Hindsight, Oct. 5, 2017

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications


Good story from Cole Bauer about the defense of President Carter. Will he not speak to the turmoil surrounding him and the university?

Fine photos from Ally Ibsen on the play, especially the main photo.

Exceptional profile of Brad Johnson by Basic News Writer Mackenzie Burch. A textbook example of how to write a personality profile. Fantastic!

Nice portrait of Johnson from Dalton Fellows. Good work.

Lede of the Week: “In high school, a young Brad Johnson was nominated for a national writing award” — MacKenzie Burch

Photo of the Week: Johnson portrait by Dalton Fellows. Runner-up: Ally Ibsen for her main play photo.

Graphic of the Week: Shotgun events by Logan Thurston

Headline of the Week: I couldn’t find one


This issue of the newspaper disappoints. Poor writing, buried ledes, wasted space, lack of newsworthy stories, no sense of headline hierarchy and an appalling lack of visuals, especially photos, leaves little to praise. Want a better paper? Plan better.

The first problem is with the flag. Um, what issue is this? What date is this published? I can’t find it.

I’m unsure which story on P. 1 is more important, in part because the headlines are the same size. Headlines at the top of the page should be bigger and bolder. That’s headline hierarchy.

If no one reads Hindsight, let me know and I’ll stop writing it. But once again, we place a pull quote in the middle of a column, requiring readers to have to make a decision — do their eyes jump over the pull quote to continue the story or should they go to the top of the third column? Why make readers decide? Simply move the pull quote to the top of the second column. Problem solved. I’m unsure how many times I have to write this before it becomes apparent to editors.

I know the main story’s goal is to provide the defense for Jacque Carter, but I think we needed to do a better job of being fair. We have students who provide some balance to Orsag’s comments, but no peer. We probably should have had a faculty member other than Orsag to comment.

By the way, the Carter story says Orsag worked 13 hours/day to prepare the defense. One professor in the building told me that he told her he worked 12 hours/day. I guess that’s inflation, eh? :-)

Omit all needless words.

Write ledes that are specific to the story. Who cares if October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? That’s not important. Tell us what is important. Example: Doane is rolling out a new project designed to limit domestic violence and other crimes. Story told in 15 words. Now, give the reader more details. Second graf: The Campus Advocacy, Prevention and Education Project will focus on preventing sexual assault, dating, domestic violence and stalking, said Suzannah Rogan, project coordinator …

Identify people and things that readers may not know. What exactly is rainn? And is it rainn or RAINN? We have it both ways.

The local statistics on sexual assault contain more impact than national stats. Move local stats higher.

Avoid stating the obvious. It’s clear that sexual assault happens on Doane’s campus. We don’t need a graf paraphrasing Rogan to tell us that.

The headline and the art element for the CAPE story are too close. Build in a point or two of breathing space for the reader.

Why are stories too short?

P. 2 is an abomination. We have four art elements about one story — none of which are worth printing. Sorry, Logan, I usually like your work, but the multi-faith graphic says nothing. So much wasted space on all four of these useless symbols — I’m unsure what the last one even means, for crying out loud — that could have been used for important info. And why do we need to show the cross and the Star of David twice?

By the way, the multi-faith story itself says little — which is probably why we had so much difficulty trying to illustrate it. For purposes of studying religion, it may be important to know that 4,000 religions exist. For the purposes of news, the fact is unimportant. The multi-faith story should have focused on those who worship unusual faiths or don’t worship at all. That’s when the story becomes interesting. The first five grafs offer little news.

The last graf in the multi-faith story quotes someone, but for the life of me I can’t figure out who. It quotes “she said” but the closest “she” in the story is six grafs higher in the piece.

The corrections box is a mess. First, why is the headline “Corrections” so large and why is the body type for the corrections at least twice as large as the body text for stories. Are we filling space with corrections? Oh, please, tell me that’s not the case. And the first one is poorly written. With corrections, you want to correct the error as quickly as possible. So this is how it should read: In a Sept. 28 story, The Doane Owl listed an incorrect retention rate for the university. The correct rate is 78 percent. (By the way, that means 78 out of 100 students returned to Doane. It does not mean, as we stated in the correction, that 22 percent of students returned to Doane after their sophomore year. Great. Now we have to correct a correction.) The Owl regrets the error. That’s it. Simple. In a correction, you can’t “change” facts. Just provide them. In the second correction, we have needless words. Example: “by a reporter” — if someone is misquoted, readers assume the reporter misquoted that person. “The story also contains false information.” Yes, it does. The quotes we can’t verify. What other false information is there? “He said he never told her that he was excited about an upcoming lecture.” He never told whom? Just say: Clanton did not say that he was excited about an upcoming lecture. Perhaps we need a unit in how to write corrections?

Headline on the top of P. 3 is too small.

Why in the hell are we running pull quotes that contain type larger than the headline? Can someone please answer that? That makes no sense to me. Did anyone look at this paper before sending it to the printer? Did anyone proofread it?

The graphic of a bottle of liquid — Gatorade? Or is that supposed to be alcohol? — is superfluous. Omit it. Sorry, again, Logan. Move up the photo of the person chugging Jose Cuervo. That’s the illustration for the drinking story.

Drinking story, BTW, needs a new lede. Kayla’s lede isn’t bad, but she reports that there have been seven alcohol-related events without putting that in context. Is that a small number compared to past years? Large? We don’t know. We have nothing to compare it to. So the lede could be: Doane is drying up, students and administrators say. Second graf: Reports of alcohol-related instances have decreased — only seven have been reported this semester — over the last few years, said Dennis … Third graf: Senior Nolan Vogel also has noticed the decline in on-campus drinking since his freshman year. Fourth graf: That great quote about Quad parties. Remember, whenever you have numbers, you must compare them to something so that people understand what the trend is — up? down? holding steady?

P. 3 contains enough wasted space that we could put an additional 15–20 inch story on the page if we hadn’t wasted the space.

Tell readers the news. No one cares if AIGA has had a busy semester. The news is in the third graf — that it’s beginning an on-campus studio.

Someone please explain this sentence to me: The space would function as a way for graphic design students to learn things that they would not be able to learn without their education … Huh? I think I know what the writer means, but that’s not what the sentence says. Again, do any editors read this stuff before you put it in the paper? It doesn’t seem as if that’s the case.

Careful about spacing. On P. 4, the cutlines and headline seem to run together as do the cutlines and body text on the secondary photo. Build in a point or two of space to allow the page to breathe.

The lede on the play is in the second column. It’s about pirates and fairy dust, for crying out loud. That’s what people want to read.

I think we missed the boat on the Cody Wyatt story. The story shouldn’t be all about him. It should be how Sodexo works with special needs folks, including Cody. I’d lede with an anecdote about Cody, but then branch out to show that the story is also about how Sodexo works with these folks to help them be productive members of society. Why single one guy out simply because mom works at Doane?

P. 5, what happened to headline hierarchy? The story at the bottom of the page has a bigger, bolder headline than the story leading the page? Huh?

The editorial was written in a matter of minutes, on deadline. And it reads that way, too. What does the date (or the day) have to do with the editorial? What’s the point? To thank people for talking to us? If the point is that students should pay attention, that should be in the first graf of the editorial. Then spend the rest of the editorial explaining why they should pay attention.

Not again! We have columnist mug shots that are too large and we place those super-large column mugs at the bottom of the column?!?!? Forgive my incredulity but I’ve been bitching about this since the beginning of the semester and we’re still doing this? Why? In what publication do you see this? I challenge you to find for me one publication in which column mugs are placed at the ends of the columns? I’ll wait. Playing Jeopardy theme … You can’t, can you? So why the hell are we doing it? This is simply bad design. Can we please stop it?

Why is a fashion story on an opinion page? I have nothing against fashion stories. I’m fine with devoting a page of Life & Culture to fashion. I object, though, to putting fashion stories on opinion pages. If we don’t have enough opinion for two pages, give up the page to sports, Life & Culture or news. But don’t label it opinion.

When we quote another publication, we should say where that publication is based. For example, in the fashion piece, we quote someone from the Star Tribune. Is that the Minneapolis Star Tribune or the Wahoo Star Tribune? I’m guessing there are several papers called Star Tribune. Be specific.


Two golf stories on the sports page is overkill. One is sufficient. It’s almost as if the sports editor is on the golf … Wait a minute! Is that the sports editor in a photo on the sports page? Hmmm … conflict of interest bells are ringing.

Why would we run an Execution at Dawn-style photo? All faces should be as large as a dime. They aren’t.

Why are we running the record-breaking story three weeks after it happened. And our editor is on the team! We couldn’t get it in the paper earlier? Like, when it happened? Last I looked, timeliness was an element of news, correct?

OK, congrats to the golf team on the record. But where did it finish in the tournament? Readers don’t know.

Place shotgun events at the bottom of the page.

Second golf story can’t seem to make up its mind whether it is a profile or a hard news story about a record-setting performance. I’d turn it into a personality profile.

We talk in the Bankson story about state golf. What state? Nebraska? Ohio? New York? Be specific.

Grammar and Structure:

Why do we continue to insert needless words, especially in titles. Example: Mark Orsag, professor of history … Why not: History professor Mark Orsag … Omit the “of”

Nouns and pronouns must agree. A singular noun, such as AIGA, needs a singular pronoun, such as it, not them.

If is conditional. Example: “If you help me, I can stop smoking.” Learn the difference between if and whether.

Avoid six bullets early in stories (or columns). In this case, those bullets could be condensed to three. Or condense and lose the bullets.

Place attribution at the end of the first quoted sentence.


Theatre, when it stands alone, is lowercase. And what is our style? Theater, as most Americans would use, or theatre, as most English would use?

Place short titles before the name. Example: Health educator Amy Schlichting …

What’s AP Style for the abbreviation of Wisconsin?

Prior to or before?

How do you hold an event in your hands? Omit the “held” part of “will be held…”

What’s style on days and dates?

Use, not utilize.


I’m glad we posted something about the faculty meeting on Thursday, but avoid leading with the date. And what should be the lede of this short story? How about:

Doane’s professors met in a secret (or confidential) meeting Thursday to discuss whether they have confidence in the university president.

Second graf: About students getting tossed out of the meeting.

Third graf: Quote from student saying not to throw students out of meeting.

We’re getting better at links. Need more.

Other than the faculty meeting, I found no other exclusive content.