All of the paid positions at the Whalesong student newspaper in Juneau, which includes the editor, production manager and advertising manager jobs, are filled. Staff writers at the paper, about three to four students usually, are not paid. They are members of a newspaper practicum class, though the school has no journalism program.
“The paid positions are pretty easy to fill,” said Seneca Theno, editor-in-chief, “because they offer significant benefits. The editor and the production manager get a stipend, plus 12-credit tuition waivers; the ad manager gets an hourly wage at 20 hours per pay period plus commission on ads over a minimum amount.”
However, like many student newspapers, Theno said the newspaper has “an absolutely horrendous time” recruiting writers and keeping them. “We really struggle to keep the three we have, mostly …(partly) because people don't want to spend the time it takes to write articles.”
The Whalesong has also struggled with its online presence. It is now in the process of going online and has been online before, several years ago, but students just loaded text only versions of the stories onto the paper info section of UAS' website, which Theno describes as “pretty boring.” The paper is now going online through College Publisher and should be up and running within two weeks.
Theno said paid staff work for two semesters. She is now in her second semester at UAS and at the paper. Students can repeat the class up to six times or three years, though some come and go regularly.
The biggest challenge for the Whalesong recently occurred last semester, when Theno was “trying to create something out of nothing, and trying to keep writers working on deadlines.”
“We had an all-new paid staff (none of us had ever done that particular job before), and the previous year the paper had been a godawful mess (when we started we had no ad revenue left over, no template, no working zip drive or disks, no specific fonts loaded in Pagemaker, etc.).
She said she was stressed “120 percent of the time” due to the disorganization. “I was frustrated, sometimes hopelessly, my grades suffered, my satisfaction in classes was low, so on and so forth (the paper was always produced the night before it was supposed to come out, often until 3 or 4 a.m. and then more the next day). This semester my goal is to keep myself and my staff members sane and at the most minimum workload necessary. If it's at the expense of the paper sometimes, so be it.”
This semester, her biggest challenge will be trying to take the quality the staff created last semester and raising it to a new level: interesting, eye catching, valuable, etc, without living in the office.
“We also have endless computer/technical problems which adds many many unnecessary hours on the job. I am the only 20+ hour staff member, and I'm a typical college student (20 years old, undergraduate, no family etc.”
Theno said the best thing about being in student media is trying to make things happen and being part of the larger world.
“The newspaper forces you to search for and find a connection to all of your audiences.”
This semester, Theno hopes to spend more time writing than managing.
The Whalesong hasn't had any legal issues this semester, but occasionally runs into political problems with student government and ethical problems, such as whether to accept anonymous letters and types of advertising.
“When I try to deal with these issues, I try and be as objective as possible, and imagine how a real newspaper would handle it. For example, we received a very graphic pro-life advertisement somebody from outside wanted to run, in the form of an insert. As unattractive as it may have been, we would have run it (it's quite possible half our campus would have supported it, and the right to free speech, plus ad income), except it was an insert, which we don't run. Red flags tend to be anything anonymous – that makes me very nervous and suspicious.”
Theno doesn't have any plans to continue with journalism in the future, but said “it's a door I certainly won't close for good – you never know!”
This article was done through an e-mail interview.