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Vox Digital: Organizing talent and fostering creativity

I’m a Teaching Assistant for Magazines Across Platforms, a class run by Sara Shipley Hiles, Digital Director of Vox Magazine. These students, known as Digital Editors, make up the majority of the Digital Team, the web-based half of Vox.

As Digital Managing Editor, I’m basically the quarterback of the Digital Team, making sure we’re successfully producing digital content, maintaining our brand across social platforms and constantly exploring new storytelling mediums.

Last semester we only had 6 students, meaning our brand and production power was shoestring. This semester we have 16. I like to say the Digital Team’s accomplishments last semester attracted more students, but who knows?

Either way, this growth presents challenges for our organization. How do we engage these students each week while also hitting our production goals? Can we make this pedagogical, considering improving their skills will improve our content?

Here’s my major goals as a Digital Managing Editor for this semester:

Don’t let the organization descend into chaos. Our strength lies in our ability to organize, making sure everybody knows what they have to do and when. We’ve built a huge color coded spreadsheet with various shifts for each job we’ve defined, and each job has a perfectly clear statement of responsibilities and associated “How-To” documentation. Organization allows for forward planning and less on-the-spot attempts to produce content.

Discover, master and share digital storytelling tools with the entire Vox Magazine staff. The key to improving our digital content is showing people what we can create. If we show the staff all the interactive quiz, graphic design, and social aggregating tools we have, they’re more likely to implement them. Pair this with clear and concise how-to documents and innovation will spread.

Practice a clear and transparent style of leadership. Everybody knows what must happen and when they’re failing or succeeding. I want to drive all my students to improve upon themselves and practice loyalty to the organization. They will tell me what they want to learn, what works and what doesn’t, and how they think we can improve.  When they need help, I will be there. Office politics and drama will be at a minimum if everyone knows their role in the machine.

We know this is how to engage millennials in the workplace, so why not try it in class?

Innovate every single week. Digital organizations are in permanent beta, constantly changing and improving with every version of content. This goes hand in hand with technological advancement. We are no different. Each week we should build on the lessons we learned in the previous. As we continue, we set the bottom line for production quality higher and higher.

Teach every single student how to learn. The most important part of digital journalism is teaching yourself brand new tools. Because this industry requires multi-talented and multi-perspective journalists, that’s what we need to create. We need to create young professionals who both know the skills and understand theories. In the end they will adapt just as quickly as their industry changes.

Establish persistent and scaleable digital production methods. I know we don’t really know the best way for legacy print organizations to evolve in response to digital demands, but by God we’re going to try. Already I’ve established some methods that elevate our digital presence – hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have serious, long-term strategies laid in stone.

Here’s to hopefully having the best semester ever for Vox Digital.