Hindsight, Nov. 16, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

An editor moseyed into my office Friday morning.

“What do you think of this week’s paper?” he inquired.

“I haven’t had a chance to read it,” I replied, grabbing a copy and scanning the pages.

“It’s not our best effort,” he editor admitted. “It’s not our worst, but it’s not our best.”

I disagree. This may be the worst effort of the semester. I come to that conclusion after reading the paper during free times on Friday and early — 6 a.m. — Saturday morning.

So, full disclosure: This critique will be harsh. You won’t find many Praises. You will find a host, a litany, a plethora of Problems.

Why? Because this is my job. This is why you pay me to teach you. I could be nicey nice and give you all green participant ribbons and exhort you for “doing your best.”

But this isn’t your best. I’ve seen your best work. This isn’t even in the same solar system.

Here are just a few of the problems:

Bland (not sensationalist) headlines.

Buried ledes.

An appalling lack of photos.

Horrible writing.

Even worse editing.

Questionable news judgment.

Dastardly design.

Strap in for the ride. It will be a bumpy one.

BTW, if you thought this introduction was harsh, you should have seen it before the lovely Mrs. Swartz edited it for me, cutting entire grafs of raving. She sliced it in half and lectured me on how I need to provide constructive criticism to students. So, I’ll try …

Praises:

I like the treatment of the “Hansen Leadership” sign to go with the leadership story.

Decent story from Kayla Starbuck on the leadership workshops.

P. 1 design is OK, though it would help to scatter the art more. And, what is the dominant art? The photo of Jirovec and Rezac isn’t significantly bigger than the sign photo.

The profile of Colin Koehler is good, but too long. Trim it.

MacKenzie Burch’s story on the health and society major is decent. But I have one queston: What does a student do with this major? What jobs are available to students? Maybe it’s in there and I just missed it, but if I’m a student, that’s one of the first questions I’d ask: What can I do with this degree? We talk about many different career fields, but then fail to ID them.

Lede of the Week: Greek groups must adapt if they hope to survive — Grayson McCartney. Good lede, Grayson.

Strong editorial. It could have been stronger still, but nice work.

Austin Plourde’s review of “Thor: Ragnarok” is well done, though it needs a new lede. The news isn’t that the movie has been released. We all know that. The news, here, is what you think of the movie. That should be the lede. Something like: The new movie from Marvel Studios, “Thor: Ragnarok,” brilliantly combines humor, action and villainy to keep audiences enthralled throughout the film. BTW, I chuckled at the use of some of Austin’s words, describing the Hulk as “well developed” and “fleshed out.” You meant those to be tongue-in-cheek, correct?

Photo of the Week: Stretching by Dalton Fellows.

Graphic of the Week: It’s not a graphic, but I like the photo collage on P. 4.

Headline of the Week: Chronically ill students cope with campus life

Problems:

Nothing about the Black Student Union story in the paper? I know we ran it online, but doesn’t it deserve some space in the paper?

Headlines should avoid “to be” verbs (is, was, were, are) or articles (a, an, the).

If the story is about a student with a rare disease, why would we lede that story with a generic sentence about students coming to Doane for an education. What’s the story? It’s about the guy with the rare disorder. Write about him.

Who the hell is Nurse Kelly? Doesn’t she have a last name? Our cutline doesn’t give her one.

Editors, where are you? We could cut entire grafs out of most of these stories and make them better, but instead we print bloated pieces full of useless words in the paper. That’s not editing. That’s simply reading. Here’s a suggestion: Use the delete key on the computer once in awhile.

Use vibrant verbs, writers. Think of ways you can tell the story differently.

Place attribution at the end of the first quoted sentence.

Clear up questions in stories. Fill the holes.

Each piece should tell one story. When you try to tell more than one, you — and the story — get into trouble. If there is a related story to the main story, write a sidebar. It won’t take more time and it will give the related story better play. Example: We tell a story about students with unusal health issues. That’s fine. Then, in the middle of the story, we write about how Doane is not accessible to the disabled. That’s a separate story. That’s a sidebar. Or make the accessibility the main story and the unusual health issues the sidebar. But don’t bury one or the other in one long story. Break it out.

Headline: New/academic/building set/on hold. WTH does that mean? Set on? How about: Academic/building/delayed (or postponed). Simple, I know, but it tells the story.

Why do we continue to lede stories with either:

  1. The time element
  2. Or this phrase: In an all-campus email …

The time element is not the most important part of the story. Nor is the attribution. Get to the point.

How much will it cost for Doane to go into debt to renovate Gaylord? Is it that much cheaper? And how long will those renovations take? And what happens to the classrooms and offices while the renovation is occurring? And when will it begin? And … as you can see, still a lot of questions need answers about this story.

P. 2 is way too gray. How about mixing in a mug? A pull quote? How about making the headline larger? Anything to alleviate the tedium of the sea of body text.

The jumps on P. 2 should have headlines, IMHO.

We couldn’t get a photo of Koehler teaching in the classroom — or doing something?

About the crime report: Theft of what? Readers want to know. A swastika? Shouldn’t we at least write a brief on that — or a story? I received two emails about this, yet all we devote is 13 words?

P. 3 suffers from two things:

  1. A lack of quality art. Do we plan how we’re going to illustrate these stories? Because it increasingly looks as if we don’t.
  2. Vast expanses of white space at the bottom of the page. That should not happen. That can easily be fixed. The white space makes it look as if we just don’t care about those inches of real estate on P. 3.

The dominant art for P. 3 is on the fold. Granted, it’s lousy dominant art. But it should be higher on the page. So I’d flip the Greek story with the health and society piece.

Two of the art pieces on P. 3 are signs. Really? That makes photos or illustrations of three signs on the first three pages. Here’s a suggestion: Shoot photos, preferably with people in them.

Identify people and places in stories. BTW, Wilma Jackson is not a faculty member. I love Wilma. I think she’s one of the gems of Doane. But she is a staff member. She doesn’t teach. She’s not faculty.

The Greek story on P. 3 is missing one important voice: Mary Olk. Why didn’t we contact her for a comment?

Background should go at the end of most stories, not at the beginning.

Page 4’s design would be stellar if we flipped the stories — put the students abroad story above the fold — and moved the photo collage to the top of the page. At least we have dominant art. It would be best, though, if we would say in the cutline where these students are in the photo.

Students celebrate Thanksgiving? Really? I would never have known that since nearly everyone in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. 
What’s the point of such an obvious headline? Maybe we should write that for all stories: Students study abroad; Sick students cope; Workshops teach students, etc. The Thanksgiving story is about students who cannot go home — so that should be the headline focus.

Why is our body text on the study abroad story (and Cole Bauer’s religion piece) larger than the Thanksgiving story. Look, unless we’re designing a centerpiece or package of stories, the size of the body text should remain the same for all stories.

P. 5. What is this supposed to be? It looks as if it’s a yearbook page. Where is the dominant art? More importantly, what’s the point of the story? Look, I know the vast majority of you are Greek, but that doesn’t give the paper the excuse to publish such a page. I thought we were a newspaper. Where is the news here? Why promote the Greek groups? Can’t they do so themselves? If some Greek organization did something out of the ordinary with philanthropy, I’m all in. Let’s tell that story. But to use an entire page to tell readers what Greeks do every year? What’s worse, we run this “story” with “Execution at Dawn” photos, which should be banned from the paper, IMHO. And we run the cutlines on top of the photos. What the hell? When do we do that, especially when you can’t read them? Where’s the news value?

What’s the point of the Editor’s Note? I don’t get it. We published a column. It got feedback. We published a letter in response to the column. In the words of a popular song, Let it go.

Why not go to the website for “Thor” and get the poster or photos to run with Austin Plourde’s review rather than a shot of the Isis?

For some unexplained reason, we keep altering the size of our columns in the middle of a piece. You should not do that — unless you’re wrapping more than an inch of text below the artwork.

I’m unsure where to start with the sports page. Do I write about the appalling lack of photos, knowing that the heart-and-soul of good sports pages are its action photos? Do I write about how gray the page is, especially when a black calendar is at the top of the page? Do I write how headlines should be placed in only the dead spots of photos, which we fail to do? Should I note that we write a story about a kid with a serious disease but we lack a photo of the kid to see what he looks like? Should I question why we write the story about the sick kid in chronological order? Or why we violate AP Style by using first names? Or why it took us almost two weeks to print this story? Timeliness is an element of news, you know. Or the lack of spacing so the story and the photo bleed together? Should I question why a hyphen, or is it supposed to be a dash, is after the word team in the shooting story? Well, maybe you get the idea that this isn’t a particularly well done page — including the lack of headline hierarchy.

Grammar:

Eliminate run-on sentences. They exist throughout the paper. Do students know what a run-on sentence is? Do I need to teach you about them?

Proper nouns must be capitalized. You should have learned that simple grammatical rule in third grade. Why don’t we obey it?

I get tired of writing this but we continue to make the mistake so here goes: A singular noun requires a singular pronoun. There is only one team so the pronoun should be its, not their. Doane has one board of trustees so the pronoun must be its, not their.

Whenever possible, omit “to be” verbs from your writing. Example: will be performing becomes will perform; for bringing a fundraising plan becomes to bring a …

The word “between” takes the word “and.” So, it should be “between $7 million and $8 million. The word “range” takes the word “to.” So you could write: … and cost in the $7 million to $8 million range …

In reported speech — in other words, when you place the attribution first — the attributive verb, “said,” becomes the controlling verb for the sentence. If you use the past tense “said,” then the other verbs that follow in that sentence must be past tense. Example: Emily Belak … said the workshops were important, not are.

How do you spell health? It isn’t helath.

Style:

For the last, freaking time: Omit the word “of” in titles. Omit needless words. Example: Journalism professor, not associate professor of journalism. Student Health Services director, not director of … etc.

Place names before titles.

What is AP Style … again … for numerals? I know you have AP Stylebooks. You must have spent money on them. How can you get your money’s worth if you never open them?

Doaneline:

Glad we wrote a story about the latest resolution that the faculty passed about President Jacque Carter. Could work on deadline.

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