There is no more effective way to lead than to build meaningful relationships with every single member on the staff. Over the course of my years as an editor, especially during my senior year, I have made it my utmost priority to reach this level of understanding with every member of the journalism program, including all of the editors, because I know that, above all else, my most powerful ability as a leader is to teach others through understanding and with the goal of challenging them to succeed as a team.
When I joined the staff sophomore year, I had nowhere near the amount of confidence I needed in my own journalistic abilities to be capable of mentoring others to grow. As I progressed through the year under the leadership of my editors, I began to learn by example what it meant to guide others as a leader. I moved to my own editor position on the staff for my next year and began to understand what it takes to be an editor in a program with as much talent and reputation as MVM. I looked up to the seniors that dedicated so much of their time to the success of the program for the genuine compassion for both journalism and the staff that they came to class with every day. When we reached the end of the year, I was not sure that I was capable of taking the place of the seniors because I realized the impact they had left on me and the staff with their commitment and care. However, I quickly learned the standards following their example, communication and the leadership of our adviser, Mark Newton.
Every day, Newton shares a tip or thought about leadership with the editors to remind us what it means to be great leaders to the program. Recently, he shared a picture that compared leadership to an iceberg, with success jutting out of the ocean slightly and the majority of its components underwater, where people do not observe. This was powerful to me because it reminded me that the true value of leadership is how much we work and sacrifice in order to prop up the staff and help them to succeed.
The visual Newton shared in our group message.
Probably the single most significant piece of advice I have ever received is that I will never love the things I do if I do not love the people I do it with. To me, this captures the essence of leadership because if I can take the time to get to know each and every staff member for the person that they are and appreciate their character more than the stories they write, I will have built a connection that is only made stronger through each interaction, positive and negative, because my respect for their personality never fades. The most effective leaders do not place value in their title, but in the relationships that they create among a staff, unifying it to work as a unit towards meaningful success that allows each member to learn a lesson. Personally, I believe that the majority of leadership is team building because no staff can operate effectively without being able to work together.
The primary method by which the other editors and I developed this bond with the staff was by organizing team-building events and impromptu gatherings that emphasized the operation of the staff as more of a family than a class period.
During the first week of the school year, when we had just met our staff members, we hosted a waffle breakfast featuring food from our home waffle-makers. The results of our cooking were not high quality, but they were truly hysterical and still tasted delicious. Our goal with this event was to have a fun and carefree time with the new staff members to help them get to know the editors as people and feel comfortable around us.
Following our waffle cook-off, Newton hosted a staff barbecue at his house. Before we got to eating, we mixed everyone up and split into groups for a scavenger hunt in the nearby area. We returned to eat and play yard games, and we took the time to more thoroughly get to know each other in a relaxed environment.
To get into the holiday mood on the approach to Winter Break, we organized a Secret Santa gift exchange and challenged the staff to create a unique gift for the person they selected. The day of the exchange was a great way to move into finals without stress and it served as a reminder to everyone that we were all in it together.
In celebration of returning from Winter Break, I organized a dinner and mini golf tournament open to the staff. A small group of members attended, as with most of our events, but it was not the size that mattered. With every moment spent in the company of any staff member, we got to know each other better and we had so much fun along the way. Spending time together simply as friends outside of the school building and without worrying about any piece of our journalism classes helped everyone to understand each other for who they truly were.
On occasion, we hosted “360-degree” coverage of school sporting events that involved a number of staff members and editors. We met at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) for late-night hot chocolate and pancakes.
The trend of “floss dancing”, as it was known, hit the school before Winter Break, so another floss-dance-capable editor and I arranged a fun contest to see who could perform the move the best and invited the staff to watch. It lasted a total of about two minutes, but it provided everyone with another opportunity to get together. When Winter Break came to a close and we found ourselves back in the classroom, a few staff members challenged us to another competition and the trend was continued (and still continues today).
A key component of leadership that comes from knowing the staff members is being aware of the best way to motivate in any given situation. The workload of an MVM staff member can be heavy at times, and it is important for editors to be able to use different techniques to encourage the staff to continue. On very rare occasions, we are forced to interact with staff members in a frustrated manner but, for the most part, our strong ability to build positive relationships allows us to use constructive praise and positive advice to help the staff reach its goals. The reason we know how to motivate our people is because we know our people, and each moment of our motivation strengthens the bonds we built amongst the class periods.
The most consistent form of encouragement comes in our ‘Staffer of the Week” posts, which highlight hard work ethics and meaningful content produced by our staff. We choose a member every week to recognize because it inspires the rest of the staff to keep moving forward meaningfully.
These two examples are messages I wrote in our staff general message congratulating staff members for winning the award. An important part of these texts was that I included a specific example of what made the staff members so epic instead of making a general statement. Praise does not serve a very effective purpose if it does not guide others to do work of equally high quality, and it cannot guide if it does not provide any sort of standard to reach.
The most meaningful motivational moments for me are seeing how the relationships we have built between the staff members lead to all of the students in the program motivating each other rather than the editors doing it. When one of our editors gave a shout out to the story of a staff member, other members engaged in a discussion with her in praise of the work she had done. This was so powerful because it illustrated the significance of positive motivation for a staff and the ripple effect it can have on the entire program.
One of the biggest factors in the growth and learning of a staff is being able to set up its members with a plethora of opportunities for legitimate and genuine story coverage. Every time a member of the program receives this type of chance to try something new or be witness to a powerful event, they are inspired to continue their progress as a journalist and to tell increasingly powerful stories. If every person on our staff is given the same opportunity to experience meaningful storytelling, the talent on a staff will grow exponentially, along with the passion of its members for their career.
My ear is always to the ground for the staff, and whenever I hear about a unique coverage opportunity or story idea, I share it for staff members to take and tell the story using the most appropriate platform of our program. Sometimes, the coverage is best suited by the use of an Instagram post, but other times it fits into our yearbook, newsmagazine or website in a longer format.
Trello was an online planning software that we often used to organize our coverage of big events for the staff, who could sign up for each card on a board. This is an example of a board we made for Wish Week, one of the most powerful time periods for the school the whole year. I am so proud of the stories that the staff told as a result of these opportunities because they became more hooked on journalism and its meaning to the student body as a result.
This year, the Fall National Journalism Convention in Dallas was one of the biggest opportunities I was able to share with the staff. For many members, it was the first time they had traveled for such a significant school event, and they were overwhelmed by the many choices they had to pursue their interests at the conference. At one point or another, most of the people on the trip asked for my advice on which sessions to attend, and it was meaningful for me to be able to tell them to choose the option that interested them most. It was important to me that they explore every single avenue of journalism that they could use to make an impact as well as to help the staff members find their passions.
On top of this opportunity, the trip was an incredible time to get to know some of the people I would work with for the rest of the year. It was motivating to me to see them enjoy and appreciate what they learned at the convention and epic to spend time with them as people.
More examples of leadership can be viewed throughout my portfolio, especially in the “Chronological Coverage” portion of the news gathering section.