When I became a collegiate media adviser more than a decade ago, the provost at our university encouraged me to create a publications manual as a method of documenting formal policies and procedures for the staff I advise. Until then, the staff mostly operated based on journalistic norms, tradition and the direction of the adviser at the time. There was a sharp learning curve for new staffers, who were hired from all campus majors and expected to pick up how to do the job while actually doing it.
Still, I have to admit that I was reluctant to create the publication manual. I wasn’t exactly sure what to put it in, and it seemed like a lot of work. I also was uncertain the students would ever read it. And, to be honest, I feared it would tie me as the adviser and professor to policies that would hinder creativity and authority.
I’m glad I listened to the provost, despite my misgivings.
My first step in creating a publication manual was to determine what should go into it. Thank goodness for College Media Association, specifically for Bradley Wilson. My super smart provost also paid for my membership to College Media Association, allowing me to put out a plea on the listserv, asking for help forming what now is affectionately called the “Pub Manual.” At that time, Bradley advised The Technician at North Carolina State (He now is the director of student media at Midwestern State University.). He shared their publication manual with me, and it became the foundation for ours.
Our Student Publications Manual has developed a lot since that original somewhat desperate plea for help. But I’ve noticed that the pleas from other collegiate media advisers and student editors about how to outline policies and procedures have not lessened. There are many collegiate media staffs operating without documented policies or training and many more with leaders who would like to improve their existing manuals. These needs inspired this series of blog posts meant to assist you in creating a publication manual for your student media staff.
You need a publication manual because:
It focuses the staff.
The publications manual is where you document your publication’s mission—it’s purpose for being. This helps your staff make sound decisions, based on their overall purpose, instead of just getting the job done.
It documents history.
I teach at a small university, which means it’s up to each individual department/college and the student media to document the university’s history. The history of student media at our university wasn’t documented until I drafted the Student Publications Manual. Now, it’s in writing, and filed in the library, Newsroom and the Office of Academic Affairs every academic year.
It acts as a reference.
The student publications manual has to be a working document to be successful. Stu Pub editors can use our manual to reference codes of ethics, job descriptions, employee policies, and a stylebook that’s unique to our campus publications. The hope is that the staff will use the Pub Manual as a guidebook for performing their jobs.
It keeps procedures sound.
If you don’t have a publications manual, “the way we’ve always done it” becomes the standard way for doing things. This means all knowledge is passed from staff to staff, including bad habits and incorrect procedures. The publication manual helps your staff know where to go for answers to their questions. It also keeps knowledge and decisions from being forgotten from staff to staff. The adviser can’t remember everything, trust me!
It sets expectations.
Our Pub Manual is meant to prepare students for job success. It includes job descriptions and operating procedures. The idea is that staffers have all of the information they need to perform their jobs. The Pub Manual also includes our employee discipline and termination policies, helping everyone understand the correct procedures if an employee is not a good fit.
It gives your staff security.
It’s unfair to expect people to perform a job when they aren’t certain what’s expected of them. It’s asking them to hit a moving target. Your publication manual will give your staff more confidence in their job functions, helping them feel more autonomous and more fulfilled by their work.
It empowers your staff.
The publications manual should empower your staff, specifically editors, to make critical, ethical journalistic decisions. This is especially true when they are given the authority to alter policies in or add policies to the manual, a practice we will discuss more later in the series.
I do not claim that our Pub Manual is perfect. In fact, I hope to learn from your feedback in this series as well. My goal is to give staffs a place to start and create a place where we can share the publication manual components we’re using.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
If you currently have an online publication manual, please share the link below. Otherwise, tell me what you would really like to see in this series. What do you need to know?
NOTE: Thank you to former student editors Nathan Altadonna, Nathan Hatcher, Corbin Hosler, Marianne Hosler, Armand McCoy, Alaina Stevens, and Clancey Stewart for discussing the importance of our Pub Manual to assist in my writing of this post. I appreciate all of you!