Monthly Archives: March 2009

March 27 critique

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

… teaser design! I like our approach to the two spot-color fonts and page numbers in the teases. Clever approach!

Cole’s sculpture story! His story on the Chakaia Booker weaves in some good context about how she chooses materials, and about the collaboration that brought the sculpture to campus. Nice job!

Nick’s story on the Appellate Court! He does a good job reflecting the educational nature of the presentation, as well as the legal details of the case they heard. Good work, sir.

Charles and Aliya’s piece on buckeyball!!! Really nicely constructed lede that breaks down all this science mumbo-jumbo into an understandable and clear story. Comparing it to a laser beam and a soccer ball are great ways for the reader to visualize a very complex concept. Wonderful job!

Andrew’s story on the teacher resource-sharing system! Again, not a story that screams “entertaining,” but Andrew breaks it down into bite-sized, tasty morsels of information for us. Great job!

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… copyediting!!! The retention story on page one is RIFE with grammar mistakes. I went over them in-depth with Nick, so I won’t do it here. In general, though, we need to correct sentences for parallel verb structures; subject-verb agreement; completeness and appropriate word choice.

We just can’t have mistakes of this  magnitude running in our paper. If three sets of eyes saw this story, that is especially unacceptable. If three sets of eyes did NOT see it, then our system is broken and needs to be fixed immediately.

… three-source stories.  Our feature on Jay Johnson only quotes the singer. Profiles should spend a great deal of time talking to people other than the one being profiled. People tend to be humble and reserved when talking about themselves. You’ll get better information from those who know and work with them.  Also, we just never run a one-source story.

… no-news ledes.  The open-mic story focuses WAY too much on the fact that the crowd was really small. It even editorializes and speculates what one performance WOULD have been like, had there been people there. Instead, let’s focus on the performers and their stories.

Also, in sports, we have a lede that says the soccer team “continues its season.” Wouldn’t it be more newsworthy if they weren’t continuing their season? The fact that a sports season continues, as scheduled, isn’t news.  Similarly, it isn’t news that we “took on” Indiana University.  Instead, lead with the highlight of the game — usually the final score.

Too many of our sports stories proceed chronologically — first, second, third.  Instead, try focusing on the highlights of the game in the lede, followed by the players’ and coaches’ reflections on those highlights, then other important details.  We shouldn’t always construct mini-replays of entire games, start to finish.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if…

… we better coordinate our photography with our reporting?  This is an ongoing complaint that still needs to be addressed. Some steps we need to take as a newsroom are:

  • Reporters and photographers need to collaborate as early as possible to give photographers the chance to shoot the best possible photos. Photogs should not just be showing up at the end of an event, or AFTER an event, expecting to get good shots. Communicate and collaborate, please.
  • Photogs need to provide page designers with options for the page. Close-ups, crowd shots, straight-news and more feature shots. We need to choose the most compelling images based on the quality of the photo — NOT because a shot has the greatest number of people in it or because it is the most representative snapshot of an event.
  • In general, stop assigning photogs to panel discussions and research seminars. People sitting at tables or reading speeches from podiums are NOT visually interesting. There is little a photographer can do to make that a compelling image. BIG EXCEPTION: If the speaker is prominent and/or the event includes some potential for images — audience interaction or image projections or performance — that’s a different matter.
  • Please take more feature photos! We have thousands of people interacting and doing interesting things on our campus each day. Show me some of them, please!
  • Photos dictate page design —  not the other way around. Our photogs spend too much time “sizing” photos at the request of page designers who have already laid down text. Instead, the photos should be edited early the in the evening — before 7 p.m. when possible — and the text should work around the images. This means that photogs can’t be showing up at 8 or 9 p.m. to start editing images. It also means that page designers must consult with photogs about what images are the highest quality before designing a page.

So the general rules are: Communicate early and often; and, give photos the attention, space and power they deserve. Photos are what grab readers’ attention first — and sometimes, most powerfully.

Award winners!

trophyBelow are the awards and recognition our staff received at this year’s Indiana Collegiate Press Association Awards Program at Indiana University, and from the College Newspaper Business and Advertising Managers Awards in Charlotte, N.C.

Congratulations to all those whose work and dedication were honored!

You all make us proud!

News awards:

First place, Best News Photo, Bethany Baker; The judge said: “Altough Obama is speaking to a crowd, the photographer captured the elegance of the candidate in a poetic portrait.”

Second place, Best Breaking News Reporting, Michelle Pattison and Aliya Khan; The judge said: “Fine color piece on ISU reaction to Obama victory. Good quotes and description of the night.”

Third place, Best stand-alone/pullout section, Statesman Sports Staff, “Basketball 2008”; The judge said, “Colorful, informative section.”

Ad awards:

Second Place, Print Advertising, Best Design of Black and White Display Ad: Natalie Gogel for “Mark Bird” political campaign ad.

Second Place, Print Advertising, Best Rate Card: Natalie Gogel

Third Place, Print Advertising, Best Display Campaign: Courtney Weber, “WISU”

Third Place, Print Advertising, Best Design of Full Color Display Ad: Courtney Weber, “The Verve.”

College Newspaper Business and Advertising Managers, national contest:

First Place (Circulation Under 40,000), Best ROP Group Promotion: Indiana Statesman for 2008 Basketball Preview Section’s Double Truck Men’s and Women’s Schedules with booster ads.  Designed by Liz Gerrian, Natalie Gogel, Courtney Weber.

Third Place (Circulation Under 40,000) Best Newspaper Marketing Promotion Plan: Indiana Statesman for Hairspray Promotion by staff members: by Tonya Collier, Statesman Marketing Intern, assisted by Jenna Hazelbaker, ad rep.

Elected to CNBAM Board of Directions: Marcy Shonk, VP of Membership.

March 25 critique

CORRECTION: We said in the front-page promo that the fountain would get running Thursday. It was Wednesday.

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

Benjamin Corn!!! The best thing in our paper today — by far! — is Ben’s pole vaulting piece on page 8! The photo series he shot to illustrate Kylie Hutson’s vaulting is so clear and easy-to-follow. It’s also visually appealling — colorful, clear, action-packed. But the story itself is great, too. It offers really cool insight into an athletic feat that looks WAY easier than it is! The training methods breakout is also a great idea.  This is the kind of story that really educates our readers — shows them something they don’t expect to learn when they pick up the paper.  It’s a fantastic idea, incredibly well executed by Ben.  Great, great job, sir!!!

Michael’s Gen Ed coverage! It’s great that we are tracing the evolution of these policies and giving readers the chance to be engaged with the process. Again, this is how readers learn about the little steps that go into impacting how students experience ISU in the classroom. Importantly, Michael also keeps the jargon to a minimum here. Good job, Michael.

… the fountain teaser! What a great visual treat from the newsstand! I believe this is Nathan’s shot of the fountain from last fall. It’s a gauzy, romantic shot and it really pops off the page. Well done!

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under …

… active verbs! Lots of passive voice and dull headlines in this issue. People “were in attendance,” an insurance executive “disscusses” leadership and people “addressed the issue” of body image. We need to punch things up, folks.

… lede follow-through. This isn’t the first time a brilliant lede has sort of fizzled out for lack of follow-through. The “Eat your peas” lede is genius, but it doesn’t get resolved. We needed a second sentence that read something like: “Just like eating your vegetables makes for good eating habits, taking health and language courses makes for good learning habits, according to the ISU general education committee.”  We have to connect the dots for readers more explicitly, and not leave a good idea hanging there, unfulfilled.

… boosterism and news judgment.  Hearing an insurance executive talk about leadership just screams “office seminar” to me. I don’t see the news value here. The content of his talk merits a brief, at best.  Especially at a time when public outrage over AIG (an insurance company) has captivated the headlines, can’t we find something more newsworthy to talk about with Mr. North and the insurance students who attended? Just because someone picks a subject to talk about doesn’t mean that’s what our story has to be about. Disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich “spoke” on Chicago radio the other day, but the news stories weren’t about what he said; they were about the news value of Blago trying to stay famous by being on the radio. I’m not saying Mr. North should be grilled, as if he’s personally responsible for  AIG’s mess, but surely he may have some interesting things to say about the insurance business, business ethics and regulation — something that better touches on the news of the moment. What do the students in attendance think about the current state of the insurance field? Are they worried about the stability of these companies and whether they will be able to find jobs?  That would be a great front-page story.

On the other hand, a newsy piece on the Appellate Court coming to ISU to hear a case is buried on page 3, under a lede that celebrates ISU’s “dedication to experiential learning.”  This is a press release lede. With some retooling, I think this story better merited front-page placement.

… dark photos. The photos throughout this issue — with the exception of page 8 — are all too dark. This is a recurring problem that we need to always correct for.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if …

… we take some upcoming event — something purely mild and promotional — and find a totally unique and newsy way to cover it?  Is there a sorority event that we can approach from the perspective of the economy? Are Greeks scaling back on the spending for t-shirts and party gear? Are they cutting other costs for members in tough times?

Is there a research lecture that we can approach from the perspective of budget cuts? Is faculty research going to be harder to do since adjunct staff is being cut and professor courseloads will be increasing?

Is there a student event in HMSU coming up that we can cover from the perspective of cultural trends? Are there students meeting up or organizing in new ways because of technology or some new gadgety wonder? Is some online viral video or trend finding its way into student activities?

These are just some ideas for using our own mundane, run-of-the-mill activities as jumping-off points for localizing the news of the day. Think creatively. And don’t stretch the news value. Don’t talk to Greeks about AIG or CitiBank. And don’t necessarily talk to a professor of biology about Facebook trends. But think more broadly about how the news of the day might be covered through our own community’s insights and experiences.

Wednesday Wisdom recap

I was so glad my friend Mike was able to come and share his insights on the new media landscape we are all wrestling with.  It appeared that the dozen or so of us who attended all felt it was time well-spent.

For those who didn’t attend — or who just want a refresher — here are some important take-aways:

  • “Branding” — Mike talked about how journalists from traditional news organizations and new media are ultimately selling themselves as a brand. If you’re smart about politics or technology, that means you can be smart about those things in any media format. Therefore, you are  the product; the media format is just a minor detail.
  • “Ethos and culture” — The Internet has cultural norms and taboos, just like any other culture. And being familiar with those is key to mastering the technology. You have to “speak the language” in order to understand what people will or won’t support online.
  • “Rupture” — We live, as Mike said, in roughly the equivalent of the year 1500, when the printing press shook up the world. Today, the Internet and our techie gadgets have shaken us up again.  No one knows the impacts of all this democratizing and ubiquity of information. It’s all still new and evolving. But we have to learn to adapt to this moment — and keep trying new things.
  • Writing and editing — They still matter. Mike pointed out that those whose prose is rife with typos and spelling errors get passed over because their work is hard to follow. Errors like these also hurt one’s credibility. So the skills you’re learning in the classroom — and in our newsroom — are still worth mastering.
  • “Monetization” — Making information make $$$.  Lots of cool news and information ideas get launched, only to fizzle because they can’t be financially sustained. We need ways to profit — literally, profit — from the news. Packaging ads on a page with AP stories just isn’t cutting it the way it used to.
  • Investigation and depth — Perhaps the biggest problem with online news is that it has yet to prove profitable, particularly for big investigative pieces that normally require a lot of time and high-levels of reporting skill. Bloggers can’t easily do this. Newspapers, which typically do this, can’t do it if they are losing money. So how do we fund big democracy-sustaining investigative reporting without steady revenues and highly skilled staff? It’s still an open question…
  • “The New Normal” — Figuring out what new model of news and journalism is sustainable in this age — where real-time blogging, reporters’ blogs, online video, insta-polling, etc. are all now “normal” — is a big challenge. And, again, no one knows what The New Normal will look like. But figuring it out will surely be an adventure.
  • “The Story” — The news story as we know it may be on its deathbed. The idea that people would read a piece from beginning, to middle, to end is a tall order in an Internet age. More information is coming in snippets. And that will change what news looks like on many media platforms. The two-sentence blog post and one-sentence news alert are here to stay.
  • Youth, Ramen and Yuengling — Living off instant noodles and cheap beer in your 20s is an exciting way to experiment with new ways of being a journalist. Throw on a backpack filled with a laptop, digital camera and a change of undies and head out for exotic lands!  For oldsters like me and Mike, who want stability and mortgages and families, this is hard to do. But for you all who have youth and adventurous spirits, the sky’s the limit. Now is the time to try new things and choose the path less traveled. Remember, Bill Gates was once just a young dork who monkeyed around with wires in a garage. That’s how most great innovations begin.

Thanks to all who attended. If you took away something not listed above, put it in the comments section. I’ll get the links Mike showed us to cool web sites ASAP.

March 23 critique

CORRECTION: Our page 1 story on Michael Scott’s inauguration sends the reader to the wrong jump page. It’s page 5, not page 3.

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

… some lovely writing by Nick and photography by Amanda and Nathan on the monster truck show! Nick’s lede paints a cool image of the rumbling and smashing of the event. His anecdote on Ed Zeppelin was also fun. The front page design — with the fat heavy headline font — really works well, too. Nice job!

… a surprising approach to the poetry and music performances piece by Phillip. In some ways this story  is a typical event cover. But what Phillip does that is really smart and reader-friendly is tell us in the last ‘graf that each artist has a MySpace page where readers can get samples of their work. That is fantastic! It turns what would be an otherwise passive reader experience into an active reader experience. Great job, Phillip!!!

… two solid stories by Andrew — after turning out two other solid stories last issue! Our young Mr. House is putting in the newsroom hours and our readers appreciate it as much as we do. Thanks, Andrew!

Cole branching out into the art scene! I talked with Cole extensively about his story, so I’ll just say here that we are super-happy Cole is on board. Keep up the good work!

… a great column by Sadie on the limits of our techie generation! This column is really smart because it takes a recent, seemingly minor event and considers what larger trend it represents in the culture.  This is the kind of column that requires real cultural insight and some critical thinking. Great job, Sadie!!!

… a fun column by Dan on the most inspiring sports movies. And I’m not just saying this because I share his love for the film “Bull Durham.”

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… headline verbs. We say the Matthew Shepherd murder “to be subject” of play. In fact, it’s over. That ship has sailed. However, even if the play continued next weekend, this would be a bad headline because it makes it sound as if the Shepherd murder hasn’t been the subject of a play before. In fact, “The Laramie Project” has been a play and a film for nearly a decade. A better headline would be “‘Laramie’ comes to Community Theater” or some such.

… photo clarity. On the top right of page 3, Nathan’s photo of the motorcycle rider reads “photo illustration.” I’m not clear on what’s illustrated about it. Is it the blurry background?  If we tinkered with this photo to get some effect, we shouldn’t have. When we cover a news event, we need to keep the photography straight-up news and not “illustrate” the event.

Photo illustrations need to be obvious illustrations on first glance and they should be reserved for issue stories for which it is difficult to get good news photos.  Also, we should never, ever mix in photo illustrations with straight news photos. It gives the impression that we’re “tricking” the reader and, at minimum, it creates confusion.

… profiles. The art piece and the Michael Scott piece, in particular, reveal how infrequently we really tell the stories of newsmakers. We always cover what Mr. Scott is doing. Why not focus on who he is? I know next to nothing about this man, in spite of the fact that we cover him all the time.  I already spoke to Cole about profiling the artist whose sculpture is going up at the New Theater. We need to tell people stories more — and event stories less.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if…

… we work on getting more access to our regular sources?  This has come up in sports, which in this issue, had no quotes from any coaches or players in any of the game stories. But it’s also true of news stories — we need to focus on sourcing.

We need the cell phone numbers of coaches, players, administrators, active professors and students.  But what about protocol, you ask? What about going through the proper University channels?!  Well, that’s where your skill as a journalist comes in.  We need to meet with these “official” folks as much as possible — and get their cell numbers! — so that they understand what we need from them on weekends and after hours.

We can’t abuse the privilege of cell phone numbers. They should be closely guarded source information for the reporters who regularly cover them. But we need to make it clear to regular sources that we are trustworthy journalists who often need information quickly and at odd times.

Develop a rapport with these folks. Let them know that you want their contact information so that we can better cover the issues important to them. Let them know that when we have better access, we do better stories. Let them know that having good access means stories are more accurate, more timely, deeper and more clear. Such stories suit their interests, too.

March 20 critique

CORRECTION:  The Wednesday page 6 photo of the GBLT unity meeting was shot by Nathan. It was mistakenly credited to Heidi. Also, our Wednesday jump line on page 1 says “see Paralympics page 5,” but then our jump refer says “paraplegic.” The jump page refer is also problematic because it focuses on Denniston’s condition, rather than his news value. Finally, our Wednesday story on the GBLT meeting on page 6 erroneously referred to a Jordan Toy’s major. He is a communication major.

ADVISER’S NOTE: My last critique noted the first two corrections above. They needed to run in today’s issue. I was informed that because “page 2 was packed,” the corrections held.  To be clear: Corrections NEVER hold.

Corrections and breaking news tie for top priority in our newspaper and in all other news organizations. If we let erroneous information go uncorrected — for even one issue — we are negligent in our responsibility to give accurate information to readers.  Furthermore, depending on the nature of the correction, there are legal implications for not running them immediately.

I cannot state this strongly enough. Corrections must be run as soon as possible. If we are tight on space, we must cut something to make room for them.

sparklerSparkly awesomeness…

… a fantastic lede by Sarah Adams! Her library cost-cutting story puts the budget cuts in very clear and engaging terms. Breaking down such numbers-oriented subjects into real-life examples is exactly how we should approach the economic woes facing our campus and the world.

Phillip’s feature on Mike Lunsford. Croaking frogs and twinkling stars lull the reader into a friendly rhythm of prose in this story. Phillip has developed a really approachable writing style that serves this story especially well. Great job!

… a wonderful piece by Andrew (aka Andre), on the PFLAG chapter. His approach of putting Doddie Stone’s story as the focus, while weaving in details about the history of the movement and others’ comments is so readable and concise! Nice job, Andre!

… a fun story from Heidi on Dave Denniston!  He’s a fun and engaging speaker, which helps, but Heidi does a good job capturing his personality and the crowd’s reaction to him. Nice job, Heidi.

Andrew Collins’ baseball coverage! He gives us a solid game story on page 8. Welcome aboard, Andrew!

… sports photos by Chris Koch! The tennis and baseball shots are nicely composed on page 8. Good job, Chris!

match-for-smoking-pageLight a fire under…

… COPYEDITING!!! Do you sense my frustration from the all-caps? This has been a problem the last few issues, and today the problem continues. We botched the lede on the front page story on Dave Denniston — omitting a verb. We also change Andrew’s byline to “Andre.” Sports page 6 features lowercase references to “Little Debbie” muffins and a “Sycamore” coach. The Opinions page lead column has at least two missing “s”es — one in the second graf.

Sloppy copyediting hurts our credibility with readers and sources. It also prevents our staff from using such error-filled clips in their portfolios. Please step up our attention to detail. And please make sure the errors found by the copydesk are actually fixed on the page.

idea-bulb-neon-300pxWhat if…

… we all remember to come to the brownbag lunch training session next Wednesday?

To refresh your memories, IU media scholar and former journalist Mike Lyons will talk about how new technologies like Twitter and Facebook and Wikipedia are changing journalism.

Mike has worked for the Associated Press in Eastern Europe and reported for newspapers in Alaska, the British West Indies, Pennsylvania and Russia. He’s wicked-smart and a fun guy to listen to.

So, remember to bring your own lunch up to HMSU 227 next Wednesday from noon-1 p.m.

It’ll be a great session!

Newsroom policies

A while back, I posted in the newsroom a list of newsroom etiquette topics, including not belching or swearing loudly or telling dirty jokes in the workplace.  I think it’s time to post some related policies about how we conduct ourselves in the newsroom. (By the way, this posting doesn’t merit comments, as they are not meant to address any specific person, but rather to inform everyone of general policies and practices.)

  • We treat each other respectfully in the newsroom, regardless of personality conflicts. That means using a civil tone when addressing your coworkers and keeping all critiques constructive and professional. At the same time, all staff should be open to constructive critique of their work — none of us are perfect.
  • Conversations in the newsroom should, by and large, be work-related or for general consumption. They should avoid topics including personal relationships, health matters, financial struggles, religious and political rants, etc.  In other words, be discreet with non-work-related private information.
  • Everyone in the newsroom for any extended period of time (more than 20 minutes) should be staff — not significant others, friends or visitors. This is especially true on production nights. It’s fine to meet up with people in the newsroom, but non-staff should not stick around, chatting, doing homework or surfing the Web.
  • Editors have the authority — and the responsibility — to make assignments. Staff reporters and photographers do not have that authority.
  • Any question or conflict about an assignment or other work issue should be addressed to a staff member’s immediate supervisor.  If that does not resolve the conflict, go to a higher-up editor or to an adviser. Conflicts should not be the subject of peer-to-peer arguments.
  • Social gossip does not belong in the newsroom. Newsroom topics do not belong in social gossip. All staff members are expected to maintain a boundary that keeps newsroom time productive, and social activities free of newsroom chatter. (Believe me, it makes life happier this way.)
  • Close personal relationships (romantic or platonic) between supervisors and those they supervise are a conflict of interest. It creates the perception — real or not — of favoritism. It also often creates problems in the personal relationship. One close friend or partner should never have authority over the other in the newsroom.
  • People who have close personal associations with groups on campus should not cover those groups and related issues.

These policies hold true for all professional newsrooms, as well. They are meant to keep the newsroom functioning as drama-free as possible. They are also meant to safeguard the integrity of our news content. Again, this posting is not directed at any specific person. They are good policies for us all to be aware of, so that we are all clear on expectations.

If you have questions about any of these policies, please talk to your editors or come talk to an adviser.