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Enliven Your Editorial Calendar with a Little School Spirit

This sweet old man and his model of the UT Tower may not be a strategic priority, but they make a great story.

As managing editor of a higher education alumni magazine and news blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about story ideas. What are those brilliant topics/people/photographs/insights that will get readers excited, teach them something new or make them grateful they’re still in contact with the school?

Our editorial team goes round and round on what angle to take, the point of the story, the appropriate tone. Many of these stories require hours of research, interviews, reporting, editing and art direction.

And even after all that care and hard work, sometimes the story falls flat. No one reads it. Or they read it and think it’s a waste of time.

And then there are those “stories” that unfold like this:

  1. An alumnus who graduated loooong ago writes you a letter and includes a printed photograph. The letter explains that the alumnus, now retired, finally achieved his dream of carving a model of a beloved university symbol, and he thought you’d like to see a photo of it.
  2. You think it’s a sweet letter and photo, and your editorial pace has slowed down for the summer, so you decide to post it. (First of course you have to scan the photo.)
  3. You quietly post it on a Friday and send one tweet about it.
  4. It quickly becomes one of the most-read stories of the week and earns 4 comments.
  5. The UT Facebook page posts the item and gets 260 Likes and 61 adoration-filled comments.

Sweet old man with school spirit: 1. Fancy story planning: 0.

Lesson learned? If you’re lucky enough to work for an organization that has millions of devoted followers, don’t forget to nurture that spirit and loyalty, even if it means you’re not doing a Big Important Story. And if you don’t have millions of devoted followers, what kinds of stories can you tell  to create some?

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.