Student Journalists to College Media Advisers: Leave Us Alone! (And 8 Other Tips for Being a Great Adviser)

At a recent college media advisers’ workshop in St. Petersburg, Fla., a quintet of top student reporters and editors stopped by to offer sage advice: Leave us alone!  

The three-word mantra, offered with a smile, popped up repeatedly in various forms throughout a session aimed at providing the student perspective on what makes a great student press adviser, publications director, and, in many ways, journalism professor.

The students represented The Minaret, the paper I advise at the University of Tampa, The Current at Eckerd College, and The Daily Collegian at Penn State.

How to Be a Great College Media Adviser

– The Student Perspective –

1) Ensure staffers are taught the tools and style skills— InDesign, CMS, AP Style, interviewing and lede writing 101, etc.  Set up a system in which students train each other, and learn by doing.

2) Avoid overly nitpicking.  If asked or required to prior review, help out as much as possible.  But also recognize at some point the pieces, pages, and packages are done or at least as good as the student reporters and editors want them.

3) Focus most on new staffers.  Guide them through an orientation you and the staffers develop and continually update.  Quickly integrate them into the rest of the editorial team and workflow.  And instill in them an almost immediate self-sufficiency, real and perceived.

4) Empower editors to handle tougher decisions like hiring and firing and to take charge during meetings with school officials.

5) Be a presence.  Become a fixture in the newsroom.  Show up like clockwork at staff meetings.  Stop by and take part in recruiting events.  And be around during tête-à-têtes with administrators or the student fees allocation board.  Basically, be there as needed, but not as an overwhelming force.  Be a back-up, the one who chimes in with a helpful suggestion or can be counted on when a situation is truly over students’ heads.  Otherwise, keep quiet, smile, and in a related sense . . .

6) Make staffers smile.  For starters, on production nights, show up with pizza or chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.

7) Provide leadership and a loose set of guidelines, but be accommodating during ideas meetings and snap deadline decision-making– even if the ideas and decisions go in directions you would not necessarily go.

8) Support staffers on a personal level.  Lend an ear when they need to vent about tough classes or personal problems.  Write rec letters on demand, without the usual complaints about being busy or needing two full weeks.  And, when asked, offer basic employment, grad school, and life advice, while repeatedly reminding them that in some cases you have no idea what you are talking about.

9) Most importantly, step back and let students fail.  As one of the editors shared, “We are student journalists.  We’re still learning.  That’s part of the fun.”


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