The past four months have been a whirlwind. The academic semester is officially over. I’ve filled in my final scantron sheets, uploaded my final projects and turned in my final evaluations. Until next spring, that is, and by then I’ll probably be so much of a puddle of tears and reminiscence and happiness for graduation that I won’t know what to do with myself.
But this isn’t that semester yet, so I do (somewhat) know what to do with myself. The past 16 weeks of my life have revolved around the beast that is J4984: Magazine Staff. I’ve survived being a music editor for Vox magazine, my editing capstone course. As demanding and exhausting as it was, it was also rewarding. I had pages of a magazine in my hands, and week after week I worked with a team to produce something that I can look back and be proud of.
One of the last assignments I had for the course was to submit a self-assessment of my semester as an editor, along with a grade pitch. There have been a lot of long nights and odd-hour-snacking, but I was able to put together a pretty quick rundown of how the past semester went. And seeing that I’ve neglected setting aside time out of my day to do my own reflecting on thoughts and musings, I thought I’d share it here. Don’t worry — I’ve thrown in some Amy Poehler witticisms to get you through it. Without further ado, I present to you:
Jennifer’s semester at Vox, as told by Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation
I started of the semester excited for the coming months. I heard my fair share of horror stories, I knew my sleep quota would take a hit and I knew that I would be challenged to become a better editor through the course.The first few weeks were rough. I was getting the system down, and the thought of going through the brutal pitching process made my head spin. I was no longer a reporter, but I still had to find stories, talk to sources and jump out of my comfort zone to get the job done.
However, my department and I established early on a good sense of communication and split up our work equally. We each pitched for certain venues, and I submitted two-three proposals each week. Although we paid attention to the events going on around town, we really got to brainstorming some out-of-the-box story ideas about some of the local artists in town.
I started to get the schedule down and worked with reporters on drafts. Because I was still getting settled myself, a lot of my comments were questions but didn’t offer too much direction about where to take the story.
By mid-September and early October, I really felt like I had gotten into the routine, and I think I showed the most growth during this time. I felt connected with the publication as I spent time in the office, got feedback about my performance and continued to work closely with fellow music editors.
As a department, we really came together during this period. Christine made a Google spreadsheet for us so we could start planning ahead for pitches and story ideas. We received feedback about pitching more event-based stories, so I began to look ahead at the calendars and pitched about one event preview story and one profile per week. Although not all of them went into the magazine (one fell through and one was evergreen), I worked on a story every week with a good mix of anchor and secondary formatting. They were all also my own pitches, and a few weeks I had multiple pitches accepted on first or second round, so those were distributed evenly among the department. Now that I had a better idea of what stories to pitch, it still took me a while to find a creative angle to them. I mostly relied on finding artists with a strange backstory or musical genre (Wandering Madman, Seth Faergolzia), but they weren’t necessarily the bigger acts that we would want to cover for the readership. I contributed the Patchwork series for the blog, which was one of my more creative blog ideas. I wrote many of the music department’s blog posts because the other two members wrote a reoccurring series.
At the end of this portfolio round, I also worked with Lauren on the Halloween feature. We turned around the stories very quickly and made an editorial decision of how we wanted to package all the pieces together. The main feature text still needed a lot of reworking in the final stages, which we accommodated for and made sure the writer was aware of the changes before going into print.
During this final push, I focused on feedback I received about my performance and fine-tuned the skills I had learned.
I found more event previews to cover for artists with a story that set them apart. I had trouble narrowing down the angle, but I believe the end results in print demonstrated why they were worthy of coverage. I thought more closely about packaging. With Eliot Lipp, I salvaged a piece of the previous electronic music story and used that as a sidebar, and Turquoise Jeep had a fun how-to graphic. These ideas came about after original plans didn’t work, so they were added later in production. However, this motivated me to further consider packaging and presentation.
I’ve felt confident in the quality of stories I put through after revisions. I worked with a few reporters multiple times and knew their strengths and weaknesses. I came to revision meetings with solid directions for improvements (reporting, detail, voice, clarity, organization, etc.) Particularly with one reporter, our editing sessions got longer during these weeks, but not because the pieces were worse. Rather, we came better-prepared to our meetings, and that made for a better product.
Even though the Columbia Secrets package was daunting, it ended my semester on a high note. I practiced every single part of what I learned throughout as a department editor. Coordinating all the information and parts was a challenge, but I recognized this would only enhance the reader’s experience and final product. I did extensive macro-editing as Rachael and I culled through the parts to put together a cohesive package, and we did a lot of micro-editing as we met with reporters over the weeks for revisions. The position meant being the go-to person with all parties involved and being able to make a decision that would affect the package as a whole.