Hindsight, March 31, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media

This newspaper disappointed. It contained lost chances to make stories readable, a host of bad leads, ill-conceived page design, less than compelling photos and headlines that said little to nothing. This staff phoned this paper in. You mailed it in. I thought I made clear when we met that I was proud of the staff but that we needed to continue to produce quality papers for the rest of the semester. In this case, we failed. Perhaps it was Stop Day, but that’s a poor excuse. Good journalists thrive when news happens on deadline. I’ll hit the few highlights before launching into several inches, and hundreds if not thousands, of words of problems.

Praises:

P. 1 design is decent.

The Stop Day photo that serves as P. 1 dominant art is a good choice, though it needed to be cropped.

I continue to enjoy Nikki Blumenthal’s editorial cartoons.

Lede of the Week: I couldn’t find one.

Photo of the Week: Stop Day dance performance by Caitlyn Nelson

Graphic of the Week: Nikki’s editorial cartoon

Headline of the Week: Relay still has $45,000 more to raise.

That’s it. That’s all the praise I have for this paper. It may be the shortest list of praises I’ve written in my 18 years of critiques. So, let’s look at what we failed to do:

Problems:

It would be nice to get the year right in our flag. It is 2017, not 2016.

The track teaser needed to be cropped. As it is, you can’t see his face. If you crop the photo, you can. And you’d have a more effective teaser.

I’m glad the fraternity pledges “perform their dance performance.” Anyone else see the redundancy in that phrase?

What was the major news about Stop Day? Would you agree that the news was that it was held so early (March 29), in cold, rainy weather? If you agree, then why the hell do we fail to say so in our story? Instead, here’s the lede: Doane University’s annual Stop Day was announced by campus email March 28. That’s the news? That something that happened two days ago was the news? That’s like saying: “News flash: Donald Trump elected president last November.” That’s a Mr. Obvious lede. BTW, I will pick on other writers and their ledes as well so don’t think I’m limiting my criticism to this one. Here’s the lede that should have been written:

Students suffered through a Stop Day Wednesday that featured an all-day rain and a chilly 45-degree high temperature — and wondered why Stop Day was called so early in the year.

“Stop Day should be about going outside, having fun and enjoying the beautiful campus,” a perplexed Josh Osantowski said about the weather conditions.

Junior Nolan Vogel said he didn’t understand why Student Congress called the day so early in the semester. Most Stop Days happen in April, during sunny, warmer weather.

Vogel said StuCo should have looked at the weather forecast and waited for a balmier day.

“I am used to Stop Day being later on in April and the weather being nicer,” he said.

Then we should have had an explanation as to why Stop Day was called on — let me make this clear — the worst weather day of the 19 Stop Days I’ve known. But we didn’t. There is no explanation from the StuCo president as to why she would call Stop Day on such a, let’s face it, shitty day. Why not? We should ask that question, right? Why didn’t we? Instead, we get a graf in which StuCo reminds students to be respectful. Well, isn’t that nice? (You may notice that sarcasm abounds in this critique.)

On student health care, we interviewed two, count ’em, two students. Two sources. And one is a non-traditional student who has specialized issues. Did we think about interviewing more students who, thanks to Obamacare, may be on their parents insurance until they are 26 years old?

BTW, did we interview the CNN reporters? Because it sounds as if we did. I’m guessing we didn’t.

What is the VA? You can’t just use the abbreviation and hope people will understand what it is. You must spell it out: Veterans Administration.

If we say someone in the military was deployed, we should say where. Inquiring readers want to know.

Who are the women in the P. 2 photo? We don’t tell readers in the cutline. Why? Also, why is the photo dark? BTW, the cutline needs a complete rewrite. Omit needless words. Also, “they are only a little behind …” OK, if you consider $10,000 to be “a little,” may I please have “a little” money from you?

And that’s the problem with the story as well. We note in the headline that, somewhat alarmingly, Relay is $45,000 short of its $70,000 goal. That means it has a week to come up with the cash to meet its goal. Yet the lede is: Relay for Life is right around the corner and fundraising has not stopped. OK, first, your lede should be specific to the story. This isn’t. Example: April Fool’s is right around the corner and the pranks haven’t stopped. Or: Baseball season is right around the corner and the hitting hasn’t stopped. Or: Easter is right around the corner and the Easter Bunny hasn’t stopped pooping out chocolate eggs. You get the idea, right? Second, the lede should be about the shortfall of money. Example: Relay for Life must raise $45,000 in the next week or it will fail to meet its goal. Also, you can’t allow people to say fundraising is going well when it clearly isn’t — especially when you contradict that person a graf or two later. Nor can you say Doane is right on track when it isn’t, since in the next graf we finally note that Doane is “a little behind.” If it’s right on track, it can’t be a little behind. This is the equivalent of the sports story that says: Even thought the baseball team lost, 33–0, it played hard and gave it the good ol’ college try. Do not become a booster.

Why do we have two ODK stories? One isn’t sufficient?

Use bullets when you have a list of items in a story.

More paraphrasing, fewer boring quotes.

Doesn’t anyone edit the stories or the cutlines? Apparently not. Not only are the stories larded with needless words, but we don’t know how to spell awards in a cutline and we write sentences that are nonsense, such as: The awars are on a nomination basis by other students are will be presented April 6. WTF?

Mugs on P. 3 are too large.

Look, if we’re going to call the Thomas Doane Award the “Oscars of Doane,” which is a stretch IMHO, then we must, in the second graf, refer to the Cooper quote. Build off the lede. We don’t. Instead, we write a graf about what the Thomas Doane Award is. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be the second graf.

How do you write a 40-word sentence without any — nada — punctuation? Who is reading this? Who is editing this? You’re getting paid to edit. Where’s the EIC? Where’s the copy desk chief? Where’s the ME? This is embarrassing, people. You are embarrassing yourselves.

What does this mean: I’ve never won at a loss for anything but to get that was the ultimate? Huh? How can you read that and understand what it means? How can an editor read that and still allow it to run in a story?

I understand what we tried to do with April Fool’s, and it’s a good effort, but the implementation doesn’t work. We needed a copy block explainer to tell people what the point was. And we needed to connect that explainer to the headline. Then we needed better ways to illustrate these pranks.

Let me understand this: We editorialized about a rumor that this was the last Stop Day? First, that’s just lazy. Why not try to nail down the story, if there is one? Then write an eddy. Second, why in God’s name do we write editorials based on rumors? What are we, some kind of supermarket tabloid? Oh, BTW, I’m so sorry students must sit in classrooms “listening” to a professor drone on … Wow! Look, if you don’t want to learn, stop spending $41,000 and go out into the work force. Good luck succeeding without a college education.

Artwork on P. 7 is clip art, I see, and it traps white space in the middle of the page. That white space should be to the outside to let the page breathe.

Usually, I enjoy a good column. I don’t, though, enjoy a column that takes 11–12 grafs to get to the point.

Nice shot of a floor. I’ve never seen one before. And to think this is the dominant art on Sports. Sports? Where’s the action?

Where were the indoor track nationals? And what is the proper and complete name for them? That’s needed.

Who is in the middle of the track photo? We say who is on the left and the right, but the poor schnook in the middle is a nobody.

Grammar:

I assume Delta Kappa Pi has one pledge class, correct? Notice the emphasis on one. If it has one pledge class, doesn’t that mean the pledge class is singular? If you agree with me (and you should) that the noun, class, is singular (after all, we don’t say classes), then the pronoun for class must be singular as well. Its, not they. I have written a similar critique every week of this semester. Yet every week, I see the same damn mistake made. Can’t we learn from our mistakes?

Proper nouns should be capitalized. Examples: Stop day, helen perry award, thomas doane award, etc.

Redundancy: members of Student Congress members

Once again, if you lede with a past tense attributive verb — said — you are writing reported speech. When you do that, the past tense verb, said, becomes the controlling verb for the sentence so the rest of the sentence must contain past tense verbs. We should know this by now.

Style:

Look up advisor.

What’s the rule with according to? Is it used for human sources?

Look up months in your AP Stylebooks. What months are abbreviated? What does Apr. mean?

Should we start sentences with numerals? Look it up.

Doaneline:

Incorrect headline on the Thomas Doane Award story. Dianne Ferguson and Lisa Wells won it last year. We don’t know yet who won it this year. Ferguson is retired and hasn’t been on campus all year.

The Stop Day video had plenty of B-roll, which was nice, but the video was marred by the uneven-but-mostly-light sound quality. Clearly, someone wasn’t wearing headphones when the video was recorded. I realize that I have hearing loss, thanks to listening to Jimi Hendrix at full blast while wearing headphones when I was 15, but I could hear the intro and the close of the piece, just not most of the people talking. Did we use lavalier mics? I didn’t see them. And, as I already noted, use your headphones. If you do, you’ll hear that the sound is too light and you can make adjustments while shooting. It’s easier to do that than to try to amplify the sound in the editing bay.

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