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Use Google Sheets to Organize Student Media

First, there was nothing.

Then there was a whiteboard and now there is a Google Sheet.

Admittedly, at the beginning of my newspaper advising career, I didn't really know what I was doing and didn't think about the challenges of communication of a moderately-sized staff.

Being a quick learner, it was evident, the lack of organization had a majorly negative impact and we needed to find a solution.

So the editors started walking around with a notebook, maintaining notes of student work and then we moved to a whiteboard, but it was so public and wasn't updated often enough or people were erasing information prematurely. Plus I shared the classroom with other teachers and therefore the board was subject to changes without our knowledge.

We tried everything.

Once the school moved to the Google Educational Suite, a new solution showed itself and we haven't looked back.

On one shared sheet, the staff and I can communicate about a year's worth of writing and reporting, simply by adding tabs and permissions.

First, we needed to determine the necessary column headings and how to ensure the organizational flow was updated regularly.

We decided on:

  • Reporter

  • Headline/topic

  • section

  • editor

  • deadline

  • Where are you now?

  • Art, yes/no?

  • Online live date

All of the sections are separated and color-coded appropriately. The staff managers maintain it. (see above for what it looks like)

Here's the workflow:

  1. A blank spreadsheet is shared at the beginning of the year with the entire staff

  2. At first, only the editors can add ideas, but all can add their names to any available story idea. Until the workflow is understood, we ask that if reporters want to add an idea that isn't already being covered, they need only ask me or the editor of the section the story will be written for. As time goes on, all can add ideas provided they aren't on the sheet already.

  3. Then the deadline is added to the story, which is typically one week from the day of the selection except for more pressing news stories or more work/research-intensive investigative feature stories.

  4. Students then begin the gathering process and they add on the line where they are at the end of each class. They are expected to send the first draft to the section editors as soon as a draft is complete.

  5. Editors provide feedback and then the reporter is expected to make the necessary revisions. There is typically a three-time back and forth before the section editors determine a piece complete. At this point, the section editor sends the piece to the editor in chief who reviews the writing and makes sure the writing is complete as another set of eyes. Then it goes to a fact-checker and then a copy editor before it is sent to our webmaster for posting.

  6. The art editor then reviews the article and ensures there is art or photo for the piece with a caption before it can be posted. The art editor then updates the spreadsheet once the art has been collected and emailed to the webmaster.

  7. The webmaster sets the schedule using Google calendar and then we post on the appropriate day. 

  8. The students know when the piece is complete as the editor makes their draft as "DONE" and they can see the date on the calendar it is scheduled to post. Once the article goes live, the date is updated on the spreadsheet and then the line item is unhighlighted and bolded, so everyone on staff knows that it is done and posted.

This process has really streamlined our process in the class. The managers are checking the spreadsheet daily and if there is no update on where in the process a student is or a deadline is past due, emails are sent to check-in.

Occasionally a student forgets to place a story idea on the spreadsheet and duplicate stories are produced. Unfortunately, the person who's name is on the sheet gets the byline. We rely on the spreadsheet for all communication of ideas.

Story ideas can be determined by editors, reporters, or me. Students can suggest ideas and not write them, but we always want more on the spreadsheet than we can write.

Google sheets has made the organization of our online media clean and fast and open for all to see. With these changes, kids are able to run their own publication with little adult intervention and this is the goal of student media.

What solutions have you discovered to help with workflow on your student publications? Please share

This post originally on my Ed Week Teacher blog in April of 2015

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