College Media Advisors Presentation on Creating a Staff Manual
By Ed Bonza
A staff manual for your publication can be a very useful document. It can:
• Act as a foundation for your publication and lend continuity
• Serve as a trouble shooters handbook in times of crisis
• Help future staff learn from past mistakes
• Manuals can be primers, giving incoming staff a place to start, answering some questions and prompting others they may not have thought to ask.
Creating such a document can be a much less intimidating process than you might think. Creating a staff manual for your newspaper or other medium can be broken down into three stages:
• Gathering information
• Categorizing information
• Staff adoption
Research is greatly aided by the Internet. Primary data may be gathered simply by entering key words into all in one search engines such as Metacrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com) and Google (http://www.google.com) - just be sure to make mom proud and ask for permission from web authors. Our newspaper’s staff manual is on-line and may be reviewed here (PDF document).
Secondary data may be obtained from existing material. Our newspaper setup, like those at many institutions, is as a student organization under the umbrella of student activities. Much of the information for this section of our manual then is culled from our student handbook, you may be in a similar situation. Don’t recreate the wheel if you don’t have to.
Once this portion of the process is complete, you should find yourself with a wealth of information - and scratching your head wondering what to do with it all.
The Components of a Typical Manual
Most newspaper manuals can be divided into several four sections:
• General policies
Other categories might be added or excluded depending on the specifics of your organization. Reserve your manual for policies that have at least some permanence (as much as can be expected in our business). Guidelines and details which change more often can be placed in the manual’s addendum.
General policies include operations (access, security, equipment and usage policies), office communication (message routing, mail and phone policies, press credentials, etc.), and position descriptions. This division includes job summaries, reporting structure, stipends (if your publication is one of the lucky), expenditure policies and award rules (who gets to keep them).
The specifics of your situation may demand other additions. If your publication is a course or part of your journalism department, you may wish to include academic policies. We include advisor position descriptions relevant to all student group advisers as well as the College Media Advisers advisor code of ethics.
Editorial policy and guidelines should be the section of most interest to your staff. Makeup of the paper’s editorial board, policy concerning letters, commentary, and staff editorials are detailed in this section. How seriously your publication takes its status as a public forum is spelled out in these guidelines.
General grievance policies and specifics such as use of photographs, political involvement, corrections, and use of satire (April Fool’s issues) may be housed in this section. The grouping may seem haphazard, but all give insight into the importance of protecting the publication’s credibility.
Because many paper’s consider the editor in chief as the publisher, your manual may wish to consider including advertising policy. We include policy on gratis advertising (free ads), PSAs and trade-outs to avoid conflicts of interest and attach a copy of the current rate card to our addendum.
Other components to consider include design and layout policies, codes of ethics, and any contracts and agreements between staff and the paper. Keep in mind however, that manuals shouldn’t contain everything, and the best manuals are not carved in stone. Incoming editors need to review and have the freedom to alter these documents. Students will not take responsibility for what they cannot take involvement in.
Leading a horse to water is the easy part - its that drinking thing that’s difficult. According to Dr. Christopher Avery and the 3M Meeting Network’s reading room (www.3m.com/meetingnetwork/readingroom), the best way to reach consensus is though commonly agreed to ground rules and agreements.
Your editorial board or your top editors is the best group to work with on your staff manual. The time spent will cement your staff and unite them on a common purpose - an added bonus along with the manual itself.
Specific instructions for the meeting should be subscribed to by everyone involved and terms should be easily observable (For example, be considerate of each other’s point of view, stay on track). Our entire staff agreed that the welfare of the paper’s credibility overrode individual staff member’s views, for example. Another ground rule was that our reader’s should be respected.
To reach consensus, the moderator for the gathering must share this clear objective. According to Avery, two things are critical: moving forward and doing it together. Ideas that may help this movement include having a “media professional” or other adviser at the meetings (I find that one is seldom a prophet in their own land) and setting deadlines.
Remind your students that a staff manual is a living document and is constantly evolving. Something agreed to today may be changed tomorrow if it does not work.
Build into your editor selection process and staff orientation a stage where the staff manual is reviewed. We require incoming editors to review the manual as part of the interview process. The office copy includes a coversheet that states incoming staff must read the manual; staff must sign off on this form before they may be paid.
Reaching staff agreement and these formalities may seem difficult but they ultimately pay off. Staffers take the newspaper and its credibility - and themselves more seriously. When students help write the staff manual, they take ownership in its policies, making our jobs an easier - and better - one.
My other session > It's not the size that matters: Big coverage with a small staff
Our Student Publications Board stuff > SPB Bylaws
College Media Advisers, Inc.
CMA Presentation, October 2002