Monthly Archives: November 2008

One big ‘What if…’

lightbulb-2This is a “What if…” that’s been on my mind for a while now. It’s pushed out all the other what ifs that I might have written for the recent critiques.

What if we challenged the university’s notion of “diversity” in a meaningful way?

This gets complicated, so bear with me here.  As things stand now, the university periodically hosts a “Diverse People from International Places”-type event. At these events, people from other countries typically present dances, clothing and food from their respective countries.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, nothing. It’s fine to sample the clothing, food and cultural customs from other nations. But that’s not really the point of diversity, in my opinion.

To me, diversity is about understanding people whose points of view and life experiences are different and varied, so that we might better understand each other and work together. And our points of view and life experiences are not shaped merely by food, clothing, dances and music.

In other words, I would argue that the university is taking the easy road to diversity. I think it is practicing tokenism. Tokenism is…

a policy or practice of limited inclusion of members of a minority group, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices, intentional or not. … Classically, token characters have some reduced capacity compared to the other characters and may have bland or inoffensive personalities so as to not be accused of stereotyping negative traits. Instead, their difference may be overemphasized or made “exotic” and glamorous. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this concise definition.)

I think “international students” tend to be lumped into a category that casts them as non-threatening, good-food-eating, colorful-dressing, exotics whose cultures are “fascinating” and “diverse.”

In fact, the students at ISU who come from other countries are often very different from one another, and sometimes NOT very different from American students, depending on how difference is measured.  In other words, class, ethnicity, race, language, religion are all factors in making us feel connected to or distinct from other people.

So, let’s say the situation was reversed and ISU students went to school in Egypt, for example. Imagine what an “International Week” celebration might be like. Would we lump “American” students together into one culture — putting together a black Katrina survivor’s cultural experience with a suburban Chicago PIKE fraternity member’s experience, with a farm boy from Cloverdale who commutes to campus? What is lost by lumping these students together?

The same could be said by grouping Korean students, or worse, “Asian” students. Does an upper-caste Hindi Indian woman really share a similar cultural experience with a working class Buddhist Taiwanese man?

So, what would an alternative to this type of event be? Well, our options are complex.

One approach would be to use these “diversity” events to actually go beyond the obvious and tell interesting stories about cultural difference. We could focus on just a few students whose experiences here tell us something about their culture and our own dominant U.S.-ISU culture.

What kinds of American cultural experiences surprised these students? What kinds of cultural/political/religious conflicts or connections exist among students from the same country? You can imagine a white rural Indiana Republican student having some cultural friction with a black South Side Chicago liberal student. The same kinds of conflicts exist among residents of other nations.

The goal here is not to spark conflict, but rather to better understand the challenges and worldviews of the people on our campus. Only then can we host forums and events that focus on bridging understanding and creating healthy dialogue within our campus community.

How does the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy sit with students from different parts of the world? Some are very receptive to a more diplomatic approach, while others have benefited from the Bush administration approach.

How do students from the Middle East feel on our campus, where some students are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans? How does technology impact how students from other countries stay connected to their homelands? How do they connect with their fellow countrymen here at ISU?

What kinds of jobs will various students take back in their home countries after they graduate ISU? Some will take very high-paying jobs set up by their elite families. Others will work with the poor in order to develop struggling economies back home.

These are all ways at getting at the lived experiences of these students, not merely focusing on their nation’s traditional food and clothing.

I realize this is a complex issue that I can’t adequately address in a blog post. But let’s discuss the alternatives to covering the “token diversity event” so that we can write stories that matter to our students. And so that we can foster good discussion and better understanding among our readers.

As always, please comment!


Nov. 24 critique

redfordhoffmanYou oughta be in pictures for…

… a visually pleasing front page! You’ve got some nice leaning-in movement from Amanda’s shot of the massage therapist. And Ben’s wonderful shot of the football players hugging conveys wonderful emotion from a hard-fought loss. Excellent job showcasing strong images in our paper today!

… a very nicely told story of a heartbreaking loss by the football team by Trever! He’s skillful in his use of repetition in the 2.3 seconds that changed the game for the Sycamores this weekend. This is a story that will be read by many people, not just sports fans. The writing is nicely paced to convey the drama and impact of those 2.3 seconds. Excellent job, Trever!

… a wonderful lede by Harold on Scottish folklore! The haggis lede is grotesquely detailed and makes for a great read. Nice work, Harold!

… very useful guide to the cross country meets by Ben on page 6! This is a very nicely presented course map and details about the schedule and admission to the events. Also, a clever reference to the Web site in the breakout!

300px-stop_hand_cautionsvgWatch out for…

… the anecdote that doesn’t compute.  The Alternative Spring Break lede starts out promising, but ends in a quizzical quote from the main source about a full dumpster. I can assume that the full dumpster was a good thing? Like, the work had already been done? But I’m unclear.

I don’t mean to single out this story. The Take Back the Night piece from last week had a similar issue. The woman with eight kids leaving an abusive relationship was compelling, but we didn’t explicitly relate it to the point of the story.

So, as we branch out our writing using more personal anecdotes and compelling details, be sure not to forget to tie it back to the point of the story with a strong nut graf. The nut graf tells who, what, where, when, why and how.

A typical transition from anecdote to nut graf goes something like this:

{Lede} This person did an interesting thing that looked like this the other day.

{Nut graf} That person was just one of (X number of people) who participated/were affected by this important event/issue. This event/issue involved… (who, what, where, when, why, how)…

Nov. 21 critique

You oughta be in pictures for…

… strong photo of the steeldrum player and the condom dress by Nathan! Cool front-page art. Nice color and visual pop.

… good reporting on the complexity of the mayoral uncertainty by Nick! This is a story with several layers and some unclear consequences. Nick’s reporting is making the process of deciding what’s up with the city’s mayoral position easier to understand. His writing and his reporting are adding clarity instead of just noise. Good job, Nick!

… engaging and impact-focused writing by Nikki on AIDS awareness! The design of the story, with the silouette of the condom dress shaping the text column, draws the eye to what is a wonderfully written piece by Nikki. She includes great context on the impact of the disease and efforts to raise awareness. Nice work!

… a good use of a photo spread to cover the PacSun runway show. Exactly the right approach for this type  of event. And strong photos by Bethany to boot!

… great, action-packed football shot by Heidi on page 8! Ms. Staggs continues to impress with her photo skills! Excellent job!

Watch out for…

… nada.

I have nothing to say about this issue other than it was a solid effort with no glaring mistakes. Good work!

Nov. 19 critique

redfordhoffmanYou oughta be in pictures for…

… an action-packed and newsy issue! The paper has lots of good photos and news, with very little “filler.” Nice job planning, eds.

… a people-focused lede by Heidi on the International Week story. Nice job!

… an engaging anecdotal lede by Nikki on the Take Back the Night story! She did a great job drawing in readers with a compelling story. Her story also includes strong quotes from those who attended the event and good historical context for the cause. Good work!

… strong photos by Bethany from the masquerade ball!

… nicely written story by Harold on the PIKE homeless fundraiser! He employs some literary description, without going overboard, to a story about a creative mode of fundraising. Nice job, Harold!

… cool story by Jonathan on women’s volleyball seniors bidding farewell. I was surprised at how candid and personal each of the players’ comments were. The story avoids cliched responses and instead delves into the emotions of the seniors as they reflect on their experience at ISU. Nice job, Jonathan!

300px-stop_hand_cautionsvgWatch out for…

… typos. The Take Back the Night story misses the “woman-women” mix-up in the second graf. Also, that story needed a smoother transition from the anecdote to the nut graf. What does the woman’s story in the lede tell us about the cause of Take Back the Night?  Editors, be sure you flesh out these details with your writers.

Nov. 17 critique

redfordhoffmanYou oughta be in pictures for…

… a clever lede by Greta on the chamber orchestra story. Nice tie-in to the b-ball stories!

… intrepid reporting by Heidi on the controversial “Romeo and Juliet” performance. This is a great example of following through with a story that takes a reporter a bit away from the original intention of the story. Heidi was assigned a standard play story, but noticed something interesting happening there. She followed up on it and found some newsy information about same-sex romantic portrayal discomfort among the theater audience. Good instincts, Heidi. And good job getting audience reaction on the record!

300px-stop_hand_cautionsvgWatch out for…

… hiding stronger photos inside. Ben’s dominant page 8 basketball shot was stronger than the one on the front. The secondary page 8 shot of Aaron Carter is also stronger than the front shot. Also, the placement of the page 1 shot leaves us with a disembodied arm and ball above the fold, which is problematic.

… using the full city/state when referencing Terre Haute.  There’s only one Terre Haute. We’re in it. No need to tack on “Ind.” — especially in headlines.

… stopping too soon.  The “Romeo and Juliet” play controversy and the International Cooking competition both had page 1 potential. But they stopped short of getting there for a couple reasons.

  1. They needed some more personal storytelling. The actresses in the play and the director should have been asked about the controversy. If they were not available, the story should have held. In the food story, I wanted to “see” the competitors under pressure. Think Iron Chef or Top Chef.
  2. Breakouts!!! The cast breakout for the play is good, but what about a fact box on men and women playing opposite sex roles in the history of theater? That would have been a better use of our book reference.  Also, when I see food competition, I think “recipe.” Or maybe a menu from the event.

… cryptic reporting. The lead story on the student threatened by gunmen was well written by Greta. However, I think it’s odd that so few details are available about the incident. Police don’t say how the student was threatened — as in, what exactly was said to him. Also, “possibly white males” “approximately six feet tall,” describes roughly 65 percent of our male students. Is this story really helpful to people? What should we do with this type of vague report? Please comment!

lightbulb-2What if…

… (see Wednesday’s critique.)

Amazing images!


Migrant mother Florence Thompson with her children, 1936. By Dorothea Lange

Please check out Google’s searchable database of LIFE magazine images from 100 years.  The images of the 1930s — by famous photographers Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White — are simply astonishing. Check it out.

A week of critique…

A funny thing happened on the way to last week’s critiques…  Um, truth is, I just got too busy. Sorry about that!  But I’m making up for it today! These are my critiques for the week of Nov. 10-14. Hope it was worth the wait…


You oughta be in pictures for…

… double-threat Heidi Staggs! She writes AND she shoots photos! Her Miss International pageant photos (Nov. 10) were very strong. They were up-close and in-focus and action-oriented. Heidi’s story (Nov. 12) on the Sudanese child soldier was also very nicely written, with many compelling details from the speech. She lets a powerful story unfold on its own. Excellent job, Heidi!

… stories by Greta and Lana and Robin on reaction of black community leaders to Obama election! Very good approach to this topic. Also, great to do two separate stories, rather than blending them into one. The featured people in these stories are from different generations, with different historical positions. Wonderful stories, nicely planned and executed. Deserved page 1 placement.

… a nicely-reported obituary of Prof. Sarah Hawkins from Lana. Very sensitive and extensively reported. Great job, Lana.

… a wonderfully written piece by Cinnamon on the cancer fundraiser (Nov. 12).

… solid reporting by Nick on the mayoral nullification! It’s a complex story (and a wacky one, at that!) but Nick’s writing is clear and concise. His reporting is forward-looking and thorough. Great job, Nick!

Michelle and Lana’s coverage of Bradley’s installation! Strong photos by Bethany accompany the story of Bradley’s installation as president. Michelle and Lana find great quotes and make this otherwise process-oriented story into a very human and readable piece. Excellent job!

… strong inside reporting by Greta and Abby (Nov. 14)! The ISU Miss USA contestant and the nurse practitioners story, respectively, are people-oriented and fun to read! Both stories capture cool details of the lives and work of the women they feature. Great job!

… nice basketball tab by Ben! The photo-heavy tab is very browse-able and the back cover, especially, has a clear and helpful design. Good work.

300px-stop_hand_cautionsvgWatch out for…

… missing a cool story.  I like the story on the naming of John Wooden court. But I wanted a more feature approach, with more story-telling. Many of our students are unaware of John Wooden, who has a fascinating story as the winningest college basketball coach of all time. This story lends itself to color, detail and storytelling. I think it was a missed opportunity.

… bad photo placement.  Our lead shot of the veteran’s event on Nov. 12 is very weak. People sitting in chairs is NOT lead photo material. But Bethany’s shot of John Bal (Bul?) Dao (we had it two ways) was beautiful on page 5. But the page 5 shot is run much too small.  We have to coordinate among editors to be sure the strongest photos receive the best placement and biggest play.

… mug shots. Our obit for Prof. Hawkins really needed a mug. Anytime we do a profile or obituary, we need to do everything possible to get a mug with it.

(See What if… in the Nov. 17 critique.)