Super Hindsight, Feb. 1, 2018

The weekly critique of Doane Student Media publications

Welcome to Super Bowl Sunday. In honor of that concussion-inducing game, I’ve named this a Super Hindsight. Not because it’s written better than others. Or because the criticism is head-and-shoulders more insightful than any other week. Or because I thought this was a Super Owl. I’ve called it Super Hindsight just because it’s Super Bowl Sunday.

President Jacque Carter thought this was a Super Owl, though, and he said so in an email to the editors:

Just finished reading the latest issue of the Owl, both in print and online. Great job! The reporting was very professional. — Jacque Carter.

Since the president already had done my job for me, I debated whether to write this critique. So I read the paper. You’ll be shocked to know, I’m sure, that the president and I disagree a bit about the paper. While this paper was improved over last week, and while I think I have more praise for the staff because of that, I’m a little less effusive in doling out compliments.

In fact, I seem to be writing the same points in critiques, week after week, which makes we wonder:

a. Does anyone read these or am I wasting three to four hours of a weekend morning?

b. If you do read them, why do you make the same frickin’ mistakes?

So I’m instituting a new policy. If you are an editor, I want you to tell me three things you learned from this week’s Hindsight and how you are going to apply what you learned. Email them to me, preferably before the next paper is published.

Call me a curmudgeon. Or a perfectionist. Or just downright hard to please. But I know the capability this staff has. And I know you can do better.


Thank you to Cole Bauer for writing about the $2 million budget shortfall. I’m glad we did this story for this week.

I like the artwork as well on the shortfall piece.

The P. 1 design — in general — is well done, though we do have an issue with the main story (see problems, below).

I’m ecstatic we did a flu story. And that we put it on P. 1. Maybe I’m more heightened to the flu now that I’m an old codger, or because I just read a book about a flu pandemic in 1918, but the flu can be a dangerous disease, capable of killing. I’m glad we treated this disease with the respect it deserves.

Yes! We ran NPA ads. Hallelujah!

Trey Perry’s game show piece is well done. I wish we could have secured, say, 5 questions about white privilege and either printed them online or in the paper. In other words, we could have tested students in the paper or online. That would have been a cool interactive feature. Maybe we can still do that? After the game show, perhaps we can get five or 10 questions that were asked to see if our readers can answer them?

CJ Keene provides a valuable public service — letting students know where they now can get counseling services.

P. 5 has two good story ideas: what seniors wish they knew as freshmen and New Year resolutions. Anna Flores also does a nice job of writing the pieces, though I would have written a short intro for the Q&A piece. But I like that we’re beginning to use alternative storytelling methods.

Good graphic from Logan Thurston on the New Year’s resolution piece.

Wow, a cafeteria food is great column?!?! I’ve never seen one before. How refreshing. I’m sure students may disagree, but the change of pace is welcomed by this reader.

I like Caitlyn Nelson’s column — a lot. I especially like the graph that shows how the cost of textbooks has gotten completely out of whack. Good stuff.

Fine story on tennis by Trey Perry.

Lede of the Week: Last year, Doane’s men’s and women’s tennis teams came up short of competing for a conference championship and a ticket to the national tournament. This year, they’re hungry. — Trey Perry

Photo of the Week: Flu by Caitlyn Nelson (though her basketball photo is worthy as well). I also liked the tennis photo from Dalton Fellows.

Graphic of the Week: January by Logan Thurston.

Headline of the Week: Flu virus runs rampant at Doane


Although I was happy that we wrote about the budget shortfall, I had several criticisms of the story package:

  1. The headline is too small in relation to the rest of the headlines on the page. Headline hierarchy!
  2. The headline is in the wrong place. When stacking elements, it should be photo, cutline, headline, text. Instead, we put a large piece of art, our P. 1 dominant art no less, between the headline and the start of the story. That, kiddies, is a Bozo no-no.
  3. In the cutline, we fail to capitalize university when used with Doane. Why? Also, don’t use and/or. Pick one.
  4. The story, by the time we printed it, was nine days old. Must I say it? Timeliness is an element of news. Why do we think it’s OK to wait so long to tell a story? If the story had new information, information that wasn’t in the email, than maybe I’d say, ‘OK. Good work to uncover new stuff.’ But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, we have quotes from Savory but I didn’t see much else new. Did I miss it? If something was new, it should have been in the lede — or at least high in the story. Where, for example, is the info about the lights in the Comm building? Did we consider looking a the salaries of the Top 10 wage earners at Doane while reporting this story? How much would the school save by cutting the travel scholarship? What do students think about that? And if they decide to reduce programs, how is that going to help relieve a $2 million shortfall this year, given that the faculty would have at least a year’s notice? Oh, the lede is in the second graf. Why should we care about long-gone Dana and Grace? We don’t learn and teach there. Tell us about Doane. I didn’t expect all the answers to all the questions in the story, but since we had nine days to work on it, I expected more.

Why is the Xanadu story news? It’s collecting submissions? That’s a brief, not a P. 1 news story. The unpopular majors piece or the game show piece, both on P. 3, would have been better candidates for P. 1.

The jump line on Xanadu has too much white space.

While I liked the flu story, the lede needed to be rewritten — or at least edited. Here’s the original: Since Oct. 1 of last year, there have been close to 12,000 confirmed influenza (flu) hospitalizations in the U.S., marking it the most extensive flu season on record. That’s 28 words. And its not terrible. But look what happens when we edit it: Since Oct. 1, nearly 12,000 flu victims have been hospitalized in the United States, making it the most extensive flu season on record. Five words shorter. We don’t need to say “of last year.” We don’t need to say “confirmed.” If they are in the hospital, we assume the cases have been confirmed. We don’t need to tell readers that flu is the shortened form of influenza. They know that. U.S., when it stands alone, must be spelled. And who says it is the most extensive flu season on record? What’s the source? Perhaps no one kept records 100 years ago when about 675,000 American — and up to 100 million worldwide — died from the flu? The other way to lede this story would be to write an anecdote about how sick someone was — then use the original lede on this story as your nut graf. Just a suggestion.

Please explain to me why we ran the story about growing college concerns. I understand that the subject matter is worthwhile, but I could find nothing about Doane University, or how students at Doane would be affected. We quote the Washington Post. We quote the Chronicle of Higher Education. Where are the local sources? At heart, this is a localization — that we failed to localize. I can read the same story in the Post and the Chronicle. Why would I read it in the Owl? I want to read in the Owl how Doane students and the university would be affected. If there is no effect, why write the story?

I like that we publish the Weekly Campus Crime Report, but you must square it off. It cannot shove its way up into a news story. Find a way to make it smaller so it doesn’t intrude into the news story. Reduce the type. Remove the numerals. Whatever. But square if off with the story. Don’t allow it to intrude.

Our correction confused me. How many students did we say were Irene Ryan nominees? Show the error and correct it. I’m baffled by the second sentence. I have no clue what that means.

The band story headline on P. 3 must be rewritten. Why? We end two lines of the headline with prepositions. That’s verboten. How about: Band tours/Midwest/as it tries/to recruit

P. 3 lacks dominant art. It needs it — badly.

The photo of the band is an “execution at dawn” style photo. Don’t use it. If you use it, you must run it bigger so we can see faces. Faces should be as large as a dime. These are not. And, in the cutline, tell us who is who. I assume they are ID’d left to right, but we fail to say that.

Avoid cliche ledes. Consider anecdotal ledes over cliches.

Answer basic questions in stories — who, what, when, where, why, how.

The unpopular majors headline has way too much space between lines. Tighten it up.

Here’s the lede: “It is no secret that students pay a ransom to attain a college degree and often have to take out thousands of dollors in loans to be able to afford school.” Do we know what the word “ransom” means? It is a sum of money paid to release a prisoner. Somehow, I don’t think Doane students are prisoners. Also, in what world is the word “ransom” considered objective reporting, unless we are reporting on money being paid to release a prisoner? One more thing: The lede should be edited or rewritten. It is 31 words long and begins with the words, It is no secret … If it’s common knowledge — and not a secret — why lede with it? If we keep the same idea, and eliminate the opinionated “ransom,” the lede would be: Students secure loans worth thousands of dollars to afford school. So in 10 words we can say what originally took 31 words to say. But is that the point of the story? Is it news that students must take out loans to afford school? What is this story about? Is it about the cost to attend college or is it about small majors and whether Doane should continue to fund them? If it’s the latter, why wouldn’t we write a lead pertaining to those small majors?

Omit needless words.

Do editors read these stories? Why would we allow some of these ledes to be printed? Why would we allow a story to be published that fails to say how the issue affects Doane? Why would we allow to be printed entire paragraphs in stories that are nonsensical? Why do we have too much white space at the end of stories? Why do we have names spelled two different ways in stories? These are the types of errors that should be caught by editors if the reporters don’t fix them.

Oh. My. God. Another “execution at dawn” photo, this one on P. 4. Since the story is about the counselors’ new offices, wouldn’t it be better to somehow show that?

Text below photos must have a depth of at least one inch. We fail to do that on P. 4. Solution? Edit the story.

Does the SPB events graphic need to be that large?

The stories on P. 5 are good, but the design has a couple of issues:

  1. What’s the dominant art?
  2. Avoid placing an art element between the headline and the story. Solution: Move the deck under the photo collage — on top of the story’s first column.
  3. The calendar graphic is OK, but it’s placement in the story — the text wrap — is awkwardly done, making for wasted white space.
  4. Why place photo credits on the photos?

OK. It’s time for a rant. Last year’s staff was all Greek. This year’s staff is all Greek. While I haven’t counted, it seems as if we write more Greek pieces — both stories and columns — than any other subject. And if what students tell me is true, that only 30 percent of the campus is Greek, I’m guessing 7 of 10 readers simply don’t read those pieces. So while I’m not going to call for a moratorium on Greek stories and columns, I will say that it reflects poorly on a staff composed of all Greek students that it writes so many glowing pieces about Greek life or how to rush, etc. There is more to this world, more to the Doane community, than Greek life. We should write about those other issues. BTW, I will suggest to next year’s editor in chief, whoever that is, that we have a more diverse staff than we have had in the past two years. Fair warning.

Headline: Textbooks are an unnecessary expense. That caught my eye, as a professor who requires textbooks in certain classes. I perused the column to find the argument why textbooks are an unnecessary expense. I failed to find it. Why? Because that’s not the column’s purpose. Caitlyn never said textbooks were an unnecessary expense. She complained about the price of textbooks. She said professors should try to find inexpensive books, when possible. Or allow used books. She suggested ways to reduce the cost of textbooks. But she never said they were an unnecessary expense. That headline is inaccurate and misleading.

The design on Caitlyn’s column needs to be changed. Wrapping text around her mug fails to work. Why? You don’t have enough space. Text should be an inch wide when wrapped around a photo. This isn’t. Solution? Ditch bastard type. Run the column in our normal grid. Run her mug shot at the top of the second column. Run the graph to the right of her mug, and wrap the text underneath her mug and graph. It can be done easily. Why make it difficult for readers?

What’s wrong with this headline: Track and field has their eyes set on GPAC? Answer: Track and field what? Team? Teams? If it’s both teams, the use of the word their works. But if it’s one team, it should be its. And if we use track and field only, without a team (which would be the wrong way to write the headline anyway), we’d need to use its, not theirs. How do you set your eyes? It simply has its eyes on GPAC. GPAC what? Title?

Track and field February events is difficult to read. Print text over dead spots in photos, not over the action.

Avoid “to be” verbs in headlines. Remove “is” from the women’s basketball headline. The verb is implied.

Women’s basketball story is set in type that is too wide. That’s four inches, or 24 picas, wide. No more than 18 picas wide, please.

In basketball, place the winning score first — even if the other team won.


What are “encapes?” Inquiring minds want to know.

It’s … to try to eliminate … not to try and eliminate.

When said is the main verb in the sentence, the other verbs must also be past tense.

Doane is a singular noun. It requires a singular pronoun.

Avoid adverbs.

Avoid run-on sentences.


Place said as close to the name of the source as possible.

At Doane, the time between fall and spring semesters was called Interterm, not interim.

Female students at college are women, not girls.

Nice work from Trey Perry, Jacob Duhey and Kellan Willet on Dean Jennifer Bossard’s talk about human and sex trafficking. I like how they interspersed sound bites from her talk with the written text. And the sound level was good, especially since Bossard wasn’t miked. The story has a few style errors and the main photo was taken from too far away, but the students made the exceptional choice to tell this story in text and audio. Video of this event would have failed epically without much action or emotion.

The main problem with the piece is that the students, for some inexplicable reason, decided to tell this story in chronological order. In journalism, that’s rarely a good choice for storytelling. The problem is that Bossard saved what is happening in Nebraska regarding human trafficking for the end of her presentation. That should be the lede of the story. That’s what we Nebraskans — or at least temporary Nebraskans in some cases — care about. It’s where our students live. In essence, this presentation, in addition to a speech story, was a localization of a national and international issue. We localized it — but we did it too late in the story.

Also, the tips on how to prevent trafficking should be higher in the story. Or printed as a sidebar.

And we need more links.