Hindsight, Dec. 2, 2016

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications.


Outstanding. Bayley Bischof’s feature obit of David Breckbill is an exceptional piece of work. Somehow, the Owl EIC found time to interview at least eight, maybe more, sources for this piece while still concentrating on classes and publishing the Owl. All student journalists should take note of this story because it bares the soul of David Breckbill, the way a profile, or a feature obit, should do. Are there flaws? Yes, a couple. The story is a tad too long. By that, I mean we could have cut superfluous words and tightened it. Perhaps the nut graf is too low in the story. We should put the attributive verb said as close to the name of the source as possible. But these criticisms are small compared to the body of work involved in this story. This is one of the best pieces of student journalism I have read in my 18 years as adviser of the paper, website, yearbook and magazine. It is a textbook example of how to write the story of a person’s life. All staff members owe it to yourselves to read it and take note of the style, the tone, the work and, yes, the passion Bayley put into this piece. I can’t praise it enough. And I’m not alone. Retired German professor Peter Reinkordt visited my office on Friday to tell me specifically what a great job Bayley had done. She got him, he said. She nailed him, he told me. The only regret is that Dr. Breckbill couldn’t read his own obituary.

Glad we got a photo of Breckbill.

Gibson Shaffer, like Bayley and several others on the staff, including BNWR writers, has a future in journalism if she wants it. She knows how to write — and write cleanly, as her stories constantly show.

How can anyone object to a story about a stress less week? Nice job, Jess Eddmeiri (and glad to see we got her byline right this time).

What did we do in our teasers to make the orange in SPORTS and LIFE&CULTURE stand out? Looks better.

The first two pages of the paper sound is if they are a Music Department annual report, but ’tis the season. Thanks to Lauren Wagner for telling all about the yearly Christmas Festival.

Good lede alert: “People with disabilities often face discrimination when it comes to job opportunities — but here at Doane, such thing does not exist.” — Gibson Shaffer. It could be improved, though. How does this read: People with disabilities often face discrimination in job opportunities — but not at Doane. That’s eight fewer words — and it says the same thing.

Stephanie Hoshor’s piece on the St. Kitt native is another example of exceptional feature writing. Though not as detailed as Bayley’s, Stephanie still gets to the heart and soul of Josiah Oyebefun in this profile of his long, strange trip from St. Kitt to Doane. Excellent work.

Photo of the Week: Caitlyn Nelson’s shot of Josiah Oyebefun in the lab. This is exactly what we need more of — planning to make sure we get the subject of a profile doing what he does on campus. The easy shot could have been running track, but Nelson correctly goes for a more meaningful photo. Oyebefun never is going to be a professional track athlete (is there such a thing?) but he could be a scientist someday, and that’s why this photo, in addition to showing some action, works. If only we could have stopped the action of him with the vial in his hand … still, a wonderful shot.

Runner-up to Photo of the Week: Bayley Bischof’s photo of the homemade Harry Potter wand on P. 5. Well played, BTW, by the editors.

Nice graphic from Bayley Bischof showing phrases that support rape victims and those that fail to support. Graphic of the Week.

Can’t disagree with any of the columns this week. Well done.

Welcome back to the Owl, Trey Perry! It’s great to see your byline again.

Lede of the Week: We have several good ledes in this paper, but the best belongs to Bayley Bischof’s multi-graf lede of David Breckbill’s demise.

Headline of the Week: Breckbill leaves legacy of passion


For some reason, we’ve returned in our teasers to redundancy. For example, we tell our readers that SPORTS is on page 8 or LIFE&CULTURE is on page 5, but then in the teaser, we specifically refer to sports and page 5. Why?

Omit needless words.

Why do we have super indents on Page 3 stories?

While the writing has improved from BNWR students over the semester, sometimes the reporters fail to see the forest for the trees. In the music education piece, for example, we talk about a project but don’t quite tell people what the students do. We allude to it, but we don’t give the specifics of what the project entails. Is it simply the experiment? If so, that’s not a project. It’s an experiment.

To avoid awkward writing, consider turning the sentence around. Example: “The food service at Doane, Sodexo, currently has five or more people working for them through Region V, an organization that helps people with disabilities find work” … Simply turn the sentence around: At least five Sodexo food service workers at Doane come from Region V … That cuts five words out of the sentence and is more straightforward, with two fewer commas. Plus, it’s active, not passive. Remember, S-V-O sentences.

Avoid redundancies.

In most cases, it’s preferable to include people in photos.

Photo of Rachel Jacobsen needs to be cropped, severely. Way too much empty space.

I like this lede from Austin Plourde: Often silenced are the voices of sexual assault victims. One of the pleasures of my job is to see students begin to find their writing voices. That is emerging from writers such as Austin, Gibson, Stephanie and others from the BNWR class. And that is so cool.

Cutline problems: Use strong, active verbs and omit needless words. Example: The fan club had a craft night where they all sat around and … Who cares if they sat around? And what fan club? How about: The Harry Potter fan club hosted a craft night in which members made … The same number of words, but now we have an active voice and we provide more information, namely what fan club.

Poor headline: St. Kitt native studies science at Doane. Of all the headlines we could have written on this story, this perhaps says the least. But then, most of our headlines seem to have little thought to them. We need to work on that.

Why in God’s name do we not have a headline on the Staff Editorial? Couldn’t we think of one?

Photo on editorial page is so gray it’s difficult to see what’s being depicted. We needed more contrast here.

In 99 percent of cases, avoid leading a sentence with the time element. It just isn’t that important.

It’s not Doane volleyball. Doane volleyball would encompass the decades-long history of volleyball at Doane. It should be the Doane volleyball team.

Avoid bumped heds.

Headlines should be 5–7 words long. “All-American injured” and “Women’s basketball tested” make for lousy heds because they fail to give readers much info.

What does this mean?: “…the wrestling team stayed strong.” Was there some concern that the team would become weaklings? I’m confused. It still lost. Moral victories don’t count.

The first rule of journalism is to get the names right. In the wrestling story, we have two spellings for the junior All-American wrestler who was injured. Which is it? Knight or Kight?

Grammar and structure:

Remove “to be” words when possible. Example: will be hosting should be: will host.

In 99 percent of cases, you don’t need “in order” in the phrase in order to. Cut it.

Reported speech: When you began a sentence with past-tense attribution, the rest of the verbs must be past tense. Example: Nielsen said the whole night is … wrong. Nielsen said the whole night was … right.

When speaking about people, use who, not that.

Omit as many adverbs as possible, especially currently. If you must use a word to denote what is happening at this point in time, use now. Often, though, you don’t need to do that. Example: Doane University is currently in the process of hiring … If you omit currently, nothing is lost in the sentence. Also, think of other ways to say that. Example: Doane University is searching for a new library director … By choosing words carefully, you can save space — in this case, five words. Why is that important? If you can cut five words out of every sentence, the stories are crisper, cleaner, easier and more compelling to read. Plus, you save valuable space for other stories, more photos, more ads, etc.

For some reason, we have a tendency to quote directly from rules and regulations, job postings, etc. In most cases, we don’t need to do that. Just paraphrase what the document says — unless it’s an indepth or investigative story that hinges on those exact words.

They, as a pronoun, can be used if the noun is plural. I would even agree to use it as a gender-neutral pronoun. Otherwise, though, it is grammatically incorrect to use a singular noun with the plural pronoun, they. Example: Don’t panic; just support your friend. Listen to what they choose … wrong. Friend is a singular noun. It takes a singular pronoun. Listen to what she … correct. This is in the column about rape disclosure. I realize men can be raped as well, but the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults involve women as victims. Use the female pronoun.

Style: Use the day when something will happen within a week of publication.

Titles are uppercase before the name, lowercase after the name. Lowercase if there is no name associated with the title.

No one is a lady in news, unless it’s a quote. So, instead of: The ladies of Chi Delta … It should read: The Chi Delta women …

What’s with the numbers in front of Doane and Carrol College on the volleyball cutline? Is that to signify a ranking? If so, that’s not how it’s done. Consult your AP Stylebook.


The only story different from the Owl, at least that I saw, was Anna Flores piece on the Angel Tree program. Nice work, Anna. And links. Yes!