Lessons Learned: Advice for Student Editors

The rest of the Talisman Editorial Board that I had the privilege of working with.

The rest of the Talisman Editorial Board that I had the privilege of working with.

During my last year at WKU, I had the tremendous opportunity to serve as Picture Editor for the Talisman, WKU’s yearbook. I learned more than I could have ever imagined as a picture editor, and I’ve had time to reflect on those lessons this summer. I think the best way to express the lessons I learned is by sharing the following letter that I sent to this year’s Picture Editor. So for other student editors, here is my advice:

Leaving notebooks out on my desk led to some hijacking by one of my staffers.

Leaving notebooks out on my desk led to some hijacking by one of my staffers.

“Dear Leah,

Last May, when I became Talisman picture editor, my predecessor didn’t offer much advice. He told me to get out of it while I still could. I want to offer you a little more.

My advice: enjoy every moment of this adventure.

Some days, that will be easier said than done.

There will be meetings when much of your staff won’t show up. Cherish the photographers who are with you. Stoke the flames of excitement in your peers who show a passion for storytelling, especially when they’re the people whom you least expect to do so.

There will be stories that no one wants to shoot. Assign them. Be firm. Push your photographers beyond their comfort zone, both in terms of what subjects they cover and in how they manage their time.

Curling with assistant picture editor Abby during a trip to visit our printer in Canada.

Curling with assistant picture editor Abby during a trip to visit our printer in Canada.

There will be deadlines that your staff will miss. Figure out why. Some stories need more time. Some photographers have streaks of laziness. Remind photographers that you’re trying to help them out, but you need something in return. Instill strong communication skills in your staff.

There will be captions that come back to you incomplete. Send them back. Teach these visual journalists the importance of words.

There will be staffers who act like punks. Don’t tolerate it. Don’t stoop to their level. Show them what it means to be a professional.

There will be phone calls, text messages and emails at all hours of the day and night. Be available for your staff. But, for goodness sakes, you don’t need to answer them all immediately. You’ve got a year to make the book, and rarely will you work on anything that is all too urgent. There’s a life outside yearbook; take a few hours to see what that offers, once in a while.

Riding in an elevator in Canada with some of the other editors.

Riding in an elevator in Canada with some of the other editors.

More than any of that, you will be surprised by the breadth of story ideas your staff will bring to the table. You will get to look at hundreds of beautiful, stunning photographs. You will have staffers eager to grow. You will try exciting new things. You will form strong friendships.

The best part of being Talisman picture editor is the ability to provide a myriad of opportunities to your peers. The opportunity to have their work published in a beautiful book. The opportunity to cover things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. The opportunity to travel for stories. The opportunity to be in a professional environment. The opportunity to work with writers and designers. The opportunity to receive feedback from you and Katie. The opportunity to grow leaps and bounds.

Balloons helped bring some cheer to the office and keep my stress level down.

Balloons helped bring some cheer to the office and keep my stress level down.

Some students will take advantage of every opportunity. Some will not. Each individual must decide which opportunities to take hold of. It will be tempting to become discouraged when a photographer you expect a lot from doesn’t value an opportunity you provide. Don’t. That was your staffer’s choice, not yours, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Nurture the staffers who do grab hold of opportunities. Help them to become better photographers and better people.

Shooting a baseball game with one of my staff photographers, Brandon.

Shooting a baseball game with one of my staff photographers, Brandon.

The first time I sat down with a photographer to go over a take last fall, I was as nervous as all get out. I didn’t know what I would say. God gave me the words that day and every day. He gave me the courage and the wisdom to do whatever needed to be done. He’ll do the same for you. Lean on Him.

You are going to have an excellent year, and I’m very excited for you. If you ever need to talk through anything, you’ve got my number.

You have a glorious opportunity. What type of picture editor will you be? How will you have grown a year from now?

As you answer those questions, remember to enjoy every moment of this adventure.

Sincerely,

Sam”

Something I read tonight really sums up my advice, “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” So my challenge to you, if you want to become a great student editor: humble yourself. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Posing with Leah, the new picture editor, at the Talisman booth during a campus info fair last fall.

Posing with Leah, the new picture editor, at the Talisman booth during a campus info fair last fall.

This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on what I learned during my senior year. Read the first post here.