home ||| current issue ||| past stories
about The Prism ||| volunteers ||| other sites

It's easier to volunteer than you might think—

Yet even a little bit helps us out a lot

by Jeff Saviano


David Kirsh
Mia Kirsh

How to Volunteer
with the Prism

I'm a volunteer with The Prism, an editor.

And it's just a bit odd that I'm the one writing this, and not you. The requirements for this work are that you enjoy reading and following the news, that you appreciate the importance of helping readers understand an authors' intent, that you show up to meetings, and that you do what you promise to do.

I've done fairly solidly for about four years now. I do it because I know it needs to be done and that if I don't do it I leave others with even more work. I do it because I enjoy getting together with such caring, committed people who are idealistic enough to publish a paper because they believe it's right. I do it because the other staffers are now my friends. I do it because I believe that there must be media sources like this, free, independent, voluntary, democratic.

And I do it because every now and then, someone tells us it means a lot that we do it, and because I know that if no one had worked to make sources like this available to me, I would have missed out on knowing how this world worked, wrongly and rightly.

We need new people to join in, to help out, not only because we, the staffers, need your help, but because the paper needs new perspectives to stay fresh, to be lively, to take risks.

Perhaps you might be more likely to consider helping out if I gave you an impression not of what 'an editor' does, but what I've done to help the others prepare and 'edit' this issue.

With regard to The Prism, the tasks falling under the title 'editor' include: helping to find articles, commentaries, and illustrations; deciding what to try to fit into each issue, and to try (when time allows) to arrange, clean up, and edit the articles we do have.

Let's take a quick look at some of the things I did to prepare for this issue—an issue for which I didn't have a great deal of time, what with grad school starting, car troubles, etc. If I instead chose to write about an issue on which I had spent a lot of time and energy, it would make this sound like a much greater chore than it need be.

At the monthly planning meeting (see our schedule, on page 2), we finish going over urgent business and begin to plan for the next issue. Mia reminds us that October's theme is 'student activism,' and Dana says she's working on that. September, we remember, was to have essays from volunteers describing what they do and why—hopefully, to inspire people to join up, as our staff is dwindling, dwindling. In addition, we have articles and commentary left over from last month, and can expect to have at least a few articles appear out of nowhere.

Someone must coordinate all these articles, and this month the task falls to David and me, though we'd rather not take the job on this month. 'Coordinate,' not meaning doing all the work but making sure that it gets done.

So, as a 'coordinating editor,' I sometimes do more than another editor, but I won't be the CE every month. Often the job involves a lot less. Remember that as you read.

Over the next few weeks I keep my eyes and ears open. Newspapers, weeklies, magazines. Forwarded e-mail updates, websites. Out of this deluge I select a few possible items to include, and so does David. For example, the NC Council of Churches published a review of recent legislative activities. I make sure these are saved on a computer disk or on my e-mail account so that I can print them out and send them to others to edit or produce.

Also, I check the phone messages and e-mail. A few people want to volunteer; I call back, and though they want to, in the end they don't seem to be able to come through. I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. One person requested advertising information, but after an initially hopeful start, he calls back and defers until spring.

A woman I meet on campus tells me of her trip to an activists' convention. I encourage her to write an article, trying really hard to make it sound positive. A friend asks to submit a couple of commentaries, and I make sure he puts it on disk so we don't have to type in from a handwritten letter.

Twice, when I have time, I try and sell a couple of ads, but don't put a great deal of energy into it. I keep meaning to, though.

I remember that we still haven't been able to provide our WebSpinner with the material from the July-August issue. Oh well, we'll get to it.

A few of the staffers complete their essays and e-mail them to me. I make sure to forward them to the production coordinator so we'll know what space they'll need on the printed page.

I hear what might be an interesting story lead, and call up someone I know who might cover it, but find out it's an old story by this point.

Finally, the editors' meeting draws near, so I make up a list of all the articles / pieces I know of, and sketch out a very, very rough plan for what the paper might look like. Choosing will be tough: money's tight, and there's not too many production staffers this month, so it looks like we'll have to do an 8-pager, which will mean that even more good articles get cut.

But it turns out that apart from David and myself, no other editors can meet this month, so he and I just work it out, and e-mail a few articles to those editors who can help out that way. I'm slammed with grad school, so David takes on editing more than his share.

Two or three great articles have appeared in the last few days. What to do? How to balance these versus really good ones from last month? We'll have to go with articles which are much more 'time-dependent,' that is, if we don't print them now, they'll be too old next month.

That's as far as I've gotten this month.

We'll meet at mockup night to sketch out what articles will go where, and which ones must be dropped. That following weekend, at least a few of us editors will sit in on Saturday and Sunday to proofread and troubleshoot the pages as they are being produced on the computer.

Does any of that sound too difficult? I hope not. Especially not if you start with just a few tasks. Do you need any special qualifications? Only the ability to give what you commit, and the ability to work with other staff members and make sure you take into account what they need. Well, and a good sense of humor, as we try not to take ourselves too seriously.

If you think you'd like to find out more about helping us with editing, please call us at (919) 968-3154, or e-mail us at <prism@sunsite.unc.edu>.


home ||| current issue ||| past stories
about The Prism ||| volunteers ||| other sites

Send comments to prism@sunsite.unc.edu.