A few years ago, we had a new staffer who we were excited about. She started the year strong — she was enthusiastic, took her job seriously and worked hard to make sure she met that first deadline. But she was new, so some of her work did not meet the standard the editors expected. To complicate matters, the editors fixed all the issues without speaking to her.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when she submitted her work for the second deadline, and spreads contained the same errors.
This time the editors decided to approach her. She was surprised they weren’t impressed by her work. And, her surprise quickly turned to embarrassment and anger when she realized the editors thought it would be easier during that first deadline to do her work for her instead of teaching her the correct way.
When the editors said nothing about the first deadline’s submission, staffers believed they were giving it a stamp of approval. Once members of the staff realized they weren’t meeting the expectation, the trust between the staff and the editors was compromised. Those editors negatively impacted the staff’s willingness to work.
When we neglect to provide feedback to our staffers during the production process, we run the risk of creating an us-versus-them culture instead of fostering any improvement.
We created a problem, and knew it needed to change. Since then, we’ve created a variety of systems to provide more feedback for staff members.
Our favorite: The focus group
Feedback is most effective when given during the production process, but it can be difficult for the editors to get face time with every staff member and leave enough time for them to make necessary changes.
So, we worked to create a culture where the editors weren’t the only people responsible for feedback — it became every staff member’s job. We have to train our staffers in the skills of producing a yearbook, and to give, receive and act upon feedback.
When we begin the process, every staffer is assigned to a focus group based on strengths and interests: Writing, photography, coverage or design. Each has one or two members of the leadership — editors and team leaders — who put the group through a meeting protocol.
Protocol includes our standards as well as goals to critique the work and provide actionable feedback.
We’ve found if our groups meet every two weeks, we catch errors with enough time before the deadline. The positive impact was immediate. Staffers knew exactly what was expected, and were given the tools needed to rise to the expectations of our publication and editors.
Staff members may not agree with every piece of feedback they received, but when the spreads are handed back to the original owners, they are able to make informed decisions moving forward in the process.
Annie Gorenstein-Falkenberg, CJE
Longmont High School • Longmont, Colorado