Hindsight, March 2, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media

Praises:

Halle-freakin’-lujah! We broke a story! The Carter leadership coach story! Hooray!

And I absolutely love that we broke a story about a president who has been here five years and just now is getting leadership training on the same day that we covered the $2,200 tuition increase. If that doesn’t have students questioning what the hell is going on at Doane, nothing will.

BTW, fine job by Austin Plourde on the tuition piece.

In fact, this is the best paper we’ve had in a while. I count four newsy stories — leadership coach, tuition, community advisers and dance project. The previous Owls felt as if we were phoning it in, but this issue is chock full of good info. Please keep up the good work.

Lede of the Week: Prepare to delve deeper into the dark abyss known as student debt. — Austin Plourde. Yes, it’s on the opinionated side, but I still like it.

Also, good graphic from Caleb Rezac on the recent history of tuition increases (and decreases?). This is the Graphic of the Week. A couple of quick observations though: What is the price coordinate? Is that cost/credit hour? If so, we should say so. Also, we had decreases in 2014–15 and 15–16? I don’t remember that. Lastly, it looks as if the increase this year is larger than the project tuition hike for next year.

I’m glad Jess Eddmeiri wrote about the dissatisfaction Community Advisors (style = advisers unless the actual title is community advisor) have with their jobs. I would consider this for P. 1 over the Doane is Love story, FWIW, but I understand why we wouldn’t want all P. 1 stories to be negative.

Nice photo of new hire Louis Sotello, but why is he shown with little kids rather than Doane students?

BTW, for those keeping score, that’s two stories and a column this week from Austin Plourde. What a slacker. :-)

Interesting International Student story from Anna Flores. I’m glad we led the story with people, since it is about them staying in the states rather than returning home.

Yes!!! We wrote the actual title of the play — Stupid Fucking Bird — in the headline and in the text (and in the editorial cartoon). Good job.

BTW, nice story from Cole Bauer on the play.

More from Cole: Story about the Dance Project being cancelled.

Another editorial cartoon from Nikki Blumenthal! Yes!

Entertaining column from Kellen Korinek on the Quads.

I couldn’t agree more with Grayson McCartney’s take on the use of the word “gay” as an insult.

Thanks for letting readers know that an app for Doane sports exists.

Problems:

No story — or at least a brief — on the egging of the Quads? We could have had another newsy piece for the week. BTW, failing to do stories such as this inevitably hurts the credibility of the newspaper. As students fail to see these stories, they begin to question the point of the paper. We can’t just punt them.

If you read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “All the President’s Men,” you know that the best advice Deep Throat ever gave Bob Woodward was, “Follow the money.” That’s so true for local stories as well as national exposes. So why do we fail to tell readers how much the leadership coach is costing Doane? Or what the cost of the Louis Sotelo position is? In case you hadn’t noticed, Doane appears to be in a financial crisis. Faculty have been told there will be cutbacks. Yet here the school is spending who knows how much for a leadership coach for a president who apparently has been stumbling around in the dark for the past five years, having little to no leadership ability. We fired the Rev. Karla Cooper, then rehired her, then found someone else to fill her old job. The president already says it will take two people — a dean and a VPAA — to replace John Burney. Two people were hired to replace the old Advancement director. Unless I don’t know how to count, that means we now or soon will have six people doing the work of what used to be three people — plus we hired a diversity officer, a position that Doane never had before. That means we soon will have seven new administrators and departures from only three — or a net gain of four administrators. That’s got to cost at least a quarter of a million dollars — not counting the leadership coach — at a time when the school is supposed to have financial difficulties. See why you follow the money? Oh, BTW, the school is raising tuition by $2,200. Hmmm … I wonder why.

While I’m ever so grateful for Bayley Bischof to write the coach story, the lede ignores the news and the story lacks important information such as cost, terms of the contract, length, etc. What should be the lede? Let me take a crack at it:

Doane University has hired a leadership coach for President Jacque Carter despite the school’s tenuous financial condition.
The school’s Board of Trustees decided Carter needed a leadership coach five years after hiring him to be Doane’s president. The hiring comes at a time when faculty and staff have been told by Doane officials to expect budget cutbacks because of revenue shortfalls.
Neither the chairwoman of the board nor Carter revealed the coach’s cost or any of the terms of the contract with the coach, Roger Lipson of Lincoln …

Use bullets to delineate key points or goals in a story. But don’t use more than three bullets early or in the middle of the piece.

The cutline on the Carter photo ends in a widow, one solitary word on a line of text. Avoid that by editing the cutline to ensure it’s a one-line cut.

On the Doane is Love headline, the fourth line is too short. And why do we need a four-line hed on this story? Most heds should be written in three lines or less.

Also, on the Love Week story, what will happen during the week? The lede says when it will happen and that it will be filled with activities, but instead of explaining what those activities are, the second graf starts into the history of the event and then it’s told in chronological order. As a reader, I think that’s important info, but not as important to me as what the hell will happen the week after break.

I love the tuition story but it does have a flaw — it fails to tell us what the rates are now so that we can compare them to the rates for the next academic year.

I like that we wrote the story about Community Advisors quitting, but I want to know what they do. Are they like residence advisors? To whom do they report? I know the story gives a definition of the job in the 12th graf but those bureaucratic definitions and job requirements fail to tell me for whom these folks work, etc. As a reader, I need that info so the story makes sense.

About the Louis Sotello story: The question is the same as in the Carter coach story: How much are we paying him? Is this part of your $2,200 tuition increase?

Also, why is Austin Plourde’s P. 3 byline in up and down style when our byline style has been all caps?

The cutline on the Dance Project story makes little sense. “after transitioning leadership and group” — Huh? What does that mean?

Last week, we ran a column touting the virtues of being Greek. This week, we run a story touting the virtues of being Greek. I know it’s Greek Week. I also know that the entire staff of the Owl is Greek. But what’s the point of running yet another puff piece about being Greek?

Watch the spacing between cutlines, headlines and text.

I understand, at least in part, the editorial. If the president is going to be a leader, he may need someone to help him lead for the next two years. But I think the editorial (and the story) miss the point. Let’s add a few facts to the piece: The coach is costing the school money during a time of budget cutbacks. How much? We don’t know. I’m guessing we failed to ask since I could not find a sentence in the story that says: Doane officials declined to say how much the leadership coach was being paid. In addition to the cost (which could be $200,000 for all we know), is the timing. The man has been president for five years and we’re just now hiring a leadership coach for him? Shouldn’t that have been done much sooner? What’s the point now? In addition, what are the terms of the coach’s contract? The relationship, the story says, is informal and they meet irregularly. So what exactly is the school paying for? If we add these missing facts to the story, does it change not only the story but the editorial that is written? I think it might.

As for Clanton’s letter to the editor, two things:

  1. At least we know we have a reader or two.
  2. Why not include an editor’s note saying we stand by our story? I don’t think I would have allowed a letter writer — even a professor — to call the reporter/paper “sloppy” and charge the paper with “misleading use” of an email. Emails are public. The Owl does not need to contact anyone to ask permission to reprint excerpts from an email and the email clearly came from Clanton, through the faculty secretary’s office. We didn’t handle it in a “sloppy” or “misleading” manner. And, IMHO, we should have said so.

Use bullets for short lists. The example of why people live in the quads would benefit from a bullteted list of reasons.

Avoid leading a story or column with a dictionary definition. In the column about the use of the word “gay” as an insult, we do just that, telling people what the Merriam Webster definition is. Wouldn’t the column be more powerful if we started it with an example of why you shouldn’t use it as an insult? How it would be hurtful to someone?

The SALT cutline is ass backwards. The lede of the cutline should be the last sentence — who won the award this year. After all, isn’t that the news?

No byline on the Tiger app story? Why?

Avoid ledes that tease, such as: They do this. They do that. They are this. Instead, lede with who “they” are: Superfans are at every home game. They elicit cheers in the student section. Superfans are the most valuable fans — the MVFs — of the bleachers. And now, they have an app to prove it.

Grammar:

Omit needless words.

Avoid “there are” constructions. Rather than: There are many … Write: International students enrolled in Doane’s program are staying in the United States.

When said is the controlling verb in the sentence, the other verbs must be past tense. Example: Jake Hoy-Elswick, director of international programs, said it is promising … No! said it was promising.

Avoid adverbs.

Avoid using whereas in stories.

Individuals are people. They take who, not that, as a pronoun.

Substitute “and” for “as well as.” It’s shorter.

Words matter. In the phrase: They don’t deserve the bad wrap that they get … we use the wrong word. To wrap means to cover or enclose as you would a gift with brightly colored paper. In this instance, the correct word is rap, not wrap. The verb to rap has a lot of meanings, including musical, but one is: a person or thing’s reputation, usually a bad one. Rap is the correct word here.

Style:

What is style on composition titles, such as plays?

Titles after names are lowercase.

What’s style for numerals?

No courtesy titles, please.

Doaneline:

I could find no discernible different between the paper and the web site. That needs to change.

We also need more links in stories.