Refereed Articles: Student
Running a Newspaper for Journalism Students.
By David Venables, Massey University
This short paper outlines Massey University/Wellington
Polytechnic's experience in setting up and maintaining a student newspaper
for budding reporters and media stars. It describes why the paper was set
up, how it is organised, and what we see as the benefits of having a
paper. Issues addressed include assessing students' performance on the
paper and the level of staff involvement. This paper is written with a
view to encouraging other courses to undertake similar ventures.
Magneto was set up in 1994 by staff
of the then Wellington Polytechnic journalism programme. Its name came
from Magnet, a regular newssheet put out by the students' association. No
flashes of brilliance there, I'm afraid. Journalism staff wanted the paper
because it would give students a real, yet safe, environment to start work
in. It also gave them an outlet for their own interests, e.g. arts.
Magneto also gave the students a practical environment in which to do
newspaper layout and photography, as well as providing another publishing
outlet for material that didn't quite fit the mainstream papers' mould.
Magneto has been produced with seven issues a year for the past
seven years. It has never missed an issue. It is evenly spread through the
academic year, with issues coming out every five or six weeks. The first
two editions of each year are put together by either the students'
association or a student from the previous year. The class then put out
the remaining five issues.
Value of Magneto
back, the greatest value of Magneto is probably its group-building
function and the consequent learning re newsroom processes. Five times
during the year the students cooperate on a single task for a sustained
two-week period. Despite the lack of course credit given for their work
(beyond some credit for publishing stories and photos), a huge effort goes
into each issue. Some students stay up all night out of sheer pride and
They learn that for a paper to come out
everyone has to do their bit. They also learn that if they want to have a
paper at all, someone has to sell advertising. The students' association
provides money for a basic 20-page black-and-white paper, but the students
inevitably go to 24 pages, 28 and beyond, and they also want lots of
colour. As a result, some of their classmates have to sell ads.
They also learn that when people miss deadlines, this has a
downstream effect. Everyone gets squeezed and subbing, layout or
production staff suddenly find they have to work into the night to catch
up. In practice, journalism staff have rarely had to step in and talk to
recalcitrant students. However, this is not because everyone pulls their
weight, but because students tend to avoid confronting uncooperative or
poorly performing colleagues.
The fact that after seven years new
classes still get excited about doing Magneto indicates that it is a good
idea. Every year, new people step up to take on the big jobs, their
enthusiasm no less than that of their predecessors. Magneto provides
opportunities for students to excel in areas that are elsewhere studied at
only a basic level Ð page layout, use of Pagemaker and Photoshop,
newspaper design and use of colour and images, photography and editorial
leadership. For a few students, their time on the newspaper is the best
part of the programme because their real ambition is to produce
Magneto has huge payoffs for staff as well. Watching
students take pride in completing a job is a great buzz. Often the final
product is as flawed as any other newspaper, but lecturers are secure in
the knowledge that a great deal of learning has occurred and that many
students have had a strongly positive experience. Magneto work also tells
staff who the real stars are, who delivers and who doesn't. Every year
there are people on the programme whose academic performance is mixed, but
whose attitudinal performance on the paper is excellent. In these cases,
staff are able to get a true picture of the student's skills.
How it all works
As stated above, the first two
issues of each year are completed by the students' association, often
using former students. The journalism class does the next five. The first
of this group of five is done by the whole class, the next three by each
of the three tutorial groups of 15 students in turn, with the last issues
falling back on the class as a whole. Issues come out every five or six
weeks, with the bulk of the work falling into the two-week period
immediately before the publication date.
Each issue is led by an
editor, who is selected by the Magneto board of control, which typically
consists of a journalism staff member, the students' association president
and another students' representative selected by the president. Each issue
has a different editor and editorial top table, the emphasis being on
getting as many students as possible to take part at all levels. The
editor's job is to take full responsibility for the paper, to direct staff
and ensure that all parts of the operation perform so that the paper comes
The editor then calls for applications for the various
positions on the paper: senior editorial roles, design/production,
advertising, reporting, photography, etc. The editor makes his/her own
decisions based on the applications, sometimes in consultation with staff.
Staff sometimes advise the editor to approach specific individuals for
specific jobs. This is done where it is believed that capable people are
undervaluing themselves by not applying. No positions are paid.
The senior editorial staff appointed are as follows:
• Design editor, who determines, in
consultation with the editor, what the paper will look like, choosing
fonts, etc, and taking responsibility for laying out special pages such
as photo spreads. This person is the computer whiz, who knows Pagemaker
and Photoshop. They also control the scanning of photos and manage the
production end of things. The latter role could be split off, but it has
proved most efficient to keep the two together. This job is the busiest
after the editor's. It requires a methodical, thorough person, though
not necessarily someone with extensive computer experience as those
skills can be readily picked up by the right person.
manager, who keeps the accounts and sells ads where necessary. Usually
busy early on and then less so later. Most important function, besides
balancing the books, is probably tracing the ads through the process to
guard against screw-ups.
• Illustrations editor, who manages the
photographers (typically two or three an issue), ensuring the pix meet
• Section editors, who run the various parts of the
paper, e.g. news, opinions, features, sports, arts. Each of these has a
team of reporters and is responsible for making sure that copy deadlines
are met. The news editor's job is typically the busiest.
Subs-editors, who, rather unsurprisingly, edit stories once they have
been checked by section editors. All queries should go to section
• Page editors, who use Pagemaker to lay out the
newspaper. They are assigned to section editors and focus on laying out
• Photographers and reporters = no prizes at all
for guessing what these guys do.
The editor for each issue starts the appointment process as soon as the
previous issue comes out. Preliminary meetings are held to brainstorm
ideas and assign stories. The bulk of the work comes in the last two weeks
of the cycle. The first week contains the copy deadlines.
Layout/production takes place in the second week, with time left for
finalised pages to be read by staff and the publisher (the students'
association) before being sent for printing. The final reading generally
takes two to three hours.
How much time is involved?
Our aim with Magneto is to involve as many students as possible,
largely to spread the workload. We require each student to work on two
issues during the year, including in one non-reporter role. Some do the
minimum, e.g. one stint as a reporter, one as a sub, but others become
involved in every issue and devote huge numbers of hours to the paper.
Journalism staff need to be careful that such devotees don't fall behind
in other work. A sign of the attitude of some students is the fact that
the last issue has always come out despite the looming pressure of exams.
Two full weeks are set aside in the programme for Magneto work
leading up to the final publication date of each issue. The only classes
scheduled in these weeks are shorthand and guest speaker spots.
When Magneto is humming along, staff
input is limited to regular consultations with the editor. The head of
journalism, or another assigned lecturer, meets with the editor early in
each cycle to check that he/she has organised meetings, appointed staff,
mapped out a set of deadlines, and is aware of production issues, etc.
Often staff offer story ideas for consideration, though the editor has the
final say in what is to be covered. Staff have written a full set of notes
about Magneto for students and also provide extra Pagemaker tuition where
Apart from checking on progress over the weeks, staff
input is low unless a problem is struck, e.g. staff relationship problems,
advice on stories. Currently, a staff member carries out the final
pre-press formatting to ensure no mistakes are made. This makes more sense
than having to train a student for each issue. An alternative would be for
a student with fairly advanced production knowledge to do this for the
whole year. Pre-press work generally takes two to four hours. We do not
need to do the pre-press work, but it saves money.
Staff check the
completed pages for legal and ethical problems and make suggestions
accordingly. The students' association president, who represents the
publisher, also reads the pages. Issues do crop up, but rarely is anything
changed for other than legal reasons. We have found that student
politicians learn a fair bit about how the media works during this
Apart from in the very early days, staff have
traditionally stood back from Magneto, allowing students to experiment,
producing their own look and feel to the paper. This year, however, we
have tried to get the students to adopt a more regular look, with a
consistent banner and news focus. This has been done to try and create an
identity for Magneto among readers. We were also concerned that the
learning outcomes relating to Magneto were being overlooked, i.e. that
students will gain experience in working on a news paper that bears some
relationship to the real world. Editors have thus far been happy to go
with this approach, leaving their more creative instincts for the inside
Another change this year is to have one lecturer
primarily responsible for the paper over the whole year. In the past,
different staff members have often taken the lead when their own tutorial
groups have been responsible for the paper. This has, however, tended to
hinder the development of a "look" for Magneto. It is also easier for the
students if they know that one lecturer is the Magneto contact person for
Assessing students' performance
Attached is a copy of the assessment form we use for Magneto work.
As you can see, it is very simple and does not attempt to allocate marks
to a student's performance. We require only that students participate in
two issues to the standard indicated.
Students are assessed by
their supervisor on the newspaper, with the editor being assessed by the
head of journalism. An unsatisfactory assessment sees a student having to
be involved in an extra issue. Such negative assessments are occasionally
made, although students tend to be very easy on each other, preferring to
Students get course credit for any stories or
photos that are published in Magneto, but they get nothing extra for
taking on the really busy roles. In practice, though, carrying out the
editor's job on Magneto is sufficient grounds for being granted an
extension to an assignment deadline. This lack of significant course
credit for Magneto seems to have never had a dulling effect on
participation in the senior jobs. Staffing can get tight when final exams
approach, though the paper always comes out.
The big issues to
For a paper to work, there must be enough bodies on
the ground. There will be those who are happy to make it a real project
and stay up all night, but lots of others are needed to do stories, take
pix, distribute the paper, etc.
Lots of time is also needed. We
have always allocated two-week blocks so that students can focus on the
paper in the crucial final stages. Staff also need to be prepared to step
in if needed. We get the students to do everything on Magneto. They prefer
it that way so that it becomes their baby, but if something goes wrong, we
have to be prepared to make ourselves available, overnight if necessary.
Our main role often comes down to maintaining the computer network and
troubleshooting. If the students have a problem at 8pm, you can't get
central computer support people out of bed; you will probably have to
solve the problem, or at least come up with a temporary solution on your
Students need to have control (and responsibility) if they
are to be expected to really commit to their paper. We have tried in
recent years to refocus Magneto on news, but this has made sense to
editors and we have had no problem selling this approach to the class.
Under our model of mass student participation staff have had to take
responsibility for keeping file copies of the paper and collecting
financial or production documents from editors. In our experience students
are notoriously bad at this sort of thing. Once their issue is done, most
seem to wash their hands of such unpleasant details as filing master
copies of papers. However, these are needed.
At least one clever
computer type is needed per issue Ð someone who really wants to get into
Photoshop and Pagemaker, someone who can understand the need to properly
organise files on the network so that everything is in its place come
production time. Few students get excited at this sort of stuff, but you
do need at least one card-carrying computer nerd in the class.
our experience, the way to put out a newspaper is to get students to want
to do it. Once they see that others have done it, new groups seem
motivated to give it a go. Of course, there are many more models than the
one presented here. One thing we haven't yet done is put Magneto online,
which would not be too difficult. The main stumbling block is (euphemism
alert!) "institutional issues".
Here is a final list of what we
see as the key issues you need to consider:
• A newspaper should be a learning tool, not just fun. It
is a lot of work to produce a paper, so you should make sure you get your
academic money's worth out of the exercise.
• Don't get ambitious.
Forget a weekly or even fortnightly paper. Make sure that you can produce
a regular publication over a longer period first. Magneto forms a large
part of our current programme, but not so much that it interferes with
other teaching and work experience. Also, it is at a level where we are
certain that in any given year we can deliver our promised five student
• Limit staff responsibility. We have placed staff at
arm's length on Magneto. The students' association is the publisher/owner,
with staff advising the workers and providing legal advice. This gives us
some protection if the university takes issue with a story.
pays? Magneto is produced for under $2000 of students' association money
per issue. Students increase this amount by selling ads, but they do not
have to do this. Many years ago, the Wellington Polytechnic journalism
course ran a wee paper on which students had to sell advertising. This
caused resentment. We have found that if ad-selling is optional, some
students are happy to do it in order to improve the look and size of the
• Editorial freedom. The editor has to be given
authority to make decisions. Staff will say if something presents an
ethical problem, but the editor is free to disregard that advice.
Regarding legal issues, staff are more assertive in making their feelings
known. The final decision on publication, though, rests with the students'
We are keen to share our experience with
Magneto. The best-case scenario, as we see it, would be for journalism
schools to be able to run an annual competition for the best