Monthly Archives: February 2009

Feb. 27 critique

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

… innovative lead headline!  I really love the way you’ve done the hammer head ‘Light of Hope’ and then made the subhead a more traditional style. Very effective!

Aliya’s vigil coverage! Her story really gets specific details from cancer survivors and patients about the toll the disease and treatment takes on people. She really focuses on the impact of cancer, and not just the “event.” Well done!

… the Gen Ed story by Michael! This story is fantastically informative and he deserves a sparkler for his consistent and insightful coverage of this ongoing process.

… very nicely written story on the personal hygiene products charity drive by Phillip! He introduces us to a student who got involved with the effort, and then expounds on the Networks project (which deserves a larger feature, in my opinion). Excellent job, Phillip! Also, kudos  to Heidi for donating her own hygiene products to the cause of photo illustration…

Heidi’s diversity officer story! She does a couple of really great things in this story. First, she makes clear how the position came to be. And, she cites a specific example of an issue a diversity officer might deal with: white attendance at African American-organized events, and vice-versa. Great job, Heidi!

… an excellent piece on Steve Raymer’s photo presentation by Nick! I think this story should have run on the front page. It is a lively account of what a photojournalist’s job is like. And Nick does a good job with the difficult task of describing powerful photo content (in less than 1,000 words!).

… MVP-level contributions by Ben Corn on sports! He shoots, he writes, he editorializes — he’s a triple threat!  Ben’s work on the sports page consistently provides solid game coverage and lively photos. That’s worthy of a sparkler, in my book. Thanks, Ben.

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… breakouts.  The cancer vigil story really needed to break out the last graf about the Monday event, so that it wouldn’t get buried at the end. Similarly, the piece on the diversity officer references a student forum on Sunday in the last graf.

Any event details or numbers that speak to future events or add important context should be considered for breakout information.

… choosing the best art. I’m glad we teased the Raymer photo story with one of his photos. But we needed to credit the teased photo. And, we really needed to photograph some of his photos to run inside, instead of focusing on him. I’m sure Mr. Raymer would agree with that.

Also, our lead art was dull. It needed a human touch. It’s difficult to tell how big or small the bags are on the stage in the lead shot. And the secondary shot is out-of-focus. In my opinion, we should have used shots of the Raymer photo presentation as lead photos and run a vigil photo (just one) inside.

… boiling it down.  The Gen Ed story is unweildy and needs a bit more getting-to-the-point. When we cover really in-depth processes or issues, it’s important to make the writing as concise and sharp as possible, otherwise readers get lost in the weeds of jargon, minor details and bureaucracy.

… story packaging. Nick’s Black History Month piece and Heidi’s diversity officer piece should have been packaged together, or at least refered from one to the other.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if…

… we change the way we write about “tolerance”? One of the issues that comes up when talking about diversity, as we have been for the past few weeks in our paper, is the idea of “tolerating” others.

It seems to me that the whole point of efforts to diversify the university and institutions across America is to benefit from diversity — to appreciate or accept diversity.

If we change our language to reflect “appreciation” or “acceptance” of other cultures, races and identity groups, we shift the focus toward recognizing what these groups contribute to a complex and multicultural society.

If we focus on “tolerance,” the emphasis is on grudgingly putting up with the frustration of people who are different. It’s true that not every group will get along in our society. Some religious groups just won’t like gay people. Some urban sophisticants will always see “the Red States” as backward.

But if we change our language, we might get some people (many, in fact) to change their minds a bit. In our own newsroom, appreciating the diversity of our campus leads to great story ideas; while “tolerance” seems to be a dead end.

What do you think?


Journalism’s future

081001_browser_laptoptnOne of the take-aways from the very interesting Wednesday Wisdom session with Stephanie Salter was the general sense of doom in the traditional newspaper industry. Just today, The Rocky Mountain News published its last issue. The San Francisco Chronicle is on the brink of bankruptcy. Our own Tribune-Star just lost its publisher.

But I think an important point to remember is that emerging media technologies are providing new forms of information and platforms for journalists and writers of all kinds.

Some of them even make money!!! (Seriously.)

Check out these stories for a dose of glass-half-full in a half-empty media environment.i-can-has-cheezburger

US News & World Report: How much do bloggers make?

US News & World Report: How top bloggers earn money How do bloggers make money?

Also, a survey conducted last year by Pew Center for People & the Press and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found a generation gap in rating the journalistic value of Web-based news and blogs. From the report (p. 3):

Older journalists generally see the internet weakening journalistic values. About half of journalists ages 55 and older (52%) express this view. By comparison, a 49% plurality of younger journalists (ages 22-34) says the internet’s rise will strengthen journalistic values.

Also, journalists tended to rate bloggers of current events higher in credibility than local TV news. See the data and the full report below. It’s worth reading!

Pew Media Report




Farewell to our server. And congratulations to the staff for putting out a quality newspaper in spite of the chaos the technical difficulties created.

As we get the new server up and running, let’s remind ourselves that journalists have always fought the battle of technical difficulties — from the glitchy newspaper press, to the sticky typewriter key, to the water-stained parchment, to the broken stone tablet chisel.

So welcome to the new server and long live technology!!!

Feb. 25 critique

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

…the Housing Guide!!!  I had no idea how elaborate this section would be. According to Merv and Marcy, it’s the strongest guide we’ve published in a long time.  I love the infographics on the room designs! Very clever approach.

As a general point, I love that the stories all follow a theme and flow together nicely. Everyone’s contribution builds on every other in a very comprehensive package of stories.

It’s so great to see contributions from Robin and Michael. I love seeing their bylines! I also love that Nick has branched out to write a column. It’s super-fun and very informative about Mr. Hedrick’s personal habits and ABBA love…

My favorite pieces are Michael’s story on living at home, in which he successfully weaves in context on the current state of the economy. I also really enjoyed Aliya’s piece on RAs and APAs.  I actually learned quite a lot from this story. I didn’t really know what APAs did, or how important they are in the Res Life system. Nice job to both Michael and Aliya.

Finally, I love that we included a piece on Greek housing off-campus. We too often avoid covering Greeks and miss out on that culture. Nice job, Robin!

… strong photos!  Nathan’s creepy clown shots are no doubt frightening coulrophobics all over campus. Nice work! Heidi again proves that we can vary up a simple speaker shot to be engaging and visually interesting. And Ben’s baseball shots, in particular, are action-packed and offer wonderful color.

… theater coverage by Greta!!! One of our favorites, the divine Ms. Fishback, has returned to our front page with delightful results. Welcome back!

… more breakouts on sports! Ben maximizes the use of the breakout for game stats on page 6 and then we make great use of a box to name award winners. This approach is eye-catching and will be read by many more people than if this info was in a traditional text-heavy story. Nice job, guys!

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… clarity.  Two stories in today’s issue lack clarity in key ways. The first is the piece on the diversity officer, which refers in the lede to William Lewis being “back home.” But we don’t know what that refers to until the next-to-the-last graf on the jump.  The other story on financial literacy doesn’t make clear in the headline or lede that we are actually writing about two events.  The lede should reflect that the university hosted two events dealing with financial literacy, with the reporters’ work woven more tightly into a single piece.

… design.  I like the approach on page 5 that we used on Monday, but we have to be careful not to confine text to just two lines at the bottom of a photo. The beginning of the story gets lost because the eye isn’t sure where to start. So make sure if we are taking this approach to design, that the byline is bold and apparently marks the beginning column of the story. And make sure that the text has a conventional layout that isn’t confusing to the reader.

On a side note, playing bingo to “celebrate” Mardi Gras is the lamest thing I’ve ever heard of. In fact, playing bingo is the antithesis of everything Mardi Gras stands for. But I digress…

… narrowing down a lede.  Our coverage of the forum on “controversial issues” ended up being a story about the frustration some students have with professors who are not responsive to their needs. So, editors, when a reporter comes to you with a laundry list of topics discussed at a forum or meeting, make them choose the two or three most important ones. And make the headline and lede reflect that choice. Any story that ledes with “several issues” or “many topics” is a story that is begging not to be read.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if…

… we make the next stories on the diversity officer better investigate the specific nature of racial, ethnic and gender bias? These issues are subtle and it’s not always easy to detect bias when it happens. However, members of minority groups have come to know which nuanced actions and attitudes represent larger issues of bias and discrimination.

Let’s talk to the candidates about their own experiences. Let’s tell their stories. Force them to be specific about situations they have faced. Make them go beyond comments like, “we have many issues to deal with,” or “there are still a lot of problems in our society.”  What, specifically, occurs on campuses like ISU every day that needs to be addressed?  How, specifically, does bias and lack of diversity impact students and everyone else on our campus?

We need to go deeper on this.

Feb. 23 critique

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

… Aliya’s stadium story!  We got a bit of a late start on this, but once she wrote it, folks, she wrote the HELL out of it! Her comments from Prettyman are really instructive in terms of how the new stadium is being imagined and what problems it will solve. She also provides the fundraising/cost aspect.  And I love that the story takes a turn toward the end to include other athletic programs and their facility needs. Nice job, Aliya!

… a great-looking front page! The promo shot of Skillet is cool, but the concert breakout box and the drop-cap that repeats the color scheme is GENIUS!!! Nice work, Robin! This is a perfect example of how little touches can add a lot of visual class and appeal.  Robin’s story is also a great read! Really strong quotes from the lead vocalist/bassist John Cooper and good background about the Christian rock and crossover success of the band.

… great anecdotal lede and news feature by Nick on the community service project in Farrington’s Grove this weekend!  The story flows really nicely, and isn’t bogged down with bureaucratic detail. It’s just about students helping out. Love this!

…two more strong contributions from Phillip Pluta and Sarah Adams! We’re so glad to have Phillip and Sarah among our bright new staffers! Keep up the good work! ALSO, innovative approach to the headline and byline on Phillip’s page 5 story. It’s a good risk to take.

… movie reviews! Welcome to Austen Leake on the Diversions page! There are some good changes in the works on page 2. Kudos to Cindy for her innovations!

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… copyediting. The stadium story lede is grammatically incorrect. It should read something like, “ISU is pitching concepts for a new baseball stadium…”  We have to have multiple sets of eyes editing our stories — especially our lead story on the front page.

Also, I would have liked to have seen some context for how the baseball team’s  season is going. Just a little mention of how the team has done well in spite of the run-down facility.

… specificity.  Our diversity story is an important one, but it never nails down exactly what the problems are in terms of diversity at ISU.  So when Sasha Edwards says people are “educated, but ignorant,” what does that mean? When Timothy Black says there is a “subtle, but obvious” difference in the way faculty treat some students, what does he mean?

Having taught courses on gender and race, I can only guess what these folks mean. I can assume that they are talking about the way that the ONE black student in class gets called on to speak on every “black issue.” Or the way two black students in a class of 40 always get paired up for group work… etc, etc.

But theses are just guesses. I would rather hear specific stories about their experiences. Be sure to dig for the telling details.

idea-bulb-neon-300px What if…

…we shake up the sports pages?  This merits an in-depth discussion, but in general, let’s stop letting the schedule dictate our content.  And let’s not have every game story be a 20-inch recap.

Instead, let’s capitalize on box scores, briefs and feature stories on our athletes, coaches and fans.  Sports is a culture, not just a series of games. As a culture, it has all kinds of interesting rituals and traditions that make for great features. Sports also takes place outside of the formal schedule. Intramural and pick-up games, in which students compete for glory alone, make for really cool stories, too.

Sports is also a business. It brings in and spends a great deal of money. Covering how that money is raised, collected and spent is an important aspect of the athletic programs.

Finally, sports is a career.  It employs coaches, trainers, medical doctors, recruiters, memorabilia sellers, journalists, promoters… and on and on. Let’s give readers some insight into what these professionals do and how they make our athletics programs function day-to-day.

I challenge our news pages to innovate and prioritize news, so that we’re not running the same dry process and event stories every issue. I challenge sports to innovate, too. There’s no reason that “the way it’s always been done” can’t be turned on its head and livened up. What do you think?

Wednesday Wisdom: Stephanie Salter

From the Tribune-Star

From the Tribune-Star

Our special guest for Wednesday Wisdom next week, the 25th, is Tribune-Star columnist Stephanie Salter! I know some of you read her column regularly and know what a great session this will be.

Below is a three-part series that Ms. Salter wrote about a local mother grieving her slain 4-year-old son and trying to shed light on the flawed emergency and social services systems that compounded her tragedy.

It’s a fantastic series that we will talk about at the session. Please read it and bring your impressions and questions with you.

Part I — Amber Alert guidelines different since local slaying

Part II — Criteria confusion stalled Amber Alert in 2006 slaying

Part III — First the violence, then the aftermath — a grieving mom copes

As usual, the session will be in HMSU Room 817, from 5:00-6:00 p.m.

See you there!

News judgment

I’m struggling with what to say about today’s paper because there are some nicely reported stories in it. Nick’s piece on racism is especially worth praising. I also liked Amanda’s Rec Center photos.

But I can’t really focus on anything but the absence of any mention of the new $2 million baseball stadium that Ron Prettyman announced the day before yesterday.  For those of you who didn’t see it, here is the link to the Trib-Star’s story from Feb. 18.

I am troubled by the fact that in spite of early notification on Thursday of the Trib’s story, there is no trace of it in our paper today.

At the very minimum, we could have reported on the Trib-Star’s report — not a pleasant option, but better than nothing.

At minimum, we could’ve tracked Prettyman down. At minimum, we could’ve spoken to some players or coaches on the baseball team. At minimum, we could have called ISU Public Affairs and gotten a “no comment” or whatever they may have said.

But, as far as our readers know, we’re just not that interested in this story, and not that tuned in to our own campus. In addition to the inherent news value of a major capital project, this story also entails spending $2 million on a big stadium at a time of drastic budget cuts.  Even if we disagree with spending so much on a stadium — in spite of the fact that private donors get to dictate how their donation is spent — let’s write that story.

If you were stuck as to how to proceed with the story, you have THREE advisers — two of whom were in the newsroom yesterday and one available by cell phone or e-mail — from whom to seek guidance and advice.  And although we can’t see your story before it runs, we are always available to answer questions and suggest solutions.

Where did the process break down here? And how can we keep it from happening in the future?