Hindsight, March 16, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

Before I begin with the praises and problems, let me compliment the Owl and Doaneline staffs. I’ve spent the past week helping to judge newspapers and websites of the Oklahoma Collegiate Media Association contest. Newspapers and websites from schools twice our size and larger entered the entries I have judged.

We’d win most of the categories.

I’m not saying that because I am biased, even though I am. I’m saying it because either the Oklahoma schools do a lousy job teaching journalism or we do a damn good job publishing a paper and a website. I don’t think the instruction in Oklahoma is that much different than what you get here at Doane, so we must be pretty damn good at what we do.

Now, I admit, I’m critical of the Owl and Doaneline. Every week, I write more about our problems than sing our praises. In part, that’s because I always want us to improve. There is always room for improvement. As rocker Billy Joel (he’ll perform a concert next Friday in Lincoln) once sang in the song, “Vienna:” “But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?”

Since I don’t consider myself a fool, I will never be satisfied. You all know that. I’m demanding. I admit it.

But I can see that your hard work pays off. It’s glaringly apparent to me that we are so much better than the publications of most of our peers — at least in Oklahoma.

Pat yourselves on the back. Go out and drink a green beer. Savor this praise from me. You and I know I don’t pat you on the back enough. Enjoy it. Congratulate yourselves. You’ve earned it.

The second issue in this preamble is not nearly as pleasant. As good as we are, we can be better, and I feel as if we’ve slid downhill as a news organization this semester. Part of that is that the editors have few reporters — outside of the incredibly prolific Austin Plourde — on which to rely. But partly, we don’t seem to care that much anymore. Sorry, but you have to care.

At 1 p.m. on Thursday, we still had newspapers wrapped and sitting on the steps of Gaylord Hall. That’s a crying shame. Those papers should be delivered by noon — everywhere. What’s the point of having them delivered at the crack ass of dawn — and what’s the point of you working your asses off to make deadline — if we’re not going to be as diligent in circulating the paper to the campus community?

In addition, it seems as if we sometimes phone in the stories, rather than work them. This paper and the one before are some of the best work this staff has done, IMHO, but before that, we ran schlock stories on P. 1 that didn’t deserve the play. And we seemed to be OK with that instead of searching for the better stories.

And we’re missing deadlines. We’re not getting stories, photos, etc. in on time. That’s got to stop.

In other words, I know you’re overworked. Some of you may be near burnout. I get it. But don’t give up now. You’ve got seven weeks left. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Please pour your heart and soul into the next few issues. It only benefits you because as the paper and website improve, your resume and portfolio improve to the point that you can win a job after graduation.

Dig deep. Keep working. Keep churning. Let’s finish strong. And we’ll party at the end.

Praises:

The last two papers have been some of the best work this staff has done all semester. Generally speaking, newsy stories, interesting photos, compelling graphics and even headlines that are at least presentable have been published in the last two weeks. Keep it up.

I’m glad we told students about the sexual assault coordinator since apparently no one in the administration thought to let students know that this person was on campus and could help students.

I’m unsure charter schools is that big of an issue to most Doane students, but I’m happy we covered the protest.

Free laundry! That’s probably bigger news than charter schools for students, and so you could argue those stories should be flipped, but I’m glad we wrote about it anyway.

Lede of the Week: Saving up quarters will no longer be necessary for Doane University students. Laundry will be free next semester — Austin Plourde. This 18-word lede perfectly sums up the story.

Love the murder mystery photo and glad we wrote a story on that upcoming party.

Clever icons on the SPB events. Nice job, Anna.

I also like the photo that goes with the trash story. In fact, that’s my Photo of the Week by Aspen Green.

I like the Trash story but just one question: How many pounds of trash are we talking about per day, week, month, year?

Nice graphic for the social media piece, but could we have thought of another way to do it? The Twitter bird with Xs on the eyes — Maybe on its back with legs in the air? Don’t be afraid to be creative.

Good, strong eddy.

I like Nikki Blumenthal’s editorial cartoon, but shouldn’t that Student Debt be one gigantic raindrop? Or is that supposed to be a bomb? That would work, too, but you’d need a wick on the bomb.

Overall, good columns.

I’m ecstatic we wrote about Dakarai Hightower’s accomplishments — as many as they are.

Exceptional design of Sports page. I especially like how Duhey used Hannah Barnard’s photo — and her height — to separate the story about her and the track nationals story. That use of her photo avoided a bumped headline issue.

Problems:

Last I looked, it was 2017. Yet our flag says that this paper’s date is March 16, 2016. Have we failed to change the year on papers all semester? Nope. Just this one.

Why don’t we have a photo of Suzannah Rogan? That would help the story.

I’m confused by the first three grafs of the sexual assault coordinator story. The lede is OK, but then she says her plan was to stay in the United Kingdom (as a reader, I didn’t even know she was there!), but the Brock Turner sexual assault case (whatever that is) changed her mind. Then we talk about a grant (how much? No clue). And the third graf is 39 words long — basically, a long sentence run-on. Do we not read the stories before we publish them? What happened to editing?

If it helps the lede, move some ID until later. For example, in the charter school story, IDing Krista Couton as a Doane alum is enough for the lede. In the next graf, tell us she’s a music teacher.

When we say someone believes something, we must tell readers the person said she believed it. How else would you know her belief system?

Omit needless words.

Avoid “there are” sentence constructions.

Why jump four short paragraphs? Edit the story. Keep it on P. 1.

Why would we shoot a photo of a washer and dryer? We all know what they look like. Why not shoot a photo of someone using the laundry facilities? Always try to get people in your photos — and stories.

Again, we have a good lede on a story, but the second graf on the laundry story is a head scratcher. What does that second graf mean?

What is JET? An airplane? You must define these terms or not use them.

The headline reads: Tuition increase makes students skeptical. So I thought this story about be about student reaction. Imagine my surprise when I had to read to the 15th graf to find out about what a student thinks. Not only did we bury the lede, we failed to get more than one student to comment. That’s pathetic. So how can we write about “students,” plural? Most of the story quotes Peggy Tvrdy. Why? Where are the students?

I like the icons on Life and Culture, but that calendar seems too big. Couldn’t we have shrunk it somehow and created space for more news and/or ads?

P. 5 is topsy turvy. The story below the fold, which has the dominant art, should be above the fold and the media usage story should run below it.

Here’s the headline on the social media story: Students forego social media usage. And yet of the first 11 grafs, only two are devoted to a student’s comments. Look, this is a story about students deliberately deciding to eliminate or curtail their social media use for various reasons. Why not write, then, about students and the reasons for their actions?

I’ve said it before but I apparently have to repeat myself: Do not … I repeat … do not place an art element between the headline and a story or a column.

I’m not wild about charter schools, either, but aren’t we beating a dead Betsy DeVos, er, dead horse, with a P. 1 story and a column about it? Couldn’t we find someone who might think such an idea has merit?

Who the hell is George Lakoff and why is a quote of his stuck in the middle of one of our columns? Is there a rhyme or a reason for this quote? Could we signal the reader, perhaps with a transition, that we’re going to include a quote from someone who may (or may not) be an expert on health care?

I like the Hightower photo from Caitlyn, but it should be cropped.

Watch spacing on photo credits. We don’t want them running into the photo.

It should be Junior Dakarai Hightower, not Dakarai Hightower, junior, …

Put attribution at the end of the first quoted sentence.

On the Barnard story, did we talk to the coach? I don’t see her as a source. That’s an issue. Also, we need more stats — points/game, rebounds/game, assists, etc. Where does she stand vs. basketball records at Doane?

What is the official name of the track and field nationals? We must tell readers.

The lede of the track story is buried in the last graf. Readers want to know how Doane teams did. It’s not that important how many athletes went to nationals or even how they trained for it. What’s more important is how did they perform? That must be at the top of the story.

Avoid quote ledes!

Grammar:

Avoid adjectives.

What does this spell: teh? We have it in a pull quote.

Style:

Unless Kristen Hedrick, the German professor, can prescribe medicine, she’s not a Dr. Avoid courtesy titles.

What is reslife? Certainly, that’s not style.

What does the AP Stylebook say about abbreviating months? Did anyone look it up? Does anyone open a stylebook?

What does the AP Stylebook say about abbreviating days of the week? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

What does the AP Stylebook say about percentages? Better yet, here’s a more important question: Why did you buy a Stylebook, spent $25 or so on it, just to let it collect dust on a shelf?

What’s style on numerals?

What’s style on track and field events? Look it up.

Doaneline:

I love the March Madness tracker. Great! Outstanding!

We must fix our links to 1014 Magazine.

The Owl Online is badly in need of an update. Consider removing these two tabs until we correct them. DCTV, too.

Where’s the multimedia?

Where are links?

Can’t we have a navigation tab for blogs? Even though our only blog hasn’t been updated for more than three weeks?

I leave you with this cartoon: