Monthly Archives: August 2008

First “Wednesday Wisdom” a success!

Our first Wednesday training sessions were a great success! Tony Campbell and Kara Berchem were pleased with the good questions asked by our photo staff. And I was thrilled with the great turnout and lively conversation in our Writing for the Web session! Thanks to all for attending. Please let me know your thoughts on any topics you’d like to see covered in weeks to come.

Also, don’t forget that next week’s session is with Harlan Cohen, the columnist who writes “Help Me, Harlan!” If you need an incentive to attend, just ask Lana for her assessment of this fine writer… LOL


Aug. 27 critique

You oughta be in pictures for …

… stronger photos! Today’s shots by Nathan, Anna and Ben are MUCH stronger! We see students listening intently to a campaign worker, the Rec Center under construction, and our football team in action!  Also, nice choice of photo and large display for the page 6 Hillary shot!  We showed good judgment in our choice of subject, composition and design presentation. Excellent job!

… an amazing lead by Jessica Squires!!! Check out the visual writing here: “Where only cars came and went, now workers hover like bees on a hive, and soon students will swarm this area.” Love that image! This story is proof that construction stories don’t have to be dull affairs. Love the tidbit about old construction debris being found under the new site.  This story earned its front-page placement!

… well-placed promo for Sadie’s column online! Nicely designed, too.

… great lead by Ben on the starting QB decision! Again, a very “audio-visual” effect with the ellipses to build drama. Good ear!

Watch out for …

… packaging related content!  Why is there no effort to package our stories on campaign workers, Hillary’s speech, and the Obama speech event?  In fact, we put the Obama story under “Community,” instead of “Politics.”  How can it be that no one in the budget meeting noticed that these items are all related and should, perhaps, be connected in the paper, as well? We have to step up our game on promoting, packaging and presenting related content. If these topics aren’t coming up in the budget meetings, they should be.

… failure to localize.  I still have seen no mention of Michael Scott’s attendance at the DNC convention. I saw on Facebook that his grandfather passed away while he’s been in Denver. We owe readers at least a feature story on what it’s like for one of our students — an  African-American male student government leader(!) — to see the first black major party nominee for president. All the more powerful if his grandfather’s death has given him a new perspective on this historic time.

… dancing around a point.  In theory, I know that first-year students living among 21+-age students is interesting. However, our story dances around the interesting stuff. The reason it’s interesting for freshmen to live on the same floor as seniors is because they get exposed to all kinds of knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have.  So, I’d like to read about what it’s been like for these newbies to get a taste of senior life in Pickerl. Are the seniors pissed that their floor has been invaded by youngsters? We don’t get at this type of information until the 10th graf. That information needed to be expanded upon and moved up to the top of the story.

… p.r. non-news. I might just be too cynical, but I don’t know why the Honors Society receiving an award from its OWN organization is a story.  Now, if their increase in membership means we have more smart students at ISU, then let’s write THAT story. But if they’re just doing  a better job of recruiting, I’d say it’s not worth more than a brief.

… weak headlines.  This issue still gets bogged down in some dull verbs in our headlines. Students “live” in Pickerl; construction “continues”; Obama speech “made accessible”; society “receives” award. How about: Freshmen “invade” Pickerl; Rec Center construction “powers ahead”; Obama speech “beamed in” to the local office; society “boasts” award.  Let’s invite Mr. Roget and his legendary thesaurus to our design desks!

What if …

… 90% of our stories begin by introducing our readers to a person on this campus?  Show me someone doing something. Our writers — even the new ones — are getting great material. Let’s just showcase it a little better in the leads and headlines.

“Wednesday Wisdom” — Clear your schedule!

Remember that this semester, we’re doing a staff training session each Wednesday from 5-6 p.m. — starting this week!

Tomorrow, we have slated for our PHOTO staff, a session with ISU Marketing and Communications photographers Tony Campbell and Kara Berchem in the newsroom. Be sure to bring with you any photo you’d like them to critique. Also, bring your questions, curiosity and conundrums.

For our WORD FOLKS, I will conduct a session on “Writing for the Web” in HMSU Room 817, also from 5-6 p.m. I will talk about how our evolving Web project presents new opportunities and challenges for daily news writing.

Remember that there is a monetary award for those staffers who attend 10 training sessions this semester! See you there!

Aug. 25

You oughta be in pictures for…

… Bethany’s front page shots of the hypnotism victims… er, participants. Nice reaction from the woman behind the two men, as well. Good moment. Also, her photo of the mural at the community center is well done. Welcome back, Bethany!

… Ben’s photo and page design on page 6. It’s the best designed page in today’s paper. Mr. Corn is getting pretty adept at this whole design thing. Nice work!

… use of new writers! Welcome to Mark Richter, who also covered the sermonizing last week on Dede Plaza, and to Kala Kinman, Heidi Staggs (also initiated last week), and Nick Hedrick! We are so thrilled to have you on board!

Watch out for…

… running old news. Our lead story today is Saturday’s news. If we wanted to run AP, without localizing the story, we should have at least run a Sunday news analysis from the wire. More troubling, however, is the fact that we have no local content about the convention that starts today. We have at least two ISU students attending. We also fail to promo Sadie’s column from the front. We dropped the ball here. For the continuing election coverage, we need to start planning now a logo for election stories, a potential special section, stories that can be written ahead of time to be packaged with daily breaking coverage. We can’t let these events get ahead of us.

… separating a story from its headline. The hypnotism story design needed to keep the headline right above the story text.

… generalities. The hypnotism lead refers to “several hundred” students who “showed up.” In addition to the dull verb, Dede I has a capacity of about 300, which is a “few hundred,” by my count. The bigger lesson is that we need to nail down details like this. Editors can’t let generalities such as “many,” “a lot,” “several,” etc. slide in our stories. Either find an approximate number, or use something more solid, such as a “standing room only crowd.”

… dark photos. Ben’s page 8 photos reproduced well, as did the front page shots. But all the inside photos are about half a shade too dark. This has been a problem in the past, as well, so maybe Ben can share some of the Photoshop training we received last year to avoid dark reproduction.

… buried editor’s notes. The editor’s note on Sadie’s page 4 column needed to go at the TOP of the column. An editor’s note is something you want the reader to know before they read the content, not after.

… no dominant art. Pages 3 and 5 needed a dominant image. Nathan’s and Bethany’s shots are good, but we needed to pick one on each page to dominate. Otherwise, the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go first.

… color choices. The color screens on the front page — in the promo and for the Not So News — are really ugly. It reminds me of rotting fruit. Try to avoid any color on the front that is in the brownish family. It almost never reproduces well.

… making photos earn their space.  The page 8 half-page shot of ISU women’s soccer is mostly the backs of the team and it’s a bit fuzzy. Also, it’s not clear what exactly they’re looking at. This shot needed to be cropped a bit tighter around Coach Croft, and it needed to be run smaller. Only the most action-packed and powerful shots should be run this big.

What if…

… we started planning our pre-election coverage this week? Let’s not let this event sneak up on us. We see it coming. We know there is a lot of excitement about this election. Let’s come up with a story and photo budget for election coverage, along with a schedule of when stories will run. Planning ahead and getting stories in the can will allow us to have some wonderfully deep coverage and impressive visual packages without scrambling on deadline. We have to take advantage of the long lead time we have for this historic election.

… we use our richness of newbies to start working on some of the content that can hold for a while. This gives the newbies a chance to be thoroughly edited, and to rewrite if necessary, while at the same time giving us canned content that we don’t have to scramble for on deadline. It’s a win-win situation. News and sports should brainstorm a list of stories, breakouts, sidebars, etc. that have some shelf life and get the new folks working on them.

Aug. 22 critique

CORRECTION: In our lead story on A1, we identify Walter Beck (a former Statesman employee, BTW) as a “junior English major.” However, on the page 5 jump, the cutline identifies him as a “senior journalism major.” Need to set the record straight.

You oughta be in pictures for…

… nice front page design! We mixed it up a bit this issue with a refreshing color headline, grayscale box, and good attention to breakouts (mug, pull quote, web refer). This gives readers multiple entry points onto the page. Incidentally, the front-page correction is merited for a front-page headline error. This adds to our credibility. Nice work.

… a really engaging lead story on the fountain preachers! Here’s what I liked: We didn’t take the eye-rolling, “these guys are nuts,” approach to the story. The straight-news approach Mark Richter takes is more informative because he allows our community to respond in a number of ways. We give our readers a chance to judge for themselves. Nice work! Also, Anna’s shot of the preacher is a great example of how we can get up close to convey emotion and action. Great job, Anna!

… a fabulously visual lead from Greta on the First Lady’s lemonade stand. The timid freshmen approaching Bradley, only to find a kindred spirit was a wonderful image.

… a concise and easy-to-read story on the Blue Moon event on page 3. Preview stories are difficult to make interesting, but Heidi gets us into the story through an actual person! Nice work!

… the Grapevine feature! Answering questions like this is really helpful to our readers and doesn’t take up a lot of space. Diversions has developed into a packed place for cool features. I especially like the use of this space for promoting Web-only content.

… a cool lead by Lana for her Dede Plaza dance story. I especially love her quote from Kira Tucher: “It’s better than just stayin’ locked up in my dorm room all night.” It’s great to cut off g’s when it allows the character of the person or the flavor of the moment to come through. Great job, Lana!

… an innovative approach to design and story presentation in sports on page 8. The feature on Coach Miles could have been a dry Q&A, but Ben and Trever make the story pop with a inset box and great use of white space. The breakout box next to the photo is also a nice touch. This is a great example of taking simple elements and making them shine with a little creativity. Excellent job, guys!

… Trever’s story on Coach Miles. It deserves its own praise for being especially well-written. The first two sections of the story make it nearly impossible to stop reading. Trever builds dramatic tension in the second section: “Long gone are the days of 70,000 screaming fans… Gone too are the amenities … plane rides are now bus rides… Nike isn’t busting down the door to offer equipment.” Just excellent pacing of the narrative! Fantastic story.

Watch out for …

… using broad terms such as “evangelical.”  There are certainly many Christian evangelists who would deliver a very different message of the gospel.  Be as specific as possible when identifying religious or ethnic groups.  We needed to identify the exact group to which the three preachers belong.  Also, we make reference to “legal battles,” in reference to Shrock. We need to elaborate on that. Did he sue the university? Was the suit settled/thrown out/proceeding? Finally, Shrock references the “Alliance defense fund,” but we don’t explain what he means by that. What is this group? How have they been involved with his campus speaking?  We could easily do a follow-up on this issue: How campuses such as ISU’s become an opportunity for proselytizing. What are the legal guidelines, in terms of what is protected speech on a campus? How does ISU administration approach this issue?

… mismatched story and photo IDs. Reporters and photogs need to share information and editors need to pay special attention that the story and cutline don’t conflict.

… skinny columns!!! (*Lori grits her teeth and grumbles incoherently…*) Sigh… It’s up on the newsroom ideas board, and yet we still cut columns in half, both in the lead story (Web refer juts into third text column) and in the Bradley story (mug creates skinny third column).

… far-off shots of buildings and tiny people. Our photographers (the full-time photogs and anyone else shooting, however infrequently) need to be bold about getting close to the action and conveying emotion, interaction and atmosphere. The lemonade stand shot on the front page did not tell me much of anything about what happened there yesterday; it’s simply tiny figures standing around a building. Let’s get faces and color in to our photos.

… boring verbs in headlines. The President Bradley story on A1 said he “interacts” with students. That tells me very little about what he actually did that day.

What if …

… we think creatively about the upcoming political conventions, in terms of how we can capitalize on the local connections each affords? The Dems in Denver will include Sen. Evan Bayh, which I comment on in the earlier post. Also, we need to use Sadie Davis’s attendance to its maximum effect. Her blogging from the convention is VERY exciting! Let’s also think about how to use the ISU students who are attending.

Let’s start planning for the GOP convention, as well. We will surely have ISU attendees. Also, will Greg Goode (former ISU legislative liaison) be attending? How can we take advantage of our connections there?

Local connection

As of this posting, we don’t know who Obama’s VP choice will be. However, whether or not it is Sen. Evan Bayh, it may be worth a write-up about his local connections and the role he has played in this year’s Democratic race. There are lots of locals who have connections to Sen. Bayh and his father, former Sen. Birch Bayh, an ISU alum.

It would be a nice complement, as well, to whatever Democratic convention coverage we have planned for next week. Something to consider…

A new system of praise

Marcy and I decided that the Snoopy High-Fives were a little kindergarten, in spite of the fact that I was more focused on his being a writer in that image, not just a cartoon. In any case, we agree that a more appropriate symbol of praise and aspiration would be uber-hottie Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman from the Watergate-era film, “All the President’s Men.” In the film, Redford and Hoffman play Bob Woodward (who looks NOTHING like Redford) and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who brought down the Nixon administration by exposing the Watergate scandal.

So, here’s the new symbol for awesomeness in the critiques:

So, go be awesome and appreciate your potential to make American press (and movie) history with the right scoop.

Question: Who would play you in the movie of your history-making scoop? (I would pick Richard Gere to play Merv; Marcy prefers James Woods as Merv. I would cast America Ferrera to play me — or Janeane Garofalo. I think Marcy should be played by Dianne Lane or Jessica Lange.)