When Deadlines Laugh at Snow


Clearing a path for their dog, Riley, Mary Kay Downes’s husband Linus uses their John Deere snowblower to remove approximately 14″ of snow in front of their house on Saturday, Jan. 23.

The Blizzard of 2016 (affectionately referred to as Snowzilla) has essentially shut down the state of Virginia. The news is saying, “Stay safe, stay warm, stay home,” prompting us to believe that it could be a while before we’re back in school. Unfortunately, deadlines still loom. And they wait for no man…or storm.

We asked VAJTA board members how they combat the snow days as an adviser. Here are their words of wisdom:

Judy DavisMy top tip, derived from last year’s multiple snow days, is to train your students in advance to check email and class web pages even if there is no school.  That way, you can keep them reading, writing, and interacting even from home (assuming they have Internet access and/or smart phones).  Last year I returned drafts, posted a video on Vimeo with my top revision tips, and then collected revisions all from the comfort of my sofa.

Dan ReinishThere’s an extent to which handling an emergency school closure is just about remembering to breathe and reminding yourself that it’ll work out. Deadline delays affect the yearbook more than the newspaper (since a newspaper’s publication date can always be changed). So we hedge against this by sending in yearbook spreads as soon as they’re finished. Not all publishers are the same, but ours awards us early days for this which help balance out the inevitable missed deadlines due to snow and other unexpected issues.

But what if you don’t have the luxury of counteracting the delay before or after the fact?

If you can prepare in advance (i.e. you know a snow storm is coming) you can have editors or other staffers bring printouts home to do some hand-editing. That will at least help speed up the process when they return. Snow days are also great days for the staff to catch up on interviews. Everyone is free! We do most of our drafting via Google Docs (or sometimes directly in WordPress for the newspaper) so that students always have access to their stories.

And of course, snow days are always great coverage days! Why not turn that one spread that just isn’t working out (everyone has one of those, right?) into a visual break about having the day off?

Valerie KiblerWhen kids are stuck in a blizzard, they are itching for something to do. I spent some time yesterday shooting out links to things that I wanted them to read and explore along with an assignment of sorts to come up with page plans for the next issue. Then I shifted gears to getting them to actually cover the snow via social media. They’ve always wanted to do a snow page – plan it out and then wait for it to snow, so now they have it – they just need to do it! The timing of this snow also allows the leadership to start formulating goals/plans for next year and to re-evaluate how they are meeting this year’s goals. If you still have electricity, you can do a google hangout or have a text-a-thon!

Chris WaugamanWith our staff the following points help us:

  1. Keep your eye on a reliable forecast. It is of no help if the kids are distracted by the thought of snow, but if you know you most likely will be out… make your plans accordingly. This usually means staying longer or getting to school earlier, so that you can meet the deadline.
  2. Live by the motto: “This staff doesn’t operate on the same schedule as the rest of the school.” We state this all of the time when it seems like everybody’s friend is thinking about how the snow will get them out of a homework assignment or test.
  3. Use your online sources. Do you really need to be in the workroom to get things done? With our yearbook – we can work on the spreads in the cloud. With the newspaper, we have our photos stored online, WordPress online, Slack which is our online discussion board, Google Drive, and all of our social media. There is really no urgent need to be in school to get work done.
  4. Be realistic about predictions. If the paper is scheduled to print and the snow is going to greatly interrupt that, the staff should consider moving the date up or back. If you don’t live realistically and have a plan, you will get nothing accomplished because you will always be pushing things back as a reactionary measure. You must monitor and adjust.

Meghan Percival: When scheduling winter deadlines, plan for snow days. While we can never know when they will come, they will come. Bank extra pages on your November or early December deadlines.

Never wait until the end of the sports season to get your sports photos (sometimes games will get cancelled and you won’t have another opportunity).

Schedule club picture days, panoramic pictures and other major events for October or November so you won’t have to reschedule.

Make sure your editors have the phone numbers of all staffers so they can keep in touch. If the storm is substantial enough that you are worried about making your deadline, get in touch with your publisher so you can troubleshoot and prioritize together.

Finally, do your best to keep making progress on your deadlines and covering the snow, but remember to have some fun, too. Publications advisers work really hard – late nights, weekends – a snow day may just be Mother Nature’s way of telling us to take a break! 

Mary Kay Downes: Accept snow as act of God and concentrate on TV, cooking, napping and filming Linus snow blowing! I will not let the kids come in – too much liability. So re: deadlines – put them on back burner.

Got more tips for how to alleviate deadline anxiety during weather events? Post a comment below!