Editing, Leadership & Team building


People come first. Not content. Not awards. People. 

As co-editor-in-chief, I make a point to personally interact with all my staffers. Because every interaction is a chance to build a relationship. And relationships can make or break a person’s experience on staff.

My people-first approach is woven into every activity I lead. From giving critique to Fun Friday games, I want to make sure my staffers feel seen, heard and appreciated. Scroll through this page to see how I’ve done it.


When editing, I always make my feedback personal. Instead of leaving Google Doc suggestions that staffers can mindlessly correct, I leave comments on the document and discuss strengths and areas for improvement with the writer in person.

This way, staffers have ownership over their stories. Over-editing kills that sense of ownership. Instead, I use mistakes as a teaching opportunity. Because I believe that when staffers don’t complete work it’s not because they don’t care, but because they are afraid of failing. But with the right support, they’ll come out of their shells. They’ll take risks. They’ll try new things. They’ll innovate.

So instead of using editing to get better content, I use it to get better staffers — problem solvers, self-starters and team players — who want to make The Shield better, too. 

My editing technique

Every story written for The Shield goes through two rounds of edits. First, after rough drafts are due, section editors look over stories in their section and do a holistic edit for content. Then, after final drafts are due, EICs each take 1-2 sections and edit for smaller copy errors. Here is a sample of the edits I made on a staffer’s feature profile for our third issue this year.

Google Docs is a tricky editing software because the suggesting mode can easily turn into the re-writing mode. That’s why I primarily use the commenting feature that requires staffers to go back in and rewrite in their own words. I use suggesting only for actual suggestions and leave it up to the staffers to decide whether or not to accept them. Additionally, I follow every suggestion with a comment to explain my reasoning. This helps staffers understand why changes are being made and how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. This way, my editing is not just improving the story, but also improving staffers’ skills.

The most important aspect of my editing style comes at the end. I always make sure to leave a note at the bottom of the story, summarizing my feedback. I like to utilize the handy “compliment sandwich” technique for this part of my editing by mentioning both what was done well and what can be improved upon. I make sure my compliments are specific, genuine and meaningful, and that my critique is limited — selecting the one main thing I’d like the staffer to work on. This helps avoid overwhelming them with new tasks. I also include suggestions or “next steps” to help maintain the flow of the writing process.

In the example above, my critique was that the story needed more sources, so I offered up three possible interview subjects. This, supplemented with the line-by-line editing that I’d already done helped ensure that the quality of the story was in a good place, without making the staffer feel like their story was ripped apart. Leaving a note also adds a personal touch to editing that is sometimes lost through Google Docs. Rather than just appearing as a name on a screen, I can show that I’m a human and that I care about my staffer’s stories, which is the first step in building trust.

A little give & a little take: A 2023 TAJE Fall Fiesta session

At the beginning of this school year, I noticed that there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to our section editors picking up editing skills. For a third-year editor, this process was second nature. But I realized editing is just as much a skill that needs to be taught as writing or photography. And if my staff was struggling with this concept, I figured other staffs were too. 

After my session was selected by the TAJE Fall Fiesta organizers, I began preparing this all-inclusive guide to editing. I wanted to include what other sessions I’d attended hadn’t  how and why editing is important to building staff relationships. Instead of just offering techniques and strategies, I explained the thinking behind them and how they can help build trust among staffers. The presentation also included an example of a “bad” story for session attendees to practice utilizing the feedback strategies I’d gone over, so that they would be prepared to implement them when they returned to their staff.

In-class editing exercises

After editing a story, I always try to talk to staffers one-on-one to explain my feedback and make sure they feel good about their story. Sometimes, however, this is not possible because of deadlines, illnesses or other extenuating circumstances. One way that my co-EICs and I ensure that every staffer gets feedback beyond just through Google Docs is through in-class editing exercises. For each rough draft deadline this year, we have created an activity that the whole class (including editors) participates in. As of our third issue cycle, we have done a lede writing activity, a word graveyard activity and an angle-editing activity.

Issue 1: Lede workshop 

For this activity, we had all of our staffers and editors get into a circle at the center of the room and share the ledes they had written for their rough drafts. After each staffer shared their lede, the EICs and I would give them personalized feedback — both what we liked and possible ways to improve them. This served the dual function of building accountability with our staffers while also teaching them to get comfortable with critique. Using this activity for our first in-class editing exercise set the precedent that staffers needed to come to class prepared and ready to engage.

Issue 2: Word graveyard

Because our first activity targeted only the story ledes, we wanted this issue’s activity to be more holistic. I decided to present the idea of a word graveyard (a list of overused or redundant words to avoid in journalistic writing) and then have staffers go through their stories and highlight any words in their stories that were listed on the word graveyard. Afterward, everyone went around and shared what they noticed about their writing habits — what “graveyard” words they used the most — to help them be more conscientious in both their final draft revisions and future stories.

Issue 3: Angle check-in

After two issues of stories, we knew our staffer’s writing was improving and they didn’t need as much focus on mechanics and style. So instead, we did an in-class editing activity on focusing the angle of staffers’ stories. Every staffer went around and shared the “elevator pitch” for their story, and we EICs gave them feedback. This helped turn stories about “girls basketball” into stories about “the legacy of the four senior leaders on the team.” Because of this activity, staffers learned how to turn topics into stories that could have an impact on our campus. 

There are two main benefits to these editing exercises. The first is that it ensures that every story is edited beyond just what a section editor and an EIC would do. This helps catch smaller details that might be missed in the two rounds of edits that our deadline schedule allocates time for. Additionally, each activity focuses on specific areas of a story that should be tweaked but may have been overshadowed by other changes that needed to be made. The second benefit is that these activities hold every staffer and editor accountable. In-class activities that involve everyone sharing an aspect of their story require that everyone has their stories completed. This also helps eliminate any idea that editors get exceptions or are required to do less work, helping to ensure that everyone on staff is on equal ground. Even more valuable, when staffers see editors who they admire getting their work done well and on time, it encourages them to follow suit.

The resource folder

In addition to the in-class editing exercises, one of the main ways that I have ensured my staffers have the ability to self-edit their own work is by creating and presenting lessons on all aspects of journalism — from editorial writing to AP style — and storing them in a shared resources folder. Keeping these presentations in an accessible place for all staffers to look back on gives them the resources to improve their writing on their own before sending their work to section editors. Staffers then learn to edit their own work, rather than relying solely on others, which helps them become better writers.

One example of a resource I created to help improve our staffers’ writing was an analysis of “After the Sky Fell,” written by Brady Dennis for the St. Petersburg Times’ occasional series, 300 words. This story (like the many others written for 300 words) is well-crafted, powerful and straight from the heart. I gave this presentation in the middle of last year when I noticed a slump in originality from the stories we were writing. I decided that the best way to inspire staffers to try out new writing techniques was to show them an example of a strong journalistic story and analyze what was done well. Not only did this encourage staffers to explore different writing techniques, but it also impacted my adviser so much that he ended up using my lesson to teach feature profiles to his photojournalism class. The features his photojournalism students created turned out so well that we ended up creating a “300 words” blog on The Shield Online.

What I liked about this lesson is that it taught key journalistic writing skills — kicker quotes, specific details, brevity — by using a real example that stuck with staffers much longer than a presentation that just listed out techniques would have. It also gave staffers a style that they could emulate while still incorporating their own creativity into their stories.

Find more examples of resources that I have created for my staff that teach a variety of journalistic skills, in their respective categories on my website.


It’s not easy to be a leader among your peers. Unlike a teacher who has inherent authority, when leading your classmates, you have to earn their trust first. And one of the best ways to earn someone’s trust is by being both fair and flexible. That is why setting reasonable expectations, being transparent and maintaining clear communication have all been key in my leadership philosophy. 

But most importantly, I have worked to earn my staffers’ trust starting day one by doing what I do best as a journalist: listening. Whether that be listening to the difficulties a staffer is having in finding sources or listening to their suggestions for story ideas, I make it clear that I hear them and that their contributions are valuable.

And in showing staffers that I listen to them, they do the same in turn. In the slideshow below, the Shield staff share their feedback about my leadership.

The Shield staff manual

When I went into my first year of being editor-in-chief, I believed I could fix everything that wasn’t running smoothly at my publication. I had a list of goals and strategies for how to go about making improvements, but I quickly realized that “fixing everything” just wasn’t achievable. As editor-in-chief, I was putting out fires daily and simply didn’t have time to make long-lasting changes in every area. So instead, I learned to focus on a few specific goals that I believed would have the most impact on The Shield.

I took that mindset into the summer before my senior year when I decided to find one change I could bring to my staff that would be the most meaningful. I chose to create a 28-page staff manual that included information on everything relating to The Shield. For much of the previous year, I noticed that staffers tend to make the same mistakes, but they don’t always want to ask for help. Creating a staff manual ensured that staffers had resources on anything from legal issues to feature writing techniques at their fingertips that they could look back on if they didn’t want to talk to an editor about the issues they were having.

But I also wanted there to be established policies for The Shield to follow whenever divisive situations arose. In the past, we addressed these situations as they came up, but always seemed to wish we had a policy already in place to refer to. The staff manual laid out specific policies on everything from takedown requests to issuing corrections so that when issues came up, we had a pre-existing manner for handling them.

This manual lets staffers know that there is an established process for how to do things. The processes have been honed from my own experience, and mistakes. And while a staff manual in no way keeps staffers from making mistakes entirely, it sets norms, answers questions and provides consistency in a way that helps prevent them from making some of the same mistakes I once made.

Editor training

Part of my job as a staff leader is to set expectations. Coming into the 2022-23 school year, my co-EIC Evie Barnard and I decided to hold an editor Zoom meeting to discuss plans for the upcoming year. We wanted editors to be ready to help staffers from day one and that started by answering their questions and getting them up to speed with our overall goals for the year. I knew that being successful would depend on getting the support of the entire editorial board. The presentation below details the systems Evie and I came up with to help us stay organized and meet deadlines to fulfill our goals for the year.

The editor meeting was a successful first start in getting editors on the same page. It allowed us to switch gears and focus on preparing new staffers. 

The first two weeks

First impressions matter. That is why for both years that I have been editor-in-chief of The Shield, I’ve committed to planning the first few weeks to leave staffers feeling both positive and prepared before going into our first issue cycle. Below is a breakdown of the activities I planned for the beginning of the 2023-24 school year to help onboard new staffers.

Week 1: Aug. 14-18

For the first week of the school year, I wanted to primarily focus on activities that would get staffers excited about being on newspaper staff. I didn’t want to overwhelm them, so instead we started off with ice-breakers and get-to-know-you activities to help create a positive work environment. Below are the daily agenda slides that detail the activities we did in class that week. Note: There are two sections of newspaper at McCallum, which operates on a block schedule. On A-days during first period, half of the staff meets, with the second half meeting on B-days during 8th period. The activities in the slideshow below are the same both days, but are completed by different groups of students. 

Monday/Tuesday goal: Setting a positive tone

I wanted newspaper staffers to know this was a different type of class from the very first day. After quickly getting students added to our staff group chat, Band, and our shared calendar, TimeTree, I spent most of the class conducting an icebreaker geared on having fun and getting to know one another.

The activity I picked followed a “speed dating” format with staffers filing into two lines. For one minute staffers asked and answered questions ranging from “What did you do this summer?” to “Which celebrities would you invite to your perfect dinner party?” to “Why did you join newspaper?” After the timer went off, partners would switch and a new question would be asked. The activity had staffers moving around the room and talking to different people in a low-stakes setting so that when the real work began, they knew one another and The Shield felt like a place for collaboration and connection.

Wednesday/Thursday goal: Getting to know the staff

Building and maintaining relationships is a key part of creating a well-developed team. That’s why it is important to take time at the beginning of the year for staffers to really get to know one another. While the games and icebreakers were a great start, it can be helpful to have an activity that facilitates having staffers and editors share a little bit about themselves.

For this activity we had staffers take the bios they had written at the end of last class and use them to design a get-to-know-you flyer. This encouraged staffers to get creative in showing us a little bit about who they are. The only requirements were that they had to include at least one picture and had to include the bio they had written that would also go on our website’s staff page. Staffers accepted the challenge, designing posters that gave them autonomy over how they chose to introduce themselves to us.

There was an added second benefit to the activity, in that it introduced staffers to Adobe Express, the program that we use to make graphics for the website and social media. 

Friday goal: End the week on a good note

We wanted to end the first week positively, so we introduced our first “Fun Friday” activity of the year and then gave the staff work time for their get-to-know-you flyers. 

This set-up modeled the direction we would take during the year – both with taking time out of our work schedules for Friday fun, but also in demonstrating the workshop model that we use in class: giving staffers an assignment, giving them time to gather and prepare content and delivering on a deadline. 

Week 2: Aug. 21 – Aug. 25

After spending the first week on getting to know the staff and setting a positive tone, I knew it was time to switch gears to training. The second week was dedicated to the basics of journalistic writing to prepare staffers for the first part of our issue cycle — interviewing and drafting.

During this week section editors gave presentations on caption writing, news writing, feature writing and opinion writing so that staffers had the key basics for the start of our first issue. After each presentation, we then instructed staffers to use UIL Journalism prompts to write practice stories to give them an idea of the writing process. Although the UIL prompts don’t perfectly replicate the writing and reporting process that goes into creating stories, they give staffers a taste of what it’s like to write in a journalistic format so they can dip their toes into a key part of being on newspaper staff.

The following week, the EICs and I took time to edit all of the practice stories and compile our general notes into this slideshow that we presented to the staff as we were beginning our issue cycle to help better prepare them for writing their first round of stories.

Journalistic writing requires that staffers are familiar with a number of standards. The UIL presentations and practice activities help take reporters through these various types of writing and the specific guidelines that accompany each style. In addition to setting aside time to practice drafting stories – from feature to opinion – these activities also provided an opportunity for new staffers to gain familiarity with revision and critique. No one wants to see their story edited, but on The Shield, we like to work with an open critique model that allows editors and staffers to give and receive critique comfortably. This mindset focus is on growth, not perfection. 

Organizational systems

All of the norms and policies that I’ve set up for my staff on their own wouldn’t be fully effective without organization, which is why I have worked to develop systems that keep the staff connected. In the 2022-23 school year, I utilized so many different systems that I ended up overcomplicating even the simple processes like editing stories. So as I began planning for the 2023-24 school year, I decided to pair down our systems to those that were most effective, to help keep the staff organized. 

Band – staff communication

As the staff works to meet deadlines, it is essential for us to stay in communication with each other. Band allows us to make announcements, send out reminders and check in with staffers on both a staff-wide group chat or through private chats. It also ensures that staffers who are collaborating on a story or editors who are looking to get status updates about a story are able to contact anyone on staff in an efficient way.

TimeTree – shared calendar

I first learned about TimeTree when I created a shared calendar with some of my friends over the summer because we wanted to share the dates we would be away. While it served that purpose well, I also realized that the app could help organize coverage and deadlines for The Shield. There were a few key features that made TimeTree perfect for our publication. First, you can color code all events, allowing me to organize events into deadline scheduling (green), coverage events (blue) and school holidays (red). TimeTree also allows you to see all of the members on a shared calendar, so I could ensure that all staffers were up to date with the same information — an issue I had dealt with the year previous when using Google Calendar. Finally, my favorite feature, TimeTree allows people to sign up for events, keeping everyone on staff aware of what events had photographers attending and which ones still needed to be covered. This helped streamline our coverage process and ensured that all events were being attended. 

Shared Google Drive – storing work

When trying to organize students who are already juggling seven other classes that require the use of multiple other platforms (from Kahn Academy to Quizlet to AP Classroom), it’s helpful to use a system that is already ingrained into daily routine. Because AISD provides all students with Google Workspace, creating a shared Google Drive was the obvious choice for creating a home base for our publication. Our shared Google Drive houses folders for all of our stories, captions, page designs and multimedia projects, so that they can easily be reviewed by the correct editor, ensuring a seamless workflow and staffer accountability.


Having spent my first year on Shield staff completely virtually, I was acutely aware of just how important connecting with others was. So when we finally were together as a staff, I never wanted producing high-quality work to overshadow staff morale. 

Newspaper is a demanding class that requires responsibilities and commitments outside of the classroom.

But the thing that makes the work manageable is having a team of staffers and editors to lean on for support. While collaborative culture forms as staffers work together, it never hurts to nudge them along with team building geared towards facilitating stronger connections and making the classroom setting not only bearable but enjoyable.

Attending conventions and workshops

As someone who has been attending journalism conventions since my time on my middle school broadcast staff, I’ve come to value the experience deeply. For me, attending conventions where I am surrounded by hundreds of students passionate about the same things I’m passionate about and educators who are experts on topics I hope to one day be an expert on always strengthens my desire to achieve excellence in journalism. Even at conventions that are only three days long, I always find myself leaving with new ideas, new inspiration and new connections in the journalism community.

I wanted my staff to experience this because I knew that a change of scenery can sometimes be the key to finding new takeaways and a new spark. No matter how much I care about journalism and how much I work to foster that sense in my staffers, that is ultimately a feeling they have to find for themselves. While in the role of editor-in-chief, I helped promote and organize trips to the 2022 and 2023 TAJE Fall Fiesta, the 2023 ILPC Summer Workshop and the 2023 JEA/NSPA Fall Convention to help inform and engage my staff.

In addition to being a learning experience, these conventions and workshops create opportunities to bond with staffers outside of school. Because it’s usually a small group that attends (at least compared to schools that take their whole staff), I always make an effort to include team-building activities throughout the trips. Below is an example of how I incorporated staff bonding activities into our time at the ILPC Summer Workshop.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, I organized a group of staffers who were interested in attending the ILPC Summer Workshop. Although there were only eight of us, I was extremely excited to see that we had not only top editors interested, but also new staffers. During this workshop, I saw fellow staffers’ excitement as they were learning more about their craft and even winning awards for the work they did that weekend. But I wanted to make our time at ILPC even more meaningful than just being a learning opportunity. I planned multiple group activities for the staff to participate in including T-shirt decorating, “highs and lows” at meals and group hangouts. On our last night, staffers gathered together to decorate T-shirts to wear to the next morning’s award ceremony and show off our Shield pride. Puffy paint, glitter and googly eyes littered the floor of the 200-square-foot dorm room that we all had managed to squeeze into. That night, as I watched the eight of us, laughing, splatter-painting and jamming to music, I saw the beginning of my 2023-24 staff. We were critiqued by our adviser for being “the loudest room in the dorm” but if that doesn’t speak to the fun we had, I don’t know what does.

Fun Friday activities

While conventions offered opportunities for inspiration and staff bonding for those who attended, I also wanted to make sure team building happened for everyone within the newspaper room. One way I did this was by incorporating “Fun Fridays” into our weekly agenda. These activities ranged from newspaper Jeopardy to the New York Times News Quiz to more obscure games that I put a journalism spin on. Some of these activities were short while others took up larger parts of class but they all offered a small break for fun after a week of hard work. Click through the photo gallery below to see a few of the Fun Friday activities that I have led.

One of my favorite Fun Friday activities was The Dating Game. Technically a theatre game that was intended to help actors develop characters, I saw it as a fun way to practice interview skills. In this game, three staffers volunteer to be contestants on The Dating Game. Their fictional identity is revealed only to the host, who introduces them as candidates and allows the rest of the class to ask them questions about their interests and lives. The first to correctly guess a candidate’s identity wins. Though the main point of the game was silliness, it also required staffers to ask revealing questions and listen actively.  

Late night raffles

My freshman year, in an effort to instill some staff pride in the middle of the pandemic, my adviser and editors created MacJ merch —T-shirts, masks and yard signs — for staffers. Three years later, Mr. Winter still had several of the yard signs left over, collecting dust in the camera closet. We decided to use these yard signs as prizes to encourage staff attendance at late nights. At the start of the night, we passed out “tickets” and later on used a random number generator to call out a winning number. The staffer with the winning number got a free MacJ yard sign to take home. Below are a few of our raffle winners.

Although our weekly late nights are primarily meant to give staffers more time to work on InDesign or meet with editors, these raffles brought fun and also helped push attendance. After each winner was announced, we’d send a shoutout text on Band not only to celebrate the staffer who won, but also to get the rest of the staff excited about attending the next late night. This activity helped build traditions and a shared staff culture around some of the more mundane work to be done, like staying after school to design pages.

Celebrating success & setting goals

It’s no secret that it feels great to be recognized for your work at the state and national level. But as a leader, my philosophy has always been to acknowledge all accomplishments — big or small. Whether that’s shouting out a staffer for stepping up to cover a game that we didn’t have photographers at or celebrating finishing an issue, I always want staffers to feel pride in the work they do. The gallery below showcases some of our accomplishments and the way we’ve celebrated them.

 While celebrating achievements helps build confidence, setting goals helps staffers take ownership of their own growth.

At the start of the school year, I like to help set overall goals for our program – anything from the diversity of our coverage to the number of issues we publish in a year. We make adjustments as we work through our production cycle. The thing is, this does not take into account the goals of individual staffers – which can vary from being better at meeting deadlines to writing a story that earns them a “Best of SNO.” 

In the spirit of making New Year’s resolutions, I used the start of the 2024 calendar year as an opportunity to have staffers consider their own personal goals for the upcoming semester. All staffers wrote down at least one newspaper-related goal that they hoped to achieve on a Post-it note and then shared their goal with the class. Afterward, staffers placed their Post-its on the whiteboard at the front of the class, which we later rearranged into the shape of a Shield. Displaying the goals at the front of the room helps keep them at the forefront of staffers’ minds when they are in class which pushes them toward achievement. Click through the slideshow below for more comments from The Shield staff about my leadership.

Final thoughts

Being a journalist has allowed me to learn more about the way people think and act. It’s one of the reasons I feel comfortable in a leadership position. Whether it was as a freshman finding a way to teach my fellow staffers about broadcast despite having only met them over Zoom or as a second-year editor-in-chief helping staffers get over writer’s block, I have committed myself to understanding what my staff wants and needs. 

One of the best parts about being an EIC for two years is that I’ve had the opportunity for build and revise systems that I started as a junior. This position has allowed me to make sure I’m leaving behind practices that will prepare staffers to take over when I graduate. That way, I’ll leave The Shield better than I found it.

Recognitions: First place Editorial Leadership in the 2023 NSPA fall Best of Show competition; Funkadelic Love Covenant Editor of the Year at the 2023 ILPC summer workshop; First place Newspaper Editorial Leadership project at the 2022 Gloria Shields NSPA Media Workshop.