Hindsight, April 13, 2017

Your weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

Halle-freakin’-lujah.

We hit the ball out of the park with the April 13 edition of The Doane Owl. This competes favorably with our papers early in the fall semester regarding President Jacque Carter and his firing of the Rev. Karla Cooper. In fact, in terms of newsworthiness, this may be the best paper of the year. Praises abound. See below.

Praises

Hats off to Austin Plourde for having the testicular fortitude to confront Student Congress about its lack of transparency regarding all things financial with StuCo. To me, this is a serious story. We have students who are elected as representatives of the student body. They are supposed to act as a representative body would. By refusing to release its budget, how much money it has in its account, how much it allocates to organizations or how much it spends on events such as Stop Day, StuCo cloaks itself in secrecy and must create questions in students’ minds about what exactly it does with that money. Keep in mind that the funds it plays with are student fees. It’s your money. You should have a right to know how it is spent. Doane Student Media likewise receives student fee money and as its adviser, I would suggest strongly that if anyone questions DSM’s financial situation, that the editors would be willing to share that information. I hope that we continue to hammer this point home with StuCo. In fact, this is editorial-worthy, IMHO. Keep up the good work, Austin. Be persistent.

The localization of the Trio cuts — again by Austin Plourde — is an important story because those cuts affect all first-generation college and low-income students. I’m excited we reported this story — and we reported it well.

Kudos to Bayley Bischof for the first installment of her three-part series on the Endowment. Let’s face it — this is a dry subject. Complex. Complicated. Difficult to understand. I’ve got two degrees and I don’t think I understand it all. So the key to writing the story is to get people to buy in. To lure them into the piece. And to write simply. The more complicated the topic, the more simply you should tell the story. In this first piece, Bayley knew she had to get the eyeballs of readers right from the start. So she used a technique first developed by Brian Gilmer, a reporter for the former St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Times), when he covered the city budget hearing. Roy Peter Clark, the writing coach at the prestigious Poynter Institute, a think tank for journalists, says Gilmer’s technique strives for “radical clarity.” So does Bischof’s. Consider the lede: “If you had $112,933,607, what would you do with it? How much would you spend? How would you use it? How much would you save?” YES!!! She wrote at least the first part of this news story in second person as a way to invite the reader into the piece. All those YOU sentences. What would YOU do with that much money? It’s similar to people who buy lottery tickets and dream about what they would do with the money if their numbers hit. Normally, I despise question ledes. But this question lede works to bring the reader into a story. Because here’s the issue: Doane has nearly $113 million in its endowment. What will it do with the money? Just save it? Now, it takes 4.5 percent of that money to help pay for operation of the university. What if it upped that to 5 percent? That’s another $500,000. Or 5.5 percent to free up $1 million. The endowment still grows, but Doane all of a sudden has an extra $500,000 to hire more professors, provide more scholarships, update classrooms, etc. That’s why this story is so important. Exceptional work by a gifted newswoman.

Whew! I’ve praised Plourde. I’ve ballyhooed Bischof. Now comes Lauren Wagner … and as good as the ledes and stories were of Plourde and Bischof, Wagner somehow, incredibly, tops them. Her story about studying abroad is a wonderful piece of journalism. Truly outstanding. And it starts with this lede: “Students who are thousands of miles away from Doane studying abroad may be free from Nebraska weather and normal class structure, but still have to pay for Doane tuition, room and board. On top of program fees, students will pay for food they won’t eat. Beds they won’t sleep in. Facilities and services they won’t use. Notice the intended repetition of those negative phrases — they won’t. This is a textbook example of parallel construction. Lauren’s writing here is superb. I absolutely love this story — in part because we quote a Doane administrator who sheepishly admits that this is a poor deal for students who wish to study abroad and that it needs to be changed. Fantastic work. In fact, I think this story should have been out front, on P. 1. I would have jumped the endowment piece and put this story under the beginning of the endowment piece. That would have meant four money-related stories on P. 1, but I think this piece is just as important as the other three.

This was a strong week for Lede of the Week, but the award goes to Lauren Wagner for her lede on study abroad.

Have I mentioned yet how proud I am of this staff to put these newsy stories together — and to question authority while doing it — as we near the end of the school year? This paper kicks some serious ass — and I hope we can continue to do so over the next three weeks. Isn’t it much better to write real news rather than to rewrite crappy press releases?

Austin, Bayley and Lauren aren’t the only students who know how to write ledes. Check out this gem from Stephanie Hoshor: A trip to Juneau, Alaska means more than just a vacation to four Doane students. Just 15 words. And I’m hooked. I want to know more.

Nice to see a byline from Cale Eirich. And a decent story about cellphone-less Lee Tasey.

Good shot of Economics professor Les Manns from Caitlyn Nelson.

Also, fine story from Anna Flores on Manns and his unorthodox style of teaching Economics.

A couple of decent stories from Jess Eddmeiri, espcially the piece about morning workouts.

Not only does she write a mean story, but Bayley Bischof also can churn out excellent editorials, such as the study abroad eddy this week. Spot on.

I assume the editorial cartoon is from Nikki Blumenthal. I can’t tell because she doesn’t get credit for it. Boo. But whoever drew it did a fine job.

Problems:

P. 1 is too gray below the fold.

Omit needless words.

Avoid widows — one or two words in the last line of a cutline. Write tighter to avoid the widow or write longer to add more information. I prefer tighter writing.

Place the attributive verb, “said,” as close to the name as possible.

What’s the first rule of journalism? You got it: Get the names right. So why do we call her Sheri Hannigan when it should be Sherri Hanigan?

Write in S-V-O style. Example: Instead of “Hanigan said Student Support Services was supposed to serve … Write: “Hanigan said Student Support Services served …” Save a few words.

I love the endowment story … but, where’s the logo that should accompany the series? This is a three-part series. We need to tell readers that so they can look for the next installment, either online or in the paper. That’s why a logo is so important.

The photos in the study abroad collage are out of focus. Why?

Austin wrote a third story. He should have stayed with writing two. It’s not that his third piece is terribly written, but we have read it before. This year. In a news story. And then a column. And now another news story. Seriously? This is no longer news, IMHO. I’m sorry that conservative students feel this way, but the fact of the matter is that conservative voters elected the least qualified man ever to be president — at least in my lifetime. And it shows. Who, for example, creates policy by Tweets? In addition, I’m not buying Mr. Ernst’s compaint that Republicans don’t get the same treatment as liberals on social media. Has anyone heard the phrase “snowflakes?” How often has the media been referred to as the “liberal lamestream” media in social media? The only interesting take from the story, IMHO, is that a Doane professor would lecture someone on Facebook about what she should post. That’s downright creepy. Not to mention a violation of her First Amendment right to post anything she damn well wants.

Why is the mug of Lauren Magner so huge? Nothing else to put in the space? Not a good reason.

Why did we print the cutline on the photo? That goes against our cutline style. I don’t get it.

Why is the SWAT story below the conservative piece? At least the SWAT contains some news.

When a story contains numbers, you must make sure that the numbers add up. Example: We say the SWAT team has three members now. It will accept up to 16 new members for next year. That sounds like 19 members to me, but our story reads: “making the group grow to possibly 18 members.”

Cutlines are a recurring problem. On P. 3, we have a photo of two women. I’m unsure who is Amy and who is Morgan because we never ID them.

Watch the spacing on cutlines and headlines. Often, they come too darn close to the body text.

What happened to headline hierarchy? On P. 4, the larger, bolder hed is at the fold while the smaller hed is at the top of the page. Huh?

I was unsure what the word, Cru, meant so I looked it up. Here’s the definition: a vineyard producing wine of high quality, sometimes classified by the government as either a Great Growth (Grand Cru)or a First Growth (Premier Cru). Somehow, I don’t think that’s what is meant in the missionaries story. Perhaps we should have ID’d what Cru stands for?

What is Medjugorje? Did we misspell something? Is this a place? If so, where?

Say what you mean. Example: The job will help the students get to know the locals and area more and also give them the chance to speak the word to them. What word will they speak to them? Is it so naughty we decided not to use it?

Why are some grafs indented so much?

Tough Tigers should be uppercase in the cutline.

What’s an “on estudent?” See P. 8 cutline.

Also in that cutline, could some please explain this word to me: excitibed? The online dictionary has no clue what the word is. It suggests excited.

In the (yet another) ODK story, Hostert needs to be higher in the lede. Maybe the first two words?

What dos this sentence mean: The award comes from a series of 14 awards that all presented by the ODK chapter at Doane. I’m clueless. Is this award a combination of the 14? Culmination? What exactly? Also, there seems to be a verb missing in that sentence.

Remember to attribute information. You don’t know people’s thoughts until they tell you. Then you attribute them.

Grammar:

We continue to have issues with reported speech. If the lede verb in a sentence is the past tense, “said,” the remaining verbs must be in past tense. Example: Hanigan said there was a … not is.

Avoid awkward writing. If it’s difficult to read out loud, rewrite it.

Like means similar. So, try it on this sentence: Rogerson said she had always felt similar she had been … Hmmm. That doesn’t work. How about: Rogerson said she had always felt as if she had been … Now we’re cooking.

Punctuation nearly always goes inside quote marks.

It’s toward, not towards.

Use which for nonessential clauses. Use that for essential clauses. Example: The American System focused on building infrastructure, the roads, bridges and canals that would help America’s farmers transport goods to market. Not which. The clause, “would help America’s farmers transport goods to market,” is essential for the sentence to make sense.

Avoid adverbs religiously. (Hah, see what I did there? OK, just avoid adverbs.)

What does GPAC stand for? Spell it out for readers.

The noun, team, is singular. It takes a singular pronoun and verb.

The word, nationals, in sports stories means absolutely nothing. What are nationals? Give the full name of the meet. And where it will be. Example: The National Association of Intercollegiate Association Tennis National Championship in Mobile, Alabama.

Style:

It’s President Trump on first reference.

How do we write money? What’s the style? 193 million dollars or $193 million?

What’s style — advisor or adviser?

What’s style for the use of numerals under 10?

What’s style on dates — May 21st or May 21?

What’s style for percentages — % or percent?

What’s style on titles without a name?

Prior to or before?

Doaneline:

Little to write about here since I couldn’t find any exclusive content.

I did notice a link is missing on a photo on the homepage.

Speaking of links, in general, we need to do a better job of establishing hyperlinks in stories.

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