Hindsight, May 4, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

Praises:

This paper — the first from the new staff — may have the best content of any paper published by a brand new staff in my 18 years at Doane. Two of the three P. 1 stories were done so well, I had to double check the bylines to make sure pros hadn’t written them. The content, from P. 1 — P. 8, is exceptional. You should be proud of that. I know I am.

BTW, the layouts weren’t bad, either. Most were simple. But that’s OK. Simplicity in design can be fetching. All in all, good work.

The StuCo story is a gem. Note how Austin sets it up. He points out that all Crete students support StuCo financially. Then hits the reader with a seemingly endless list of facts about how StuCo fails to represent the students — no info about how much money it has, what’s in the account, how much it spends, etc. Also, note that he writes nine — count ’em — nine grafs before he mentions one source. Does that mean this story has a problem with sourcing? Contraire, mon frer. It simply means that he’s been able to observe what has happened. Nothing in those first nine grafs is inaccurate. And the first quote doesn’t come from StuCo or its adviser, but from a student who wants to know how StuCo spends his money. This is the way to write a student government story when it refuses to give you financial info. Textbook. Fan-freakin’-tastic.

I didn’t think Austin Plourde’s StuCo story could be beat, but Lauren Wagner may have done it with the health institute story. First, a perfect headline: Carter launches/health institute/without/notification. That speaks perfectly to our fearless leader’s lack of communication skills. The story itself is pure perfection. She details quickly how no one in the sciences knew anything about this. She correctly gives the president a chance to respond, but the response is unbelieveable. Clearly, plenty of time was available to tell faculty. It had been planned beginning last fall and the web site that was built for the institute couldn’t be done in one night. Lauren caught administrators’ hands in the cookie jar and wrote wonderfully about it. And here’s the kicker: She did it all in one day. That’s right. She got the tip Wednesday morning, and by 6 p.m., had the story written and placed on P. 1. Incredible. This and Austin’s piece are sure-fire award winners. I’m so proud of both of them. Outstanding, exceptional work from both.

And the good writing doesn’t stop. Lauren Wagner, again, does a good job on the travel awards story for students, proving that she is equally adept at writing features AND hard news. The story starts with a nice lede: “Sophomore Lauren Schmidt will be riding (should be will ride) elephants and study finance in Thailand this summer while senior Bridget O’Connell will be in the midst of France teaching English.” A little wordy, but still well done.

Nice life & culture stories from Anna and Jess. I particularly like Anna’s Hostert piece.

Good debut editorial on students taking surveys.

I like Nikki Blumenthal’s facts and news cartoon.

Fine sports photos from Caitlyn Nelson.

Good lede from Jacob Duhey: The Doane outdoor track team heads into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics with on thing in mind — winning. Nineteen solid words that sum up the story.

Lede of the Week: It’s difficult to determine because there were so many. I’d say it’s a tie between Austin’s lede on the StuCo P. 1 story and Lauren’s lede on the health institute piece. But Lauren’s lede on the travel awards story also deserves mentioning. Duhey’s lede on outdoor track is another worthy lede. It’s rare when we have so much good writing in the paper. Excellent work.

Headline of the Week: Carter launches health institute without notification

Photo of the Week: Track shot by Caitlyn Nelson.

Problems:

While I understand the thinking behind Caitlyn Nelson’s photo illustration of a rape in action, I would argue strongly that this is an inappropriate way to illustrate the Campus Climate Survey. First, the subject is a blond, attractive female. Because those are the only women who get raped, right? Second, the idea that the reader may be witnessing an actual rape is unsettling to readers. Third, readers can’t really tell what’s going on. We see an unsmiling woman laying down. What looks like an arm is in the extreme bottom of the frame. Is that holding her down? The reader doesn’t know. Instead of placing this uncomfortable image on the page, why not create a graph or two from the figures of the survey so we don’t have to muddle up the writing with so many figures? I’ve even had other professors come to me to suggest we need to do some sensitivity training at the Owl. Please avoid this type of photo illustration in the future.

The Campus Climate Survey should have been reported the previous week, when it was news. By the time we reported on it, it was at least nine days old. As such, it didn’t belong at the top of P. 1. Perhaps below the fold would have been OK, but you put your latest news as high as possible on P. 1. Your best stories. This is not the best story in the paper. The two below the fold would qualify, IMHO, for better play. I realize you had no art for at least one of the pieces, but the art that was used for the climate survey piece should have been eliminated anyway.

P. 2 mugs are too large.

Why jump four short grafs of a story? Edit. If the story cannot be edited, edit another story on P. 1 to prevent such a small jump.

On the native American piece, we don’t tell readers until the second graf why they are walking. That should be in the lede.

Avoid quoting routine info. Example: “Leah Schulte has been hired for the Spiritual Coordinator position {and} will start her duties in late May.” No need to quote that. Use quotes for comments that jump off the page. Example: “Saints be praised — Doane finally found a spiritual coordinator,” the Rev. Karla Cooper said.

In discussing economics professor Jennifer Bossard as the interim dean, shouldn’t we talk to her about what she plans to do?

Challenge authority. If someone says only the chief diversity officer is a new position, ask about the spiritual coordinator, the new CAS dean, etc.

Sorry, Caitlyn, but I have no idea what the photo on P. 4 depicts. And the other photo shows too many people. It’s difficult to pick out who is in the photo because the faces are too small.

The lede on the rape culture story should be the personal anecdote of the founder of the event.

The photo of the choir and band tries to fit too many people into the photo. Can’t we shoot down a row? Or focus on the conductor? Photos of people with faces smaller than a dime rarely work. Plus, how do you ID anyone?

Watch spacing between cutline and text. Don’t we have a style manual that dictates we should have one or two points between the text and cutline?

The problem with writing columns about proposals up for a vote in the House or Senate is that if they are expected to act soon, your column quickly goes south. That’s exactly what happened to Zachary Renshaw, who wrote about the House’s “new” health care law and how it would be difficult to get the votes to pass it. That very day, the House passed the measure by a slim five-vote margin. When writing columns for a weekly newspaper, keep in mind that your column needs to be timely, true, but it also needs to stand the test of time, at least one week.

When introducing a concept that may be new to the reader — the MacArthur Amendment, for example — you must explain what it is.

BTW, I absolutely hate the “double” byline style used on columns. We have a normal byline style, then, for some unexplainable reason, we put a larger byline over the mug shots of the writers. Why do that?

When writing columns, it’s best to state your opinion early, then buttress it with facts.

While I liked Austin’s column, I don’t think he should have written it. He’s a reporter. He reported this story. He shouldnt’ write a column about it. That’s a conflict of interest.

Doane track and Doane golf cannot do anything. The teams can. So we should write about the Doane outdoor track team and the men’s and women’s golf teams.

For all sports stories in which the word “nationals” is used: You must give the full title of the event and where it is located. If outdoor track is in Johnson City, Tenn., then we call it the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field tournament in Johnson City, Tenn. …

Grammar and structure:

Avoid adverbs. Write in S-V-O sentences.

Avoid “to be” verbs when possible. Example: Sophomore Lauren Schmidt will be spending the summer in Thailand … No. Change it to Sophomore Lauren Schmidt will spend the summer …

How do you spell studying? We misspelled it on P. 2.

Phrases that modify — 281-mile walk, 140-year anniversary — should be hyphenated.

Avoid partial quotes. Try to get the full quote.

Use singular pronouns for singular nouns. They must match.

Omit needless words.

Style:

What is style for leading sentences and paragraphs with numerals? I can guarantee you, you failed to follow AP Style.

The lede on the campus climate survey story is in the third and fourth grafs.

Majors, such as vocal performance, should be lowercase.

What’s style for using Neb. in a story?

What’s style for an event that happens within a week of publication?

What’s style for elected representatives?

What’s style — 100 percent or one hundred percent?

Outdoor Track should be lowercase. Golf is lowercase on the same page.

When do we use numerals?

Doaneline:

Not much to write about here. Nothing much new than what is already in the newspaper.

1014 Magazine:

Unfortunately, because I was out of town during the weekend and attended a funeral on Monday, I’ve been unable to even see the latest 1014 Magazine. I hope to cure that on Wednesday. I will share a critique in the fall with the new staff of the magazine, though I may let EIC Aspen Green know of my general thoughts this spring.

In any event, the cover story looks enthralling — and the doughnuts look delicious. Nothing like providing students with food (and reading) for thought. And we got it done on deadline. I’m proud of the magazine staff for accomplishing that task. Fantastic work.

This is the last Hindsight of the 2016–17 academic year. I hope it helped you with any content, grammar, style, etc. issues you have had. Thank you all for your hard work during the school year. Unlike most other activities, it’s easy for people to take potshots at your work, to criticize small errors and to disrespect what you folks do. Please don’t let those naysayers dissuade you. The past presidential election should convince you that journalists are needed now more than ever — and you should be proud that you stand for, as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter of the Daily Planet would say, truth, justice and the American way.

See you in the fall.