did your interview with Mr. Lottes go?”

The long game for the adviser is always played in the back of your mind as you consider what needs to be done over time. You should also be asking questions like “What should we take on next year as our focus for growth and improvement?” “Who are the best candidates to be next year’s editors?” “How can I get them ready?”

If we only focus on the short game, it’s easy to let great opportunities to improve next year slip away.

All that said, it’s easy to start worrying so much about the long game that often we choose not to think about it at all. And that can be a big mistake.

Perhaps the most important part of the long game after recruiting (your first priority should be to have a solid staff on board) is choosing and preparing your editors. Having great editors makes all the difference.

I always struggled with this process. I worried that if prospective editors really understood all the work involved, they might never sign up to lead. In retrospect, I needed not to worry. Because of a variety of incentives, there were always just the right number who wanted the job and were willing to lead and do whatever needed to be done to make the book great. What I should have done is put more energy EARLIER into getting them ready.

How to choose your next editors

Here are a few considerations as you start the search for your next leaders.

Recruit underclassmen. The younger they start, the more they will understand about what makes a great yearbook and what goes into the process of creating one. The more of the process they have experienced themselves, the better they will be prepared to lead effectively.

Plant the seed. Let the staff know that if they are interested in being a part of the leadership team, each of them will have the opportunity to be considered. Explain the benefits of being an editor. The major benefit for my students was that they were completely in charge of the design, content and direction of the book. But the real and most significant benefits will come from what each editor will learn about responsibility and working with people. It’s difficult for them to see this before they start, but tell them there will be benefits that will make a difference for the rest of their lives.

Show Me What You’ve Got. Have everyone on staff keep a digital file where they gather design and coverage ideas. Give specific assignments throughout the year. Take time to look at what they collect as it will show you if they have the eye of a designer and how design curious they are. They also may collect great examples of journalistic writing and specific inspiration for theme copy.

Provide them opportunities to shine. Give staffers opportunities to go above and beyond what the basic requirements of their job descriptions are. Ask them to come in and be part of a proofing team. See who wants to design and develop more mod ideas. Great future leaders will be willing to show you they want to do more. Provide them ways to show you and they will.

Observe. The moment any new staffer arrived in the yearbook room, I began considering if they had the talent to be an editor. What did I see in them that could be developed and nurtured into skills they would need? Are they a natural leader? Do they have artistic skills? Are they skilled writers? Do they pick up new material quickly? Do they get along with others? Do I connect with them?

Another significant element to consider is if they will have the necessary time, so know what other activities they are involved in. Understanding their commitments can be daunting as the best potential editors will most usually be the very busiest kids in school. Don’t count any one out because they are busy, just understand how that may affect how much time they can give to being an effective editor.

Encourage. It’s amazing what a word of encouragement from an adviser can do. If you see potential in a student to be a future leader, tell them. Let them know what you have seen. Catch them doing good and let them know how great an editor they would be if they wanted to pursue that path. The more I encouraged them, it seemed the more they wanted to become one. Years later when they actually were editors, they always remembered those moments when I encouraged them.

When should I choose the next editors?

Decide when you think the timing is best for you in the ebb and flow of your school and production calendars, and then start the process.

Your new editors should be in place to help drive the formal recruiting process in early spring. They will need to visit classes and interview prospective staff members. You may decide to select an editorial team early on and not name specific positions at 
this point. Some adviser and staffs wait as late as 
the start of school to make final decisions about individual positions.

Develop an application process. At some point, you need to ask students to make a formal decision if they want to be an editor, and an application process is a great way to get the ball rolling. This can be as simple or as involved as you need and want it to be.

At a minimum, they need to fill out an application that declares their desire to pursue leadership and what specific position they are applying for. You can even have them write or design something, but I never wanted this process to be so arduous that it got in the way of producing the current book, or so time consuming that it would make them not want to apply.

The editor training process

Once they are on board, consider these elements of the training process.

Staff work. The first part of the training process is simply to train each staffer to do their work well. Watch them as the year progress. How do they handle stress and unforeseen obstacles to completing their work? How do they work with others? Are they willing to do extra work during outside work sessions?

Mini leadership roles. Once you have identified prospective editors, give them more responsibilities and opportunities to shine. We relied on the enthusiasm and talents of the younger staffers, and as they showed they had talents and capabilities, we gave them more challenging work.

Spring Convention. Almost every year of the 35 years I advised, I took students to the spring JEA/NSPA convention and, less frequently, the CSPA convention in New York. This was always an important step in identifying and training prospective editors. If a student showed the desire to go, the willingness to work out their schedule to be able to go and raised at least some of the money to go, it meant they were serious about taking on the task of leading the next book. At these conventions, they were also introduced to the larger world of scholastic journalism and how our program fit into it.

Summer camp. Attending a yearbook workshop in the summer was a requirement for being an editor-in-chief on my staff. Too much learning happened and too many decisions were made at camp every year that you really could not lead the whole production of the book without having been there. I would on occasion allow a student who wasn’t able to attend camp take on one of the other staff leadership positions, but they had to be at camp to be an editor-in-chief.

Leadership Boot Camp. Put on a special workshop in the summer for the leadership team to discuss expectations for their position, and then provide coaching for the challenges they may face throughout the year.

Shadowing. Have prospective editors shadow the person who is currently in the position they want.

Create an Editor Manual. One of the projects each editor had to complete before graduation was a manual for their position that they passed on to the person who will take their place. This becomes an invaluable help to the new editor as the school 
year begins.

Rising editors. Many staffs have one editor-in-chief who is a senior and another who is junior. This “rising editor-in-chief” will be able to take what they learn one year and then use that knowledge the next year. Too often, we have one-year editors and what they learn is lost when they graduate. The danger of this approach is that you can burn the junior editor out and they won’t come back for year two. Consider this as you decide what their responsibilities are.

There are many great strategies that can be used to choose and train your editorial team. Pick whichever ones will work best for you and the students at your school. The main challenge is to always be thinking about the long game. What will make us even stronger and better next year? How can I put together and train the best possible editorial staff ever?

Still the yearbook game is always a little like Whack-A-Mole. You get one thing covered and a new challenge pops up. The skills your editors had last year won’t be the same set of skills they have this year. You just have to develop the skills they do have and challenge them to develop new ones. And that will make all the difference.

Ask an Editor

Jordan sought out the opinions of several yearbook editors on a variety of topics. Here were their responses:
Isabelle Kanning and Ashlyn Pope, seniors, Editors-in-Chief
Liberty North High School | The Ayrie

How were you prepared to be an editor?
Most of our preparation came from watching the editors-in-chief from the year before. We took note of how people reacted to how they approached things and decided based off that what would work best for us. There were a few times we got together over the summer to discuss how we wanted our staff to operate, but we kept in mind that most of our decisions would have to be made on the spot.
Emily Edwards, senior, Editor-in-Chief
University High School | Odyssey

What will you do to better train the editor who will take over for you next year?
I would want to train the next editor(s)-in-chief by showing them how to create their ladder, how to start developing a theme for the next year and going over how to keep a consistent theme throughout their book verbally and visually. This is all definitely training I wish I had last year before I started, but I did end up receiving training later on. By helping them in these aspects, they would have a good start to their role. 

Joseph Arquette, senior, Managing Editor
University High School | Odyssey

What was the best training you got for the job you are currently doing?
The best training I got to become a managing editor was from the Section Editor class with Mike Simons at Camp Orlando. Before the class, I was focused a lot on the process of creating the book and the technical side of things, but he taught me to look at the people I’m working with and how to get them to work better together. It felt a lot like I was learning how to be a leader, and not how to be a commander.
Morgan Costner, senior, Index Editor
University High School | Odyssey

How were you prepared to be an editor?
Being a staffer and working on spreads for two years prepared me to become an editor. I learned my time management skills, the design rules and how to create mods that covered stories by working on spreads and making mistakes. I use these skills everyday as index editor because there is a lot that I need to get done in a short amount of time.
Breanne Jackson, senior, Editor-in-Chief
Legacy High School | The Arena

What will you do to better train the editor who will take over for you next year?
I will give her more access to helping with what I do now. She is my assistant editor, so I feel like throwing in jobs here and there that I would usually do will better prepare her for when it’s her turn. It’s scary just stepping into a position without experience and knowledge of what you’re expected to do. I will always provide her with leadership advice and help her understand how to get a group of people to respect you and want to follow you. I will be sure to point out the mistakes that I make and explain how she can avoid them.
Savannah Gery, junior, Assistant Yearbook Editor
Legacy High School | The Arena

What was the best training you got for the job you are currently doing?
After our final deadline last year, I was in charge of the Freshman Survival Guide we give to incoming freshman. That responsibility helped prepare me to not be uncomfortable when telling my peers and upperclassman what to do.
Chloe Ballestero and Anna Tam, seniors, Co-Editors-in-Chief
Palm Harbor University High School | Aftermath

How were you prepared to be an editor?
Chloe: I was a copy editor for my second year and that helped me improve my leadership skills. When going through the application and interviewing process for the positions available, I already knew that editor-in-chief was the only one that I wanted. I hoped that the projects I had been put over and the work I had done on my individual spreads would advocate for me in my abilities as an editor. I think that my adviser and co-editor took a chance on me. That was my biggest incentive not to let them down and to work really hard and make sacrifices in order to prove they would not regret choosing me.

What will you do to better train the editor who will take over for you next year?
Anna: Inviting our assistant editors to Elite Weekend was a big help. The long, uninterrupted work time opened their eyes to the big picture instead of individual spreads, as well as how long of a process it is. Working alongside with us in editing proofs and input in theme development decisions throughout the year improves their InDesign skills and forces them to think outside of the box and use professional inspiration.

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Jim Jordan

Jim Jordan is a Special Consultant for Walsworth Yearbooks and the host of the Yearbook Chat with Jim podcast. He is former yearbook adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California. Jim was the 1996 JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year, and shares his expertise with students and advisers at workshops and conventions across the country. Jim is the lead mentor for Walsworth's Adviser Mentor Program.