Managing a Section

Managing a Section of theBeacon

This is very much a work in process! As you find deficiencies or errors, learn new things, etc., please let me know so I can make this document more and more useful.

The Content Scorecard

The Content Scorecard is stored at docs.google.com so we can all access it from anywhere. The goal is to keep it completely up-to-date so we always know where we stand.

[“Content” means articles and photographs. I usually use the word to refer to everything except ads, since ads occupy a universe all to themselves.]

Finding Content

Some content will come from Beacon “regulars.” It's a good idea to touch base with each of them early each month to find out if they're planning to submit something by the 15th for the next issue. I think they all find the gentle reminder helpful.

Some content will be just an idea. Try to find somebody who is directly involved with the event (or whatever) to write about it. (I never say “write an article” to them because that intimidates many people.) If they don't understand why we don't just do it for them, explain that the Beacon isn't a real newspaper with paid reporters. It's a community effort and we rely on people involved in the news to write about it. If people won't do that, the whole thing falls apart.

A good source of ideas is the Beacon from a year ago. To get ready for the May 2008 issue, for example, go to the online archives and page through the April, May, and June 2007 issues of the Beacon looking at both the articles and the ads. That's a great way to be sure we don't miss anything this year.

If there's any possibility of getting a photo to go with the article, let's try to do it. If one of the people involved can take one, try to get them to look at our Photo Guidelinesfirst to increase the chance they'll send something we can use. If you can't get one of them to do it and you feel it's a good “photo op,” then let Charlie know and maybe he or Bob Bussey can cover it.

Try to keep everybody focused on getting stuff in by the 15th. It's the only way we have even a fighting chance to actually see it by the 20th or (God forbid!) the 25th. But if the event doesn't even happen until after the 15th, then obviously we have to negotiate. Get them to commit to a day or two after the event for their deadline.

Updating the Scorecard

Once you think you've got something coming in (an article, a photo, or both), create a line for it on the Content Scorecard (if it doesn't already have one) and make some notes about what it is, who's sending it, and when.

Getting Ready to Receive Content

Set up a folder in your computer called Beacon. Put it somewhere really easy to get at.

In the Beacon folder, create a folder called 0805 (for example). That's the folder for everything for the May 2008 issue.

In the 0805 folder, create a folder called Article, and another called Photo.

In the Article folder, create a folder called Draft.

In the Photo folder, create a folder called Draft.

Receiving an Article

When somebody sends an article, do the following:

1. Save it in …\Beacon\Article\Draft before you even open it. (If you need someone to type it, Marilyn Gould likes to do that for us.) It's very important to save a “pristine” copy, exactly as it was sent, in case we ever need to refer to it. Name the file with the section name, followed by a space, followed by a hyphen, followed by a space, followed by a name very like the one you gave this article on the Scorecard.

2. Update the Scorecard's “First Draft” column to say “Done.” That way we know we've got the first draft in hand.

3. Open the copy in the Draft folder and save it in the Article folder as a Word document. (In most cases this is easy to do, since Word can open most text document types directly. But if you run into any technical difficulties, check with Charlie.) The copy in the Article folder is the copy you'll work on. The copy in the Draft folder needs to remain untouched.

4. Be sure the article starts with their byline, including some relevant affiliation info (even if it's only “For the Beacon” if they're just an innocent bystander).

5. Edit the copy in the Article folder. (If it's a long article or you're too busy, send it to one of our volunteer editors for editing.) Our Editing Guidelines (along with ourProofreading Guidelines) cover all the important things to look for. But the most important thing to remember is: Be respectful! Don't change their words or their phrasing just because yours is better! New York Times editors do that — Beaconeditors don't! The writer's genuine voice is important in a community newspaper, even if it's not “good writing.”

That said, it's still absolutely vital that the writing be:

  • crystal clear in terms of its meaning
  • grammatically correct
  • consistent with our editing and proofreading guidelines

So making changes for those reasons is not only fine, it's important.

4. When the article is edited, put “Done” in the Final Draft column of the Content Scorecard.

Receiving a Photo

When somebody sends a photo:

1. Save it in …\Beacon\Photo\Draft before you even open it.

2. If you want to look at it, that's fine. But don't save it once you've opened it! (If, when you try to close the file, it asks if you want to save changes, click No.) I want the original, untouched file to work with when the time comes.

3. Update the scorecard by putting Draft in the Photo column. Put the photographer's name in the Photo By column. And put everything we have for the caption in the Comments column. (If they didn't send the photographer's name or enough info (including identifying all the people) for the caption, please chase them down and get it.)

Chasing Content

If we lived in an Ozzie and Harriet world, everything would come in on time and we'd all be happy campers. Sadly, that's not the case.

As soon as something is late, send a gentle reminder about how much we're looking forward to having the article/photo and ask point-blank if they can get it to you tomorrow.

Turning in Content

The Beacon's production schedule is entirely based on our “slot” at the printing plant each month. We commit to that slot with the printer a year in advance. It's almost always the Thursday (“Beacon Thursday”) before the Friday which is closest to the 1st of the month.

The Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Beacon Thursday are entirely devoted to laying out the paper, which means that everything needs to be in Charlie's hands by then. (We do make rare exceptions for breaking news or important events that fall late in the month, but that requires a lot of coordination and careful planning.)

To send your content, double-check that everything that's on the Scorecard is in your folders, then use Zip to pack all the folders and their files into a single Zip file, and e-mail the Zip file to Charlie.