Hindsight, April 20, 2017

Your weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

Perhaps we hit the bong or roach clip too many times on the April 20 edition, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the previous week. Last week, the paper was chock full of news. This week, not so much. But you can’t expect to hit all-time highs every week. I get that. Next week, is the last paper of EIC Bayley Bischof’s reign. The week after is the first paper in which new EIC Lauren Wagner will run the show. It would be fantastic if those two papers would rock. So put down the pipe, grab a brownie and let’s go.

Praises:

Nice graphic from Lauren Wagner about the difference in how low- and high-income students afford college. The color scheme especially is well conceived. Why, though, would we put the higher-income students first? Shouldn’t the lower-income students come first, closer to the axis?

Bayley Bischof’s second installment of the endowment story isn’t as strong as the first, but at least it lays out the reasons why people are questioning the enormity of savings accounts held by universities. That’s central to the endowment project. Since it is a long, complex story, I’m happy Bayley used subheads to help break the piece into chunks. Exceptional work.

I like Brooke Buller’s photo (or photo illustration?) that accompanies the LBGTQ community piece.

Graphic of the Week: Caleb Rezac’s Fishing Derby graphic. Well done.

Lede of the Week: “Dreams of fishing in Doane Lake are about to come true for the Crete community as the annual kids’ Fishing Derby draws near. The fish in the lake are not going to fare as well.” — Stephanie Hoshor. Provides good info with a bit of levity.

I like Caleb’s travel course graphic, but why show the entire world? No one is going to South America, Africa, Australia, etc. Focus on Europe and North America.

Cole Bauer’s travel course story is one of the best written — if not the best written — story in this paper. With one exception: The lede talks about students escaping winter by going on trips to Florida, Cuba, Guatemala and London. Er? London? Not escaping winter there. That’s like saying Seattle is on the East Coast.

I like Nikki Blumenthal’s editorial cartoon, but I’d make sure that people understand we’re poking fun at Sodexo. That’s not mentioned in the words. Example: Sodexo’s ‘fresh’ chicken sandwich.

Nice track photo from Caitlyn Nelson.

One of the best stories in the paper is the piece Anna Flores wrote about Senior Day. She gets the lede right, sets the scene, etc. Outstanding work.

Problems:

Worst headline of the week: “Don’t forget to blaze up today — It’s April 20.” Let me make sure I understand what we’re saying here. We’re telling students to fire up a fatty though it is clearly an illegal activity. We shouldn’t promote illegal activities on P. 1. Or anywhere in the paper. We can do stories about marijuana and 4/20 without promoting illegal activity.

Second worst headline of the week: Kayla Decker resigns as Greet Life Director. OK, the headline isn’t so bad, but the placement of it is. As a below-the-flag refer to Doaneline. The play of this story is overrated. I understand that we want to promote Doaneline. I don’t have a problem with that. But the simple fact of the matter is that the P. 1 placement signifies that we think this is big news. It suggests that something weird or fishy is going on here. The fact of the matter is that she’s getting married. That’s not P. 1 news. People do that all the time. And, by the way, we told people to go to Doaneline for more info, but that more info wasn’t available until Sunday morning. From her announcement five days ago until Sunday, all we had was a brief — a few short lines — about her resignation. Why would we tell people on Thursday to check out Doaneline for more info when Doaneline didn’t have the info for 3–4 more days? Imagine a reader’s frustration to turn to Doaneline about this story and finding, at most, a brief.

We fail at headline hierarchy on P. 1. The college endowment story, if it is to be at the top of the page, needs to be bigger and bolder.

Omit needless words when writing stories.

Avoid negatives in stories, when possible.

Say things simply. It’s President Trump. Use commander in chief when we’re discussing military operations, not endowments.

What is “the legislation” as used in this sentence: Trump, and members of the legislation … Legislation means laws. Do we mean legislature here? Legislatures make laws. Better yet, why not call it what most people do — Congress?

When mentioning a congressman, please include whether that person is a Republican or Democrat and where that person is from. Example: Adrian Smith, R-Neb., …

Avoid using “therefore” in most stories — unless it’s a quote.

The lede on the minority students story is in the fourth/fifth graf. This essentially is a localization. Put locals first.

Move definitions lower in stories. Why bog down your story with a definition in the second graf?

Longer sentences, usually, should be broken into two or more sentences. Longer grafs, usually, should be broken into two or more grafs. Make it easy for the reader to follow.

The Sodexo story seems shaky to me. I don’t think I would have run it. Look, I know it has served uncooked meat to Doane students. And that’s certainly worth reporting. But this F rating from a website that doesn’t seem to be legitimate is concerning. Why not get the state health department report on Sodexo at Doane? That would be much more revealing than some national website of which no one has ever heard. You realize that Sodexo is the caterer for dozens, perhpas hundreds, of universities? But for this story, we’re more concerned about Doane, correct? Why do I question the website? Because it’s writer, DeeAnne Oldham, seems to have no experience in health nor in writing. In a brief look after Googling her name, I found no other stories she had written, other than her family was in crisis once. Having a Facebook or LinkedIn account isn’t experience in either discipline.

Avoid quoting staff writers. The only time we should quote anyone on the staff is when it involves some issue regarding Doane Student Media or journalism.

What is OBC? Spell it on first reference.

Attribute information.

Cutline writing continues to plague the Owl. Example: Sodexo received an F rating and another Doane student has a bad experience with the food at Doane again, with her chicken raw after Sodexo has already served raw chicken earlier this year, plus chewed gum in a dish of rice. That’s 40 words and I don’t know WTF it means.

Why would we jump an inch or two of a story? Why would we make the readers work to reach the end of the piece? Why wouldn’t we better edit the story to fit it on P. 1?

Why would we repeat info in a story? Move on.

We had no past photos of the Fishing Derby or Mind Expo to use? P. 3 looks awfully gray.

The lede in the MindExpo story is in the fifth graf — the research about migrant community members. Look, the whole reason for MindExpo is to expose people to student research so why not lede with a cool research project, then in the fifth or sixth graf, give people the nut graf — the point of the story, the reason for writing it. It’s not about this one person, but about all students doing research.

What’s with the Things to do in Guatemala thing? I’m not sure what to even call it. Why would we do something such as that? What’s the point? It looks as if we’re simply filling space, which makes us look, well, unprofessional. Find another way to fill that space. A photo of Cuba, perhaps? Mugs of Souchek and Vaccaro? Pull quotes? Lots of ways to do it. But not this way.

Photos of the Week: Caitlyn Nelson’s close-up shots of pot being rolled into a blunt and stuffed into a pipe. Hmmm, I can smell that pungent aroma. :-)

Unfortunately, the story about 4/20 gets it wrong in the lede: “April 4 at 4:20 p.m., a seemingly insignificant day, is deemed 4/20 … No. It’s 4:20 on April 20 that’s significant. I’m unsure where this April 4 idea came from. Why would we miss that so badly in reporting and editing when the headline clearly states: April 20 brings celebration of marijuana.

Write transitions to avoid quick left-turns in stories.

Why would we place an art element in the middle of a column of text? At the end of the fourth graf in the 4/20 story, the reader is unsure where the story continues because we block the reading path with a photo.

No still photo from the new commercial available for the marketing story?

In the editorial, the important info isn’t that the Owl reporter didn't get an interview — BTW, he was not denied an interview with the StuCo president — but that StuCo refuses to provide students with any information about its budget, how much it has in the bank, how it spends its money on allocations and big events, etc. Students have a right to know. We finally make the bigger point in the fourth graf. It should be the first. Later, the eddy makes some great points, but it took too long to get to them.

Austin Plourde’s column belongs on the sports page. Also, no love for plucky Isaiah Thomas? The guy is 5 feet, 9 inches tall — no taller than me. He averages 29 points/game. He’s led the Celtics to the best record in the East — a short guy like him playing a game like basketball? He doesn’t even belong on the court, right? He’s the shrimp, the last kid chosen. Yet what he does is amazing. And he’s playing his playoff games in grief at the death of his baby sister. How can you NOT love Isaiah Thomas?

Austin mentions Russell Westbrook’s shooting percentage ranked 26th out of 35 players — what 35 players? The 35 bench sitters in the league? The stat contains no context.

Avoid placing art elements on top of ads and below legs of text.

Why do we run such huge mug shots? Shrink ’em down. If you run bastard type, text wrap around the mug.

What does this mean: Much like the Civil Rights movement, young college kids are making a stand against a system that is working … Huh? Aside from the redundancy (young college kids), why would they make a stand against a system that’s working? Are they anarchists? Who exactly is editing these stories and columns?

Outdoor track is a sport, like baseball or football. Sports cannot “host” anything. So on the sports page, the track story lede should be: Doane’s outdoor track (note lower case) team will host … Also, it should be the outdoor track season.

Why do we honor Jim Dutcher with a track meet? I couldn’t find that answer in the story — other than a brief mention of his “success,” whatever that was.

The headline reads: Doane baseball faces uphill battle headed into Senior Day, April 21. Other than we need the day, not the date, the headline talks about an “uphill battle.” The story doesn’t. Why would we write such a headline?

Style:

Abbreviate representative when used with a name. Example: U.S. Rep. Tom Reed …

How do we write money? Will someone please — I beg of you — look it up?

How do we write percent — % or percent?

What’s style regarding percentages? Do we spell out numbers or use numerals? For example, is this correct: A low-icnome student only gets two percent …

When something happens within a week of publication — such as the “silent day” on April 14 — use the day, not the date.

Do we use both day and date in stories?

When do we use numerals and when to we spell them out?

Style on an event: Time, day, place — in that order.

People don’t sit on people — unless, of course, they are intimately close to each other. So why would we call someone a chair?

Use simple words. Jailed, not incarcerated.

Place short titles, 2–3 words, before the name. Longer titles after the name.

What’s style for titles used after the name?

What’s style for advisor?

Grammar:

Doane is a singular entity and requires a singular noun. The pronoun must likewise be singular — its, not their.

Eliminate -ing words when possible. Example: Freshman Kasey Dils said he planned to partake, not on partaking.

Punctuation goes inside the quote marks.

Write complete sentences. S-V-O — subject, verb, object.

Doaneline:

Never abbreviate April.

Links. We need links in stories. Otherwise, all you have is an electronic version of the newspaper. The links, along with the video and audio, help make multimedia stories. Please, please — I beg of you — include links online.

Glad we got the short story about the StuCo executive team. Nice work, Anna Flores.

And good work from Cole Bauer to get the Decker story — and post the brief almost immediately. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

I inadvertently failed to recognize two multimedia projects from Relay for Life in last week’s Hindsight, so let me correct that issue now. Caitlyn Nelson took some fantastic photos during Relay, making them into a gallery. Just three suggestions: Get the names of people for cutlines and explain, when needed, what is happening in photos through cutlines. For example, in one photo, a luminary mentions Amy Schmitt. If we can, we should briefly explain who that person’s relationship to Doane. Third, tell a story with your photos, not just a bunch of random photos in the gallery. Allow the story to progress through photos, showing us the action and emotion.

As for the three videos of performances at Relay, well, we’ve got some work to do. First, they were shot too far away. We can’t see faces. I noticed others shooting photos/video down by the luminaries. Why weren’t we? Second, use a tripod. When you don’t use a tripod, your video looks unprofessional. It looks that way because it is. Simple as that. Third, how do these random videos tell any story? Are there stories behind the videos? Just posting video of anything at Relay doesn’t mean its worthwhile. Tell us a story of the Dance Project or the Martial Arts performance. Interview people. Use the video as B roll for the story you’re trying to tell. Video alone is not storytelling. I can post a cute cat video anytime. As multimedia journalists, the job is to tell stories. Use video to enhance the story — not as the only reason to exist. Be a storyteller.