One-day project energizes staff

The staff of El Estoque used the day before a holiday break to take on a one-day newsroom project.
The staff of El Estoque used the day before a holiday break to take on a one-day newsroom project.

I gambled a little last week, and it paid off big time.

Because of some weird pre-break scheduling, our 90-minute Journalism block was moved to the end of a half-day Friday. It was the last class before a week off, and we’re at the very front-end of our production cycle, so I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of actual work happening. My editors tossed around a few bonding activities when someone pitched a great idea: let’s do a one-day project that involves everyone on staff.

It was ambitious, and I knew that if they didn’t finish I would either end up staying late or it would be a huge disappointment, but… it worked! At the end of the day (granted, I did stay about 45 minutes after to help the few stragglers trying to get everything organized), the project was published to the site and drew a lot of traffic.

You can view the project here. This was timed to precede the closing of our cafeteria building during winter break. We’re beginning a huge construction project that requires complete demolition of the structure.

Here are my totally subjective pros and cons for anyone considering trying this:

PROS:

  • Everyone’s on a team and is working toward a common goal.
  • It’s a finite amount of time with a hard deadline (but a clear “end”).
  • It gives them a little taste of what the pros do every day.
  • It shows them that when they buckle down and do things, they don’t take as long as when they draw them out and procrastinate.
  • Everyone covering the same general topic means they have to be creative about the various approaches (and media used).
  • A few kids learned completely new skills, like working with html.
CONS:

  • It won’t work with just any topic.
  • Though it’s a “one-day” project, it actually required a bit of advance planning and scheduling.
  • Not everyone finished. Still not sure what to do about that…
  • Getting things done in time required shortening our typical editing process. I think the writing suffered a bit because of that.
  • A few kids struggled to contribute to their teams in meaningful ways

There are about a million different ways to execute this, but here’s our step-by-step of making it happen:

  1. A few days in advance, brainstorm angles and tasks. Each angle/task is a team. (Note: We found it helpful to have a “Web” team and an “Editing” team to get everything edited and to work on setting up the page with placeholders until content came in toward the end.)
  2. Take volunteers to lead each team. They recruit team members.
  3. Team leads meet briefly with their teams to discuss anything that needs to be arranged in advance.
  4. On the day of, jump in and get going right away. I intervened to help teams divide tasks and use their entire group effectively.

The group reported back that it was a smidge stressful but tons of fun. For me, it was great to see the whole group working together so collaboratively because we tend to do a lot of work in small, section-specific groups. I also loved that the project was so timely and relevant. We’ll definitely be doing this again in the future.

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of The Whirlwind, a reemerging news publication at West Albany High School in Albany, Ore. For 11 years prior to relocating to Oregon, she advised a media staff in the Silicon Valley. In her career, she has been selected as CA Journalism Teacher of the Year, a JEA Rising Star, and a DJNF Distinguished Adviser. She was formerly the JEA Web Curriculum Leader.

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3 thoughts on “One-day project energizes staff

  • February 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm
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    So inspired by this! I think we’re going to take off a week before Spring Break and work on multimedia projects instead of publishing daily. Awesome!

  • March 1, 2013 at 5:02 pm
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    Our students register a couple of weeks before school starts. I wonder if this would be a good project for staff at the start of the year. It is covering an event and a bunch of excited kids – which is somewhat different than your project. Any thoughts, Michelle? Thanks for the inspiration!

  • March 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm
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    I think that would totally work. And what a great way to get your staff lots of hands-on experience right away while driving traffic to your site. My kids do a bunch of projects before relaunching the site each year and one of them, called “50 Fresh Faces,” gets a lot of folks new to campus to visit the site for the first time (and hopefully bookmark it!). Good luck!

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