Four goals for the University Daily Kansan (and how we’ll accomplish them)

I am about to embark on round two of an Editor-in-Chief-ship at the Kansan. Here’s my plan.

Katie Kutsko
Apr 20, 2015 · 15 min read

Outline:

  1. Initiating a culture shift

A brief introduction

This fall the entire Kansan staff will have to confront something new in its 110-year history — turning our focus away from a daily print product.

Since the Fall 2013 semester, editors and advisers have been preparing the staff and its stakeholders for the burden of the print product to be lifted. The Kansan’s print product will only print twice per week, beginning in August.

The University Daily Kansan’s Board of Directors initially hired me as the Spring 2014 editor, and I have been on the team for a few years now. I’ll be back again during the Fall 2015 semester for round two as Editor-in-Chief, and I couldn’t be more thrilled/ ready to begin.

Since 2013, we’ve developed new staff structures and new production processes; we’ve emphasized the importance of multimedia storytelling elements and digital strategy; and we’ve tried to integrate this all while breaking news. In the past year, the Kansan has been there to cover a University overdraft error that resulted in $45,000 extra from a student-fee-funded account, a botched student senate election, a masked man who made veiled threats to students, sexual assault on campus and President Obama’s visit. We have been there to keep the University community informed.

I’m proud to say that I was a part of important coverage, and I’m proud of my counterparts who also led during important times. I believe the staff stepped up, but we can — need — to do more.

My goals for the fall semester are to initiate a culture shift, strengthen reporting and coverage, align news and business efforts and engage the Kansan’s alumni.

To reach these goals, the Kansan will need strong leadership. Emma LeGault and I have agreed to lead the Fall 2015 Kansan news staff together. LeGault will assume the role of Managing Editor. Our experiences balance one another out, allowing me to spearhead big-picture ideas, manage relations with the business side and oversee other overhauls. LeGault will maintain the day-to-day news operation by ensuring that the content is of the highest quality and that section editors are challenging their reporters.

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That’s me (left) and Emma (right). We’ll be leading an awesome change at the Kansan. We can’t wait.

My first step tackles the newsroom’s culture from top to bottom. By December the Kansan must sustain a digital-first atmosphere in a way that it never has before. This requires us to create a culture of development and learning among reporters, designers, photographers and editors. The newsroom must be an open space where the entire staff feels comfortable — from an entertainment correspondent to the managing editor. I will encourage collaboration between sections, and I will open dialogue between the staff so we can all learn from each other.

As LeGault has said to me before, “We need people to stop saying, ‘what do I have to do today?’ and starting saying, ‘what could I do today?’”

It is my hope that these changes will help the Kansan achieve a Newspaper Pacemaker and an Online Pacemaker. We’re one of the best student media organizations, so let’s prove it. This also means putting journalists in a greater position to win multimedia Hearst and Pinnacle Awards.

LeGault’s responsibility is to strengthen overall news content. To do this, she will instill watchdog habits and push editors beyond what they expect of themselves in terms of content development and leadership skills.

As a staff, our goal will be to focus on you, our audience — we need to know, listen and engage with them.


1. Culture shift

As it stands, the Kansan has still not fully adopted a “digital-first” mindset. Before, only a few web editors dipped their hands in our social media and content management system. Going forward it will be a team effort.

We must replace the current staff structure and production schedule. Since I’ve been a part of the Kansan staff, the daily production schedule has gone as follows: The Editor-in-Chief, advisers, business staff and Patty Cromwell are in the office during normal business hours, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Maybe a few dedicated section editors will be there during the day, but most — including the rest of the production staff — show up around 3 p.m. for the daily budget meeting. The staff stays until it ships the paper around midnight. Generally, reporters and photographers don’t make it into the newsroom more than once per week for a section meeting — if the editor that semester chooses to hold staff meetings in the newsroom.

This is not a feasible or realistic model anymore. We must rethink who is in the newsroom and when. Instead of all news production occurring between 3 p.m. and midnight, we need to shift to daytime hours. Editors and reporters will be in the newsroom 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with shifts during the evenings to supplement. Here’s what I have in mind:

NEW DAILY PRODUCTION SCHEDULE

9 a.m. EIC and ME arrive to discuss previous day and look ahead to coming day. Look over digital content (print product on Mondays and Thursdays). Discuss pertinent business.

9:30 a.m. Morning budget meeting.

  • At least one representative from each section meets in the newsroom for coffee to discuss what’s happening on campus that day, prepare digital editors

10 a.m. Newsroom shifts begin. Each person will work four hours at a time, and we will break the shifts up between section editors, digital editors, reporters, designers, photographers and copy editors. During the day shifts, reporters will be available for breaking/spot news, build out content based on advice from the Engagement Manager and Digital Operations Manager, develop stories discussed during budgets, etc. Copy editors will package and optimize content for Kansan.com by copy editing, writing headlines and summaries for desktop and mobile, posting articles and photo galleries, packaging content, adding relevant links to stories, tweeting timely stories and more as directed by the Engagement Manager or Digital Operations Manager. J550 reporting students will be expected to work shifts in the Kansan newsroom, too, and will cover breaking and spot news, build out content based on advice from our News Editor, Engagement Manager and Digital Operations Manager and further develop stories discussed during the class periods. The digital editors will constantly review analytics and give assignments to those in the newsroom. This is the shift breakdown:

  • 10 a.m. — 2 p.m.

Print editing shifts on Sundays will look like this:

  • 4 — 8 p.m.

3 P.M. Afternoon budget meeting.

  • At least one representative from each section meets in the newsroom to discuss what happened on campus that day and what’s on the docket for the evening, prepare digital editors

NEW STAFF STRUCTURE

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[Job descriptions for new digital positions.]

I see the Digital Operations Manager working with the J550 copy editing class to assign copy to edit and articles to optimize for Kansan.com. The Engagement Editor will also work with the J550 copy editing class to assign aggregation posts or write social media posts.

These two editors will also work with the J550 reporting class, which will work in shifts as well. The editors can assign breaking news, in tandem with the News Editor. They can assign aggregation or other digitally-focused content.

Here are my other plans to shift the culture at the Kansan, outside of restructuring the staff and schedule:

  • Our reporters and editors currently file stories into Google Docs, where they’re edited. We’re going to file directly into the CMS now. LeGault, the digital editors and I will train the entire staff in the CMS and show them how to do the jobs that have been the responsibility of one person in the past. This will include training the J550 copy editing and reporting students as well.

I want everyone to know my goals and be on the same page. I want people to know and understand the values.

My key values

  • The audience comes first. Produce content that people want, need and will actually consume. Don’t make videos for the sake of making videos; don’t make graphics for the sake of making graphics; don’t cover things for the sake of filling space online or in the paper. (For example, no one thinks he/she cares about Student Senate, but it’s still important for us to cover it — but in a relevant and interesting way.)

2. Strengthen reporting and coverage

Even though the focus will be digital-first, the print product is still the money-maker, and people still want to read it. So we’re going to make it even better.

Editorial products

We’re going to print a robust product twice per week. It will have deeper content with top-notch watchdog journalism. There will be features on student-athletes, regular everyday students, professors and more. There will be “news you can use” and other utility content. And, of course, we will have news and sports roundups, plus stuff to look forward to.

In print and online, I want to cover a balance of important topics, as well as other light-hearted features, sports and entertainment pieces.

The Kansan will introduce its audience to other cultures and subcultures within the University community; we will continue to cover sexual assault, especially as the one-year anniversary of the Huffington Post article approaches; we will improve our recruiting tactics so we are a more diverse staff; and we will hold our administration accountable for its actions.

The digital product is the go-to place for news, information, sports, features and fun stuff for the University of Kansas community. Kansan.com will house breaking and spot news coverage, serious stuff (with appropriate packaging), goofy content and beat blogs. We want to inform, entertain and engage with our audience.

We need to vary our content format more. Why should we always write inverted pyramid news stories or news briefs? Why not write “quick hits” or “What you need to know from tonight’s Student Senate meeting?” Why don’t we produce videos, but also provide GIFs + a list below. (My goal is not to turn the Kansan into BuzzFeed. However we must reformat important stories in a way that connects with and appeals to our audience.) Some of this has been done at the Kansan, but it needs to happen more often, not once a week.

We will improve the way that online content is displayed. I will work with the summer editor to optimize the capabilities of Kansan.com. This includes making sure that we’re presenting content in a readable, appealing way. Finally, we will introduce a redesigned print product this fall.

Focus on recruiting and hiring

A major weakness of the Kansan is that its staff isn’t diverse. Most people on staff look the same, are friends with the same people, have the same major and come from the same socioeconomic background. This hurts the Kansan because important student voices are missing. Multicultural voices are missing. Voices from different majors are missing. I want to improve our recruiting process by reaching out to advisers in different colleges within the University, individual professors in the J-School, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and different student groups.

I want to improve the quality of people and diversify the backgrounds of the Kansan’s staff. And I want to start the day I’m hired. This specific goal is very important to me. The University, state and national climate today needs strong leadership and expects new voices. Issues like sexual assault, racism and discrimination are prominent. I want the Kansan to lead the conversations happening around campus. It all starts with who we hire and whose voices we’re hearing on a day-to-day basis.

The Kansan is supposed to be the student voice. This will help get students talking about the issues that matter to them.

Making our reporters and editors better

  • Everyone on staff should know how to submit KORA and FOIA requests, not just the ME.

3. Align news and business efforts

Unlike years past, Addies and Newsies only tend to be rivals during the softball game.

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This is a photo of the winners from the Spring 2014 semester’s game. PHOTO BY JAMES HOYT

This has strengthened the organization. When the EIC and Business Manager align efforts, everyone is better. But we need to do a better job. We work well together when managers schedule meetings at the appropriate times during a project, or when we’re at the same place at the same time. Next semester, when both sides are in the office during the same times, we will align our efforts.

I’m going to hire someone who lives in the sweet spot between the advertising and editorial teams. We can do this through a new position called Brand Manager. Here’s where he/she will fit into the structure:

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[Read the Brand Manager’s job description.]

The Business Manager and I also intend to widen the breadth of content distribution and make money from it. Those ideas aren’t quite ready for publication, yet.


4. Engage alumni

The University Daily Kansan is 110 years old. Why don’t we tap into the wealth of knowledge and support that our alumni could provide? I will create a “Kansan Alumni Association.” (The Daily Orange at Syracuse has one.)

My first step will be coordinating with the KU Alumni Center and the J-School to collect email addresses to gauge interest. I can only assume that alumni want to be more involved, especially now that we’re about to overhaul.

What I want to do by the start of the fall semester

  • Build a website that we can link to on Kansan.com

In-person promotion opportunities after launch:

  • Homecoming

At times, the past year has felt surreal. I often look back and reflect on the person I have become and am shocked by the growth I have made emotionally, professionally and academically. I started last January as a meek, intimidated sophomore who wasn’t sure she could do it; now I am an upcoming senior who knows that she can.

Working at the Kansan has been my favorite aspect of college — it’s why I study at the University of Kansas. I am incredibly passionate about the organization and want to see that it, and all of the other passionate student journalists, succeed. I know that it will not be a quick or an easy push, but I’m confident the team I am putting together will be up for the challenge.

Please email Katie Kutsko, the Fall 2015 Editor-in-Chief, at kkutsko@kansan.com with any feedback or questions.

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