Hindsight, Oct. 15, 2016

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media

Praises

This may be the best newspaper of the semester. Lots of newsy stories, decent writing, capable design … all in all, good work.

The Carter’s contract piece is exemplary journalism. Talk about S-V-O writing: The Board of Trustees extended President Jacque Carter’s contract … everything else branches to the right. A textbook example.

Also in that story, EIC Bayley Bischof was correct to support the lede while still noting the president has his detractors. It’s not until the middle of the second column that she digs into what those detractors say, as it should be. But that’s the meat of the story. The data from the survey is the key to this story as readers who know little about the controversy will wonder how a president received a two-year contract when he is so disliked by a majority of the faculty. Excellent piece.

The chaplain story also is well done. Glad we wrote it.

The appeals court piece is OK. Informational. Nothing new other than the court met at Doane. That’s OK. It works.

Kudos to Kuan-Chih Wu for the photo of the court. I assume this student is a new shooter for us? If so, I welcome the student to Doane Student Media. And what a way to start — P. 1, above the fold … the most prized real estate in the news business.

Thanks to Liz Kurtz for writing the obligatory homecoming piece for the paper.

Thank goodness Gibson Shaffer got on her crutches to hobble to the Lakeside Coffeehouse to cover the moment of silence commemoration against police brutality a week ago. Good work.

Photo of the Week: Dennis Amoateng profile by Aspen Green.

Strong editorial. Outstanding.

Speaking of strong opinions, another solid column from Caitria West-Warren. Well done.

I’m ecstatic we finally got the athletic trainer piece in the paper. I know this wasn’t all our fault. I understand the Athletic Department for some reason has declared war on Doane Student Media. In any event, I’m grateful to Austin Plourde for sticking with the story and nailing it down.

Lede of the Week: A runner passing out due to exhaustion is expected. A spectator almost dying is not. — Austin Plourde

Headline of the Week: Carter needs to make improvements in the next two years to earn faculty trust. But … this headline could be shortened: Carter should improve in next two years to earn faculty trust. At least three words can be cut.

Problems:

While this may be the best paper of the semester, it certainly has its troubles. I think we’re off on news judgment on P. 1 and at least a couple of stories are old.

We still write roofs that are two long. Here’s all you need: A Doane athletic trainer brought a man back to life. And … Falling asleep during class? Again? Learn how to stay awake.

The appeals court story is the problem with news judgment, IMHO. Yes, it’s interesting and important that the court was in session at Doane this week. Yes, it probably should be P. 1. But top of the page? I don’t think so. What happened? They met. Was that educational for Doane students? Yes. Did they make news other than meeting at Doane? No. To me, that’s a bottom of the page story. Having said that, I’m guessing it rose to the top of the page for the lack of other art. That’s a poor reason to place that story as the lede story in the paper.

To me, Carter’s contract is the lede story of the paper. True, most knew that he had a new, two-year contract. But readers didn’t know precisely how dissatisfied faculty were with the university’s president. That’s news — and rather earthshaking news as that. Unfortunately, the story has no art. Should that keep it from being at the top of the page? No. You need to get creative with art. Kelli Albracht could have been commissioned to build charts and/or graphs to show the level of discontent from the faculty based on the survey. We could have run mugs. We could have shot a photo of Jacque Carter doing something. We didn’t do any of that. Why? Did we not plan?

While I like Bayley’s lede on the Carter piece, it is a tad too long. I think it could be edited.

We must cite sources. Even if our source is a press release.

Tighten your writing. Make. Every. Word. Count.

I like Austin Plourde’s chaplain story, but I must disagree with the lede:

The Doane faculty spoke. The Board of Trustees did not listen.

The Board listened. It just didn’t care. That’s probably worse than not listening. You cannot fathom how low the faculty morale is right now. It wouldn’t surprise me if several faculty left the university at the end of the school year — perhaps even members who have taught here for years. I’m not going anywhere (unless the school fails to offer me a contract) because I’m too close to retirement, but I could see others bailing. BTW, Tim Hill is correct. No faculty member questioned whether the president had the power to make the decisions he made. The question was one of judgment. Should he have made those decisions? Also, hasn’t Cooper been hired full time for some other Doane job? Shouldn’t we say that?

Avoid Mr. Obvious ledes such as: The 2016 presidential election is in its final phase: the general election. Thanks. I hadn’t noticed.

We state that 55 percent of Doane students are voting and that 12 percent are voting for a third party candidate. We also state that 24 percent will not vote and that 21 percent are undecided. Two questions: 1. How can anyone be undecided now? The choice is crystal clear to me. 2. Where the hell did we get those percentages? Did we take a poll? If so, shouldn’t we say so?

Please, I beg of you, I plead with you … for the love of all things journalistic — do not take any more photos of staff members to illustrate stories in the newspaper. Do you understand what that says to readers? It says this: We failed to plan any artwork for this story and we needed to fill space so we decided to shoot this photo of a staff member, while doing a half-assed job to hide the member’s identity, so we can fill that space. Are you freaking kidding me? Plan your illustrations. How can I say this any clearer?

Why do we print dated stories and try to pass them off as news? Example: We write an advance about Homecoming events such as the showing of a film and relay races that … have already happened! What’s the point of advancing something that has already happened? Cut those out of the story and make it more about what has yet to happen — Big Bucks Bingo, the pep rally, the tailgate, etc.

The moment of silence piece would have been more powerful if we had told it in the dramatic way it was presented.

We printed an entire story — a full 12 grafs — about a comedian that, by the time we printed, had already performed and was on her way to the next gig. We say the comedian is coming to Doane and will be performing … only she performed the night before we printed the story. I hate to say this, but do you understand how silly that looks to readers? I can hear the dialogue now?

Reader 1: Wow, did you read about this comedian coming to Doane? She sounds awesome. I can’t wait for Late Night Laughs so I can go see her. Reader 2: She performed last night. Reader 1: Are you serious? What a piece of shit “news”paper this is. I’ll never read it again.

The story about Dennis Amoatang is well done by Jess Eddmeiri but … hasn’t this guy been the Residence Life director since the beginning of the semester? Why do we say, then, about two months later, that he was hired as the director? That’s like saying, Hey, can you believe Donald Trump won the Republican nomination? It’s old news. I’m unsure why we did this story at midterm when it should have been done at the beginning of the school year.

Crop photos. The Writing Center photo shows too much of the walls. We don’t care about the walls. We care about the people.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have it from a reliable source that the two people in the Writing Center photo work at the writing center. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t we wait to get a photo of a writing center worker helping someone who is not already on staff?

All stories should have a focus. The headline says students refuel with caffeine but in reading the first column and a half of the story, I’m still unsure whether the story is about the virtues of taking naps, getting a good night’s sleep or drinking coffee.

Avoid leading a story or opinion piece with the time element. When you lede with words such as “Last week …” you immediately tell the reader: What you’re about to read is old news. Why would we do that?

Avoid the “many students” or “many faculty” constructions. Be specific. If you cannot, simply say students or faculty.

Please explain the lede on Austin Plourde’s column to me. I don’t understand. Is a word missing? Do we have too many words in the lede? Is there a typo?

Edit stories.

Why would we blow up a graphic so large as to distort it? To fill space?

Put the most important points first in sentences. In other words, avoid, when possible, introductory clauses. Example: Republic presidential candidate Donald Trump isn’t relevant, much like his continuous anti-Bill Clinton rhetoric. See how you get to the point much more quickly?

We need to build leading into some of our pull quotes. In other words, add a point or two of space between the lines of a pull quote. Too many pull quotes seem squeezed together.

The pull quote on the athletic trainer story has too much leading between the quote and who said it. Tighten.

Any text below a photo, illustration or text used as a graphic (pull quote) should be at least one inch deep.

Why are nearly all of our headlines one line banner heds? The pages look too similar — and boring — that way. Can we design a vertical story with, say, a three-line hed? Could we just once write a deck for a hed? Variety is the spice of life, people. I love pizza, but I’d hate to eat it for every meal every day of the year.

The last graf in the athletic trainer story cries to be fleshed out as another story: “Never in my life have I seen an ambulance take that long.” Why wasn’t it there at the athletic event in the first place?

Here’s an exceptional lede: “Flooding didn’t appear on Mount Mercy’s athletic schedule. Now, it is Mount Mercy’s strongest opponent.” That’s a great lede … for the Mount Mercy student newspaper. Unfortunately, we write for The Doane Owl so you must relate your story to Doane students. This story tries to do that, but it needs to be more oriented to Doane, less to Mount Mercy. The lesson for all? You must remember who your audience is.

We got a courtesy photo from CNN? We asked CNN to use that photo and it said, “Yes, just give us credit, please?” Why do I doubt that?

Style

Jill Stein is not a chair. You cannot sit on her. She is the chairwoman of the Board of Trustees.

You cannot begin a sentence with a numeral. How many times need I say this?

Use dates when the event is more than a week from the publication date. Use days otherwise.

It’s not 150 dollars. It’s $150.

Grammar and structure

Doane has only one Board of Trustees. The pronoun to refer to the board, then, cannot be the plural: their. The pronoun must be the singular: it.

Omit needless words.

Commas and periods go inside quote marks, not out.

When you have quotes of more than a sentence, place the attribution after the first quoted sentence. Place the boring but necessary stuff in the middle.

Very and really may be the two most worthless words in the English language. Purge them from your writing. Really.

When possible, get rid of -ing words.

Avoid adverbs. Seriously.

Doaneline:

We have exclusive content! I counted four different pieces on Doaneline that were not in the newspaper. Excellent!

We have links! Most (though not all stories) that I sampled had at least one relevant link. Fan-freakin’-tastic!

I’m happy we got person-on-the-street interviews about the police brutality issue. However, we missed the boat on both the printed story and the video. The emotional moment of silence could have been caught on video, especially since the lights stayed on, as I understand it. Now, I admit, you wouldn’t think a moment of silence would make great video. But, if we’d done our homework, we would have known what Kenny Benraty had planned — to call out the names of victims during the moment of silence. That would have made for powerful video, especially as we shot a close-up of a tear trickling down the cheek of one of the participants.

Decent story on police brutality by Gibson Shaffer. We should have led, though, with an anecdotal lede featuring Weers rather than a nation-encompassing lede. Also, I see we nabbed an interview with FBI Director James Comey. I’d be interested to learn how that happened because I’ve been trying to get an interview with him for years. Or maybe we didn’t get an interview? Maybe we heard him speak on TV? Or borrowed the quote from the Internet? If that’s the case, we need to cite the source. Failure to do so results in plagiarism.

Another Jess Eddmeiri story about athletes who transfer to Doane. Jess has been prolific this semster and I’m glad to see that. However, I’m unsure this story works. What’s the focus? The transfers have little in common with each other. Though, I must admit, Aspen Green’s photo of the kicker is, in a word, awesome. One last point about this story: Hightower seems to be the potential story here. He’s an Olympic contender and probably deserving of a profile.

Not sure why, but the photo to accompany the siblings story didn’t load using Safari. I didn’t try other browsers, though.

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