Hindsight, Feb. 23, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media

Praises:

I gotta be honest: this paper doesn’t deserve many praises. It looks as if we slapped it together, which, I’m guessing, is exactly what we did.

Glad that we had an update on the VPAA story and I love that we used bullets — but only three — in the middle of the story to let readers know what the hiring goals are. Excellent work.

BTW, I’m thrilled we reported on an email from Dan Clanton on this story, much to the chagrin of Clanton, who was so upset about it that he told the entire Fine Arts and Humanities faculty that they are not to release Clanton’s emails to the press. Is that a gag order? I don’t know, but I’m happy we’re developing sources willing to share such info. That’s what beat reporters should do. Exceptional work, Austin.

Nice photo of Jackson Mancieri on P. 2 from Brooke Buller, but I wish the cutline would have told us exactly what it is he’s doing.

Photo of the Week: Love the yoga photo by Aspen Green.

I like that we have an editorial cartoonist, whoever it is. No credit line means readers have no clue.

Nice column on why students should be Greeks from Austin. Tood bad the ending got chopped off so readers couldn’t finish it.

I like Haley Nast’s column on the Bachelor — but please let me rant for a minute. I know this is just a TV show and I shouldn’t get too exorcised about the blatant sexism in it. But in this show we have several young women vying for the affection of one man — The Bachelor, correct? Does anyone see the obvious sexism here? So now we have a column that tells women how to act to land The Bachelor. Again, I know it’s just a TV show, but do we have to tell women not to get drunk, to wear underwear, to get along with everyone and to stop saying stupid things on camera. I mean, why don’t we tell The Bachelor to quit quadruple-timing women, to quit making out with one woman while another stands by and to quit stringing women along like the asshole he is? Why don’t we show young girls that it’s better to be financially independent than to stab other women in the back for the attention of a good-looking but potentially shallow man who gets to choose from a dozen gorgeous women all fawning over him? OK, rant over. I’ll shut up now.

Two strong columns from Caitria West-Warren on trafficking and Zach Renshaw on deregulation. Outstanding work. And Caitria’s piece is buttressed by a graphic from Caleb Rezac. Thanks, Caleb.

Congrats to the cheer team for breaking its 0–3 year start.

Lede of the Week: What it lacks in quantity, the Doane Forensics makes up for in quality — Austin Plourde.

Headline of the Week: Forensics thrives with few members

Graphic of the Week: Trafficking by Caleb Rezac.

Problems:

Second line of the two-line banner headline on P. 1 is too short.

A two-line banner hed on a club offering free tax services? Isn’t that overkill?

It is cool that the accounting club offered these tax services free to Doane students. It is not, though, the top news story of the week. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Can we not find other, more important news to share with our readers? In addition, the story should have been done last week, when the services still were available, so more students could take advantage of them. What’s the point of writing the story for publication two days after the program ends?

Avoid bumped heads.

Poor headline: Doane brings rape survivor. What does that mean? What is Doane bringing to her? This is a sensitive subject yet we treat it with a hammer and chisel in the headline.

OK, I’ve written about this before so, for the life of me, I fail to understand why — for the love of Joseph Pulitzer — we continue to separate the headline from the story by slapping artwork between the hed and story? Why do we want to make readers work hard to determine where the story starts?

Answer readers’ questions: In the accounting club story, we say the dates of the session were earlier to increase attendance. When were they scheduled in the past? Did the new schedule serve its purpose? In the rape story, we write that Ms. Koestner endured the “first ever sexual misconduct hearing at one of the oldest colleges in America.” OK, which one? Why make the reader guess? Here’s another question: Doane is going to hire two people to replace Burney. At what cost? During a time of potential budget cutbacks, is that a wise move? We don’t know answers to those questions because we apparently failed to ask them. You must ask the questions. If we asked the questions and failed to get a response, then we should say so in the story. Here’s another example: “The team has broke(n) several records, expecially at national tournaments.” OK, such as? What records were broken? At what national tournaments (I thought the national tournament is coming up in the next few weeks). Here’s another one: “Her certification right now is 500 registered yoga teacher certification, she said.” What the hell does that mean? I’m clueless. Also, savasana? I don’t perform yoga so I have no idea what that word means. You must define it.

Avoid the term “nationals.” State exactly what the event is: The National Forensic Tournament (or whatever the proper name is).

Our mugs, especially of John Burney, which is out of focus and pixilated, are way too large.

Avoid leading any story with a long introductory clause. Example: With Dean of Academic Affairs John Burney leaving his position and joining the faculty after this semester, the process to fill the vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the faculty at Doane positions has begun. That’s a 37-word lede, folks. Edit it. Get rid of the introductory clause, which is old news anyway. Example: The process to replace John Burney has begun. That’s only 7 words. Maybe too short? OK, how about: It will take two people to do the job of one John Burney, Doane administrators say. That’s 16 words — and more to the point of the story.

Why the use of “us” and “we,” first person pronouns, in the Burney story. I thought we wrote in third person? Editors, do you read the paper you produce?

We call Ramesh Laungani an associate professor of biology in a P. 2 cutline but an assistant biology professor in the story. Which is it? He can’t be both.

The lede in the science research story isn’t about majors spending hours in the lab. It’s about Mancieri and others. This is a people story. Begin with the second graf. Give us an anecdote. Show us, don’t tell us.

Avoid placing pull quotes at the bottom of legs of text. Move them up to the top of a leg of text.

We set the type on the Koestner jump as a one-column story, making it difficult if not impossible to read. Avoid this. I don’t mind bastard type, but we should have at least a couple of columns here.

The lede on the meal plan story is in the fourth graf. This is a story about people who are allergic to various types of foods. But above all, it is about people. Make the lede about people.

Cutline on the meal plan photo is too wordy. Why not simply: Students who have extreme medical restrictions have trouble finding options in Doane’s cafeteria. That eliminates 13 words from the original cutline.

In the Forensics photo, we show a student giving a speech. Nowhere in the cutline do we ID that student. Why not?

Watch spacing. The descender on the P in the yoga headline bleeds into the story. Avoid that.

People aren’t calibers.

Quick soups for the snow? We’re going to feed soup to snow? That headline makes no sense (though I do like the idea and the fact that we were thinking ahead here).

Doane’s Got Talent is a multimedia story. It belongs as a video or audio slideshow on Doaneline. Rather than write a print story, simply run a photo of the event and refer to Doaneline for coverage. BTW, is that the best photo we could get of the event? It sure would be nice to see faces.

Do not, I repeat, do not run photos of dozens of people lined up as if for an execution. We did that on P. 5. Then we failed to tell readers the names of the people in the photo, which you must do if you’re going to run it. Remember, the faces in all photos should be as big as a dime. Here, they’re not. Doesn’t Jay Gilbert have a shot of a couple of students singing or doing something else?

Where is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art? We fail to say in the cutline (though the story indicates it’s in KC — and it’s one of the finest museums around, if I might add).

What happened to headlines on editorials?

What the hell is the thing … that’s the only word I can think of … with the baseball story? Chart? Graph? What the hell is that? It looks as if it’s a massive filler. Why not do a story and combine it with a graphic that shows how shitty the team is this year? But don’t just plop whatever this is into the paper and call it good. It looks unprofessional because it is. BTW, how do you spell defensively? I ask because we misspelled it … in large type. Also, in a span of four words, we use three adverbs. You’ve got to be kidding. One more thing: Any baseball fan knows what Ks are. Strikeouts are not S/O. They are Ks. To baseball fans, we look ridiculous calling them S/Os. Look, I like the idea — showing readers why the baseball team blows this year — but I abhor the implementation.

Photo of cheer team is out of focus.

We buried the lede again in the morning training story. It’s in the fourth graf. Again, this story is about people getting up at the crack ass of dawn to lift weights, run or do other strenuous exercise. No one likes climbing out of a warm bed (especially one shared with a significant other) to sweat your ass off by working out. That’s the story. It’s in the people. Tell us how they get up because that is, as the quote says, the hardest part.

Grammar and structure:

How do you spell their? We spelled it theit … on P. 1.

Team is a singular noun. It requires a singular pronoun — it.

Omit unneeded words. Phrases such as “the main reason” and “mostly due to the fact that” should be eliminated from your prose. Let’s see how that works using this sentence: “According to Burgett, the main reason for the small number of students who show up for help is mostly due to the fact that most students have their parents or guardians file their tax returns for them.” That’s 37 words to slog through. Now, rewrite it: Few students request help because their parents or guardians file their tax returns for them. That’s 15 words. You can cut 22 words out of the original sentence and still it makes sense. What’s the big deal about cutting 22 words? People are more likely to read your story if its shorter or it flows quickly. Also, we save space for other news — or ads.

Also, consider rewriting that sentence to get rid of the extraneous words. Here’s the original sentence as it appeared in the paper: “Besides benefitting the student who receives help on their tax returns, the helps sessions are also beneficial to the accounting majors who are helping as they get real-world experience, said Zach Zahnow, Accounting Club treasurer.” A 35-word sentence. Edit it to make it more readable: The returns benefit students and provide accounting majors with real-world experience, said Zach Zahnow, Accounting Club treasurer. That’s 17 words, or about half of the previous sentence. If you want, you now have some room to embellish a little: The service has a two-fold benefit. Students get help with their tax returns while accounting majors learn real-world experience, said Zach Zahnow, Accounting Club treasuer. That’s 25 words — still 10 fewer than the original sentence. Writers need to know this; editors should know this and edit accordingly.

BTW, excessive wording is found throughout the paper, not just the accounting club piece. Here’s an example: Katie Koestner was 18 and in college when she was forced to have sex against her will by her date. In other words, she was raped. Why don’t we just say that and save 6 words?

Avoid this grammatical trap: Besides benefitting the student who receives help on their tax returns … Student is a singular noun. It requires a singular pronoun. It should read … receives help on his tax … But that’s sexist. What’s a writer to do? Make the noun plural: Besides benefitting students who receive help on their tax returns … By doing that, you solve the grammatical trap.

Vibing? No. Don’t use slang unless it’s in a quote. If you use it, you must explain to people what it means.

If the dominant verb in a sentence is the attributive verb, said, then the other verbs must be past tense. Example: Jacobsen said she thinks … Nope. Jacobsen said she thought …

Build transitions into stories to allow them to flow.

Omit adverbs. Write in S-V-O style (Subject, verb, object). Example: Swartz threw the flawed newspaper across the room.

Style:

We use the attributive verb “said” for human sources, not according to.

What’s style, advisor or adviser?

What’s style on numerals?

What’s style on money — five thousand dollars or $5,000?

What’s style on days of the week? Do we abbreviate them?

Last name only on second reference. No courtesy titles, such as coach.

Doaneline:

Perhaps I’m blind, but I see little if any content on Doaneline that I don’t see in the paper. Other than Austin Plourde’s blog, which I would prefer to have linked to Blog tab at the top of the page, but it’s your website, not mine.

Two things, though:

  1. Doaneline would have been the perfect place for a multimedia piece about Doane’s Got Talent.
  2. The GPAC track meet was Feb. 17–18. I know this because I saw the advance on Doaneline. What I didn’t see was a story telling me how Doane performed at that track meet, which happened 10 days ago. One of the main reasons to have a website is to allow you to update information as it happens — to, in effect, serve as a daily news organization, when needed. Failure to do that means that few people will view your homepage. Why would they? The news is 10 days old.