Headline critique, 9/28/16


I put a quick critique of headlines from today’s newsletter on the board. Of note:

Online headlines are far too long. If headlines are more than five or six words, chances are you’ve missed the news.

Our headlines are reading as promotional, not newsy. For example, “Campus carry committee welcomes student comments at town hall meeting” promotes the event, not the news in the story. Instead, state why this is important: “Town hall comments to influence campus carry exemptions” or something to that effect.

Headlines are stating the obvious. “RVSP works to prevent abuse in relationships” basically just states the department’s mission statement. Think like a reader. Why do I care about reading this story right now? Why should I stop what I’m doing right now and read this? The news isn’t who is hosting the event; it’s what is going on. Try, instead: “Domestic abuse prevention workshops start next week.”

Read your headlines out loud to see if they make logical sense. I read “Fracking drills uncertainty for water conservation” out loud, and I just got confused. I think we were trying to be cute with the verb – which I appreciate – but it doesn’t work. Instead, be straightforward: “Study links groundwater contamination to fracking” (Don’t make people guess what the story is about.)

Your focus should be on tightening, tightening, tightening. Rewrite any headline that is more than six words – aim for five. Doing so will force you to focus on what the heart of the story is.


Staff Training 9/16 with Karen Brooks Harper

Karen Brooks Harper came to speak Friday and had some great tips and advice for student journalists. In case you weren’t there, or would like a reminder of what she talked about, here you go! 

“There will always be a demand for truth tellers and story tellers.”

How do you get started?

  • Give yourself ten minutes to take a walk/drink/etc. Step away from the computer and think about it.
  • Make sure you have all of your interviews and do your research.
  • You have to interview more than the minimum of your sources. Widen your sources.
  • Lackluster interviews turn into lackluster stories.
  • Sometimes you’re not done with all your interviews.
  • Visualize the headline — that’s how you can see what the news is.
  • Read your notes TOP TO BOTTOM. Did you miss anything? Any follow up questions?
  • Create an outline before you go out to cover an event. Do all the pre-writing you can before had. “Advance matter.”
  • “Write-through.”
    • Start with the original version, but then you go through and add quotes and things in and change things as you go. This is a good way of self-editing and writing through your work.
    • Not only for breaking news.

Work-life balance isn’t always going to be what you want it to be in journalism. It’s worth it though. Set your priorities and follow them.

Covering city council and student government: Staff are very valuable sources of information. Pay attention to people who attend meetings. Stories that affect people are happening outside the chambers. Something shows up on the agenda when it’s affecting people.

Structure: Lede + quote. Focus on the news of the story by writing the headline.

Old school tip: pretend you’re writing a letter or an email to a friend.

Know what the story is going into it. Do your research before you go out to cover things.

You have to write the most important thing first. If you don’t know what that is, then you probably don’t have a story.

Not all ledes need to be creative ones — put the facts down.

“What matters is the story that’s in front of you.”

Internship: Chips Quinn Scholars Program


The Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism is accepting applications through Oct. 1 for its internship program.

The program offers students hands-on training and mentoring by caring news veterans. More than 1,300 men and women have been named Chips Quinn Scholars since 1991, making it the largest and most enduring diversity initiative of the Newseum Institute.

The program’s aim:  Provide training and support that will open doors to news and information careers and bring greater diversity to the newsrooms of the United States.

The program, operated by the Newseum Institute and funded by the Freedom Forum, matches qualified candidates with participating news organizations from across the country for 10- to 12-week paid internships. Selected scholars participate in an intense, one-week orientation/multimedia training workshop at the John Seigenthaler Center in Nashville, Tenn., in preparation for their internships. The training in Nashville is paid for by the Newseum Institute.

To qualify as an applicant for this program:

  • Applicant must be committed to pursuing a career in journalism.
  • Applicant must be a college junior, senior or recent graduate.  (Sophomores may apply — but first consideration will be given to upperclassmen.)
  • Applicant must be able to attend the seven-day, all-expenses-paid training (May 15-21) in Nashville, Tenn.
  • Applicant must be a U.S. citizen or permanent U.S. resident.
  • In most cases, applicants must have a car for the internship.
  • You must fill out the application completely. Unfinished applications will not be considered.

Many of you qualify and should apply for this program. Please see Laurie, me or the website for more details.


Critique: online stories Sept. 7-9 and print edition, Sept. 7

Best things:

We’re doing a great job getting around campus, covering events and getting to know beats. These are important things, especially as everyone gets back into classes for the fall and we’re working rookies into our Shorthorn system. I appreciate the hard work.

There were some wonderful bright spots this last week that should be celebrated:

–Ariana’s “Finstagram” story in print was a great example of a story that’s ahead of the curve, just beginning to be talked about in a mainstream way. These “fake Instagrams” are so interesting. And Ariana was smart enough to not only tell us about this but also tell us why it’s interesting. Turns out that some folks are worn out by pretending to be Instagram worthy all the time and want to have some place to document their lives when they’re not trying to be perfect. It’s an interesting read. You all should give it a look.


–Welcome back, Kevin Cushingberry! I was not here when Kevin was on staff last time but I certainly feel like the lucky beneficiary of his writing this time around. His cross-country coverage so far takes us inside the people of the sport, such as the junior distance runner who is shaping up to be a team leader this year after struggling as a sophomore. It’s a nice read.


–Marian Bilocura’s artwork is just beautiful. She elevates every story she illustrates with depth and detail.


–Shay wrote a dynamic column on the Colin Kaepernick saga. He obviously feels passionate about the topic. Glad he wrote about it! He’s a solid writer so he should write more. Hint, hint.


–Duy’s photo of the sleeping student with the Panda umbrella is priceless. This is what wild art should be: attention-catching, humorous, slice-of-life. I hear he even woke the student to get a name for his caption. Love it.


–Also re: multimedia—cutlines are improving. Names, details, location, action. Keep it up!


–I enjoyed Taylor’s left-hand desk story. It was a perfect example of a reader tip that turned into an interesting story. It’s our job to tell people about the quirks and inequities of college life. This is one of those stories. She turned it quickly and well.


Needs work:

            I’ll say it again: teams, groups, governmental bodies, groups are an “it
not a “they.” So we use it, not they. Its not their.

We’re struggling with including the “how” and “why” in stories. Let’s ask how an event is different, why it’s important that students attend an Engineering event, how a research project will create something new, etc.


We need more art elements like text boxes and locator maps. We need to use our imaginations and work with Dylan and Cody about how to add digital and photographic.


Repeated words. Repeated words. (You noticed that, didn’t you?)

If we say “collaborate” then next time, say “work together.” Practice it. It improves your ability to say something more than one way.


Nut grafs. Pull back and tell me why we are writing a story and why it is important. We have to do this. Otherwise the stories lack heft and it seems like we’re starting in the middle of a movie. We must get better at this. Line editors, please work with reporters on this.

Some section specific issues:

News: let’s watch our wording. See the Faculty Senate and Chartwells stories for some specific suggestions. We need to watch it with legal terms. Someone can “seek” an injunction but only a judge can grant one. Headline missed that, too.

We noted several times in the Graduate Student Senate story that the group’s new secretary was the lone female finalist. Was this unusual? Was she the first? We can’t assume that people know. We needed more context if we’re going to point something our like that.

We’re suffering from a lack of “stakeholder” sources in stories, instead using students to fill in for those we should have interviewed to get to those “three sources.” Ask yourself early on in the reporting process “Who is affected? Who is involved?” Let’s not overlook obvious sources like a professor giving a speech that’s part of a speaker series or a director who is at the helm of a play included in an upcoming theatrical season.

We still need to work on structure. The City Council story was not told in the correct order for the news that came out of it.


Sports: Say where. We’re getting better with the when. But if we name a venue that’s unfamiliar to our readership say what city it is in.


Life: The Twitter story needed an outline to identify the issues that would be included and the order that it should be told. It wandered, which is a shame since it had some good info.


Thematically, did we need to have three social media stories in the same print edition? We needed some better planning here.


With “Ransacked,” I want more detail: what kind of backpack? Why that style of planner and not another? Let’s push for more specifics.


Production desk: Better layout and cleaner design throughout print. Skyboxes back=yay!

Please continue to get involved with stories and art elements early on in the process. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Push for more elements at budget and planning meetings.


Let’s continue to not write headlines that make inanimate objects do things.


Instead of: “City Council meeting discusses body cameras for police.” (meetings can’t discuss)


Let’s say, “City council members discuss police body cameras at meeting.”

Internship opportunity: Boston Globe

The Boston Globe runs one of the top programs in the nation, giving 11 interns the opportunity to work as reporters, or as a photographer, designer or copy editor.

The 12-week paid internship places reporter-interns in our Metro, Business, Living/Arts, and Sports departments; the photo intern shoots stills and video for all sections, the design intern creates sections fronts and information graphics for print and online, and the copy editing intern works on local and regional, national and business copy, as well as with BostonGlobe.com. We provide direction and feedback on a daily basis. Globe interns produce every day and finely polish their journalism skills over the summer.

The application deadline this year is Oct. 22.

More information on the program and an application can be found on our webpage: www.bostonglobe.com/newsintern.

Published work, online and print: Aug. 22-26

Online stories

Best things:

The spot news team of Sorayah, Dylan and Cody did stellar work rushing to The Parks mall shooting. Reporters and editors backed them up in the newsroom with solid interviews. Good job on using Facebook Live at the scene.

Isabel did a great job with the UT System Board of Regents meeting.

The coverage of the Career Development Center opening was top-notch. Samantha met officials on her beat for the first time, wrote an advance and tackled event coverage while live Tweeting the ribbon-cutting ceremony–all in her first week. The photos were fantastic. It was well done across the board.

The multimedia team took on every event we threw at them, from the student march to convocation, to everything back-to-school in between. There were multiple online galleries to enjoy. They have knocked it out of the park–great, energetic work from this talented staff.

The wheelchair basketball scrimmage coverage was a smart event for us to cover, especially leading up to Rio.

Needs work:

We need to work on one idea per sentence. We have too many lengthy sentences that could be split up by a period. We can have two sentences in a paragraph if needed.

We continue to struggle with making organizations, departments, sports teams, etc.   “they” or “their.” It should be “it” or “its.”

Lessons from print

We published a 26-page section. We had a lot of folks on their first full week on staff or in new jobs and they all produced great work. You all deserve a slow clap and a lot of credit for that.

The photography was wonderful, we had rich content like mini profiles on first-time students, Life trend stories, a women’s leadership story told with a unique, historical intro, sports advances, a campus carry update, a FAFSA date change story, a profile on SC President Laura Baker, a beautiful double truck of convocation and after-party photos. We have


We all know that we bungled a subhead on Page 1 and a headline inside. We had several corrections. We know that our headlines were too short and our spacing was off throughout. We had many graphics but several didn’t translate or couldn’t be read.

This tells us that we have to tighten our proofing process and make sure that we have enough eyes on the pages. This needs to happen better next week.

We have some training to do. We’ll keep asking questions and improving.

The good news is that we’re all pulling in the same direction. And we have a lot of talent. I can work with that.

Print and Online stories, Aug. 1-4


Best things:

 Love the Page 1 portrait by Shay. Nice background and beautiful light.


Matt’s Fab Lab story was interesting and tells us more than the obvious about the program’s Central Library expansion.


Destine’s lede on the Pokemon story hit just the right tone and told us what the story was about: “Catch ‘em all, safely.”


Zahraa also wrote a nice lede on her eyebrow story in Life: “Thick brows are growing on most people.” Equally clever headline by Cody: “Tattoos are raising brows.”


The columns were heartfelt and each represented a side of the people who wrote them, Christian on her Hillary Clinton “Glass Ceiling” and Cody on “Gaming rage.” Both were topical and captured the voice of the two who wrote them.


Selby did a solid job on his update on the new stadium proposal. He found two UTA sources, a former employee and a former mayor who teaches here, to show both sides of the financial debate. It took some reporting to track down at least one source, including leaving a note at her house. But it worked. As much as we love technology, it only gets us so far in our reporting.


Needs improvement


The Medal of Valor story of the heroic UTA officer suffered from a misspelling of his name midway through the story. We need to check and re-check our subject’s names, no matter how many times we use it. Get a system, both reporters and editors, to make sure names are consistently spelled correctly throughout the story.


The faculty member studying transfer students was an interesting story but not in the way that it was reported and written. It didn’t have enough sources and it should have been written about the research itself, not the fact that she received money to study something. What the research is about is always more interesting. We need to improve across the board on this.


The Arboretum story contains a quote that is just flat-out marketing-speak. “It’s a great time of year to take advantage of one of Trip Advisor’s top-rated venues in Dallas,” Lendecker said. “Enjoy the Gary Lee Price Bronze Sculpture Exhibit and Dallas’ #1 rated “Pokémon Go” site in Dallas.”

It is our job to tell people about interesting events and interview a variety of sources, not directly promote, or allow others to, certain destinations.





Best Things


Love how quickly we hopped on the new Parking Director story late in the day. And we have an interview with him the day he was hired. Good hustle by Sorayah.


The Einstein’s Bagels moving to the library story has some good description and makes my mouth water just reading it.



Needs Improvement


The campus carry story from Monday wandered. There was news in the second graf about the university talking about additional discussions about whether to keep or amend UTA’s policies. But we lurched into the second graf with no transition and the story wandered in the timeline and direction. And let’s not use “CHL” for “concealed handgun license”. Let’s just say “license holders.”


In the Einstein Bros. story, how do we know that Starbucks is going into the old spot in the Fine Arts bldg..? I don’t think we’ve reported this before and it’s unclear who we’re attributing the information to.