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Relaxing summers?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Illino, Jun 7, 2016.

  1. Illino

    Illino Member

    I am the SE at a small daily in a local chain of family-owned properties. This is my first summer on the job, so I was asking another SE in the company for some of the events/stories he looks for, and his reply was that his group doesn't do much because of how hard they work throughout the school year. Last night, I was going through that paper's e-editions from last summer, and sure enough, it was AP city - even Sundays often lacked a local centerpiece.

    We have each have a staff of three writers, and my goal is at least one local CP each day and two local stories most days.

    Is that too much to expect? How many of you subscribe or the notion that summer is a general break time?
  2. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    A lot, of course, depends what you have going on in your area during those summer months. You certainly should strive to have a local byline or two each day, but don't force it just for the sake of having a local byline. Cover the news as it happens, write a few worthwhile features. Take time to catch your breath and work on projects (investigative, trends, takeouts, etc.) that will pay off later -- you're still working, even if you're not producing daily material.

    By the way, check to see if your circulation is steady during the summer months. If you serve an area with a seasonal population, and people leave town for the summer, it might not make sense to run the machine on all eight cylinders year-round. On the other hand, if circulation is steady during the summer months, don't be afraid to give your customers something meaty to read from time to time during the offseason. If you can't do that with your existing staff, there's nothing wrong with the occasional takeout from the wires. Just be sure it's worth the read, and not just a long feature for the sake of running a long feature.
    SFIND and Bronco77 like this.
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Assuming that you and the staff are not salaried, it would not be legal to work overtime during the school year without getting paid so that you can make it up in the summer (though it does happen).

    I think your instincts are right. There is still stuff going on, isn't there? Youth to American Legion baseball, outdoors activities, road races, swimming, triathlons, etc.

    If you are struggling to find stuff to cover (it gets easier with experience), you can always look ahead to fall sports.

    If I were a customer, I would be disappointed in a local paper that had all AP sports bylines. I would expect at least one local story every day. If you are a daily, I assume you are in a big enough town that stuff is happening.

    Good luck.
  4. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Having worked at a small paper in a town dominated by the college and prep scene, I understand where you're coming from.

    I agree with reformed: Don't force local bylines for the sake of local bylines. Some of our papers were pretty thin in the summer, but we at least had the Diamondbacks two hours down the road to fill space, and during the summer, our readership cared a lot about them. We covered some Connie Mack baseball, local golf when it happened, ran local dirt track racing notebooks, etc. One thing I always tried to make sure of was that we had a big feature to run every Sunday, and that wasn't that hard of a commitment to make. Even with colleges and preps, you can tackle some of the off-the-field stuff that you never have time to get to during the busy season. Mondays and Tuesday were always slow papers, because of vacations and weekends that were more Sunday-Monday than Saturday-Sunday.
    Batman and reformedhack like this.
  5. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Well-Known Member

    Your goals seem a little lofty to me. I mean, a centerpiece plus two stories every day? Really? Good luck finding that much material unless you want to write about 6-year old tee-ball tournaments and country club golf scrambles. I think reformedhack has the right idea here. He clearly speaks from experience, so read what he said closely.

    Besides, most people take their vacation time during the summer. I get three weeks plus a couple of extra personal days. You won't see my byline in the paper much during the summer because if I'm not on vacation, I'm covering the desk for someone else who is.

    On top of that, do you really want to run your staff into the ground during June and July? Just cover some daily stuff, a 7-on-7 tournament, football camp, state all-star games, local youth swimming team, whatever. But don't horsewhip your staff for stories all summer long. Come August 1, there will be more work to do than any of you can handle at one time.

    Eight weeks to get vacations in and catch your breath is not long at all, and there's still stories out there --- just not as many. I'm not saying sit around and do nothing. But I am saying you might want to lighten up your grip on the reins a bit.

    Otherwise, you might be looking for a new sports writer or two in the worst time of year. You know, summer is the time when there is the most turnover in this business. The last thing you want is turnover in July or August.
    Batman, SFIND, Bronco77 and 1 other person like this.
  6. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Doc's point is a big one. We had a three-man staff who worked desk and wrote, and we certainly worked more than 40 hours during the fall, winter and spring (hi Fredrick). If we tried to put in a full 40 during the summer, we'd totally burn out. Just not the time to kill your staff just for the sake of having something "locally" written that may be of interest to a very small group of readers.
    Doc Holliday and Bronco77 like this.
  7. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    It all depends what your M-E wants too. Ours mandates 4 local stories a day, so that's what gets done. It's entirely possible the guy you spoke to works for a shop with a philosophy that wire on local MLB team plays to all 10 towns in the circ area while podunk local feature plays to one. There are pro's and con's to both approaches so it feels like the right thing is to see what your place did last year and see what direction your higher-ups want.

    Generally, though, I think a local centerpiece every day is absolutely doable.
  8. Bronco77

    Bronco77 Well-Known Member

    Couldn't agree more as I've seen too many papers run stories during the summer on borderline local sports events and sports news (cornhole tournaments, tractor pulls, 30-inch stories on minor high school coaching moves such as an assistant's hiring).

    And I also agree that it's a good time to step off the accelerator a bit. When I began my career in a cold-weather town with a PM paper (was a long time ago), we'd generally work six-or seven-hour days during the summer, leave work by early afternoon and enjoy the nice weather the rest of the day. We knew we'd be regularly be working 50-hour weeks from the start of September to the end of May, so we tried to kick back a bit in June and July.

    We also found summer was a good time to do phone interviews and features on local athletes who either were in the big leagues or trying to make them. There usually wasn't time or space for those stories during the high school seasons.

    I'd say we had local centerpieces four or five days a week during the summer, which was enough to keep upper management off our backs.
  9. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    Does the CP have to be a story? Say Podunk High is putting on a youth clinic. Send a shooter and he/she should be able to get a few shots, and the rest can go in an online gallery. And before you say that means you have to shoot Podunk Tech's camp too, why not? What the hell else you got?
    Batman and reformedhack like this.
  10. SFIND

    SFIND Well-Known Member

    Doc and reformed have laid out the general philosophy of summer coverage that my shops have done, and I think it's the right type of coverage.

    But for the love of God, if the rest of group does it that way, do it the same. Don't ruin it for every other paper by covering so much, the higher bosses then make them do the same. I wouldn't necessarily do it that way myself, but if your upper management is okay doing "AP city" in the summer, do it and enjoy the slow time. Cover news readers care about, don't cover middle school camps in June because you feel there should be something local every day, just for the sake of there being something local every day. There should be plenty of work to do preparing for the next school year's previews (that's how I spend the majority of my summers).
  11. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    Yeah, you cannot underestimate the value of wild art and photo packages to carry some of the weight. Let other staffers — a photographer, in this case — help you out from time to time.

    I just said the same thing in a private message to someone looking for summer ideas.

    I won't burden everyone with story ideas for the summer but I will share one photo-related story idea that might be offbeat enough to work for you on a day where absolutely nothing is happening — and you can do it in advance and keep it in the can for a rainy day.

    One of the things I do for a living these days is produce custom magazines for luxury hotels. A while back, one of the magazines grew by four pages at the last minute, and I didn't have a story available to fill it. But knowing that the hotel's guests would frequently go down to the beachfront at dusk to take pictures of the sunset — and almost none of them would get good photos — I asked the hotel's staff photographer for her tricks and secrets to getting good vacation photos, and published it. Between the tips and example photos, it filled the pages — and was one of the most popular things I ever ran.

    How does this relate to you? There are plenty of parents who try desperately to take pictures of their kids playing sports but can't quite succeed. Do a piece with your best sports shooter as an expert for a tips-based story/photo package about how average people can get better pictures of their kids.

    (No, it's not hard news, although readers certainly will clip it out and use it. And they'll think kindly of you and your paper. But, yes, you can go to that well only once.)
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2016
    I Should Coco, Batman and HanSenSE like this.
  12. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    Good idea. Saw a paper do something similar a few years back during a "super moon." Let the shooters loose in town shooting the moon against local landmarks and have them write how they did it.
    reformedhack likes this.
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