Vanguard off the record

It’s been a heck of a term at the Vanguard. We’ve just finished our final issue for the year (on stands now – check it out!), and the staff seems at a loss for what to do with itself. I’m included in this.

But right now, all I can think about are the things that made the first half of the year – summer and fall terms – so eventful.

The desk editors started summer term as virtual strangers, and most of us had no experience as editors. Sure, there was some training involved – the former opinion editor showed me new things about AP style and formatting, and we learned how to edit a page and get it to the rest of the staff in the right order – but there were skills that you couldn’t teach.

Very quickly, we had to learn how to trim a too-long article or how to compensate for one that came in too short. We had to learn to rephrase another person’s writing so the edit was seamless. We had to fact-check and cold-call interviewees to confirm quotes we didn’t take ourselves.

Managerial things were another issue. Passed along with our respective editorial torches came email accounts overflowing with press releases, letters to the editor, potential applicants, requests for press coverage, and requests from gentlemanly Nigerian princes. We had to sort out the information there while getting to know writers most of us had never met. Sorting through contact lists was a nightmare – most of the information was outdated or incorrect to start.

But we learned. Story assignment forms were made up. I learned to create a spreadsheet of my writers detailing what they were meant to write that week, how many words, and when they were received. We started to understand and embrace one another’s quirks and tics. By the end of summer, we were starting to work like a newsroom.

And then, change. Two editors left, and writers were shifted. I was left with just two writers at one point – two writers, when I needed a minimum of ten articles per week. Alongside the stresses of beginning a new term of school (I was trying to balance 20 credits and two jobs – not easy!), we had to relearn each other and bring new writers to the paper.

It was, to say the least, a miserable time for the office. Tensions ran high. There were periods of calm camaraderie wherein everyone got along and the paper ran well. And there were times when you weren’t sure if you would get through the day alive. Scandals rocked the school, and the Occupy movement left us scrambling to report on the action when we weren’t even sure where the action was taking place.

Editorials were fiercely debated. New hires sometimes proved deceptive. Technical difficulties and communication failures made life difficult. But we kept going.

There were issues where writers became ill or unexpectedly dropped stories, and the editors had to scramble to write something to fill the space. I personally became very good at writing an article on the spot when a piece fell through; with enough information, I can now churn out 850 words in 45 minutes. Sometimes, we would even lend each other writers if necessary; that way, we could at least fill the space we needed to fill.

But we made it through. The last few weeks have been much easier, and the conflict in the office seemed to have long since passed.

But trouble’s never far behind a place with so much change abound. As you may have noticed, we are now hiring more desk editors. Both the Sports and News editors are leaving the staff. There is no doubt that some writers will burn out or decide to leave the staff. When the paper starts again, it will be a new group with new strengths, weaknesses, and conflicts. New relationships will have to be built, and the office may yet see another few weeks of tension or discomfort next year.

But the paper will move on. We will maintain the standards we have set this term and last, and we will improve. This is the paper that won first place in “Overall Excellence” in the collegiate section of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association awards last year, after all. We have our pride at stake, and we will not let another paper surpass us.

So look forward to the Vanguard of next year. We may be changing in ways we didn’t anticipate (and, of course, in ways we did), but the quality of the paper will never be compromised.

This is Opinion Editor Janieve Schnabel, and I’m signing off for 2011.