Online stories, Oct. 19 critique




Best things:

       It seems to be a day of insects in our online stories.

The bee story is interesting. I enjoyed reading about the declining bee population and how growth and development is affecting them. I like how we quote a UN study and quote a beekeeper along with a student whose family lives on a ranch. I also wish we had contacted some campus sources for this story. We need to be reaching out to our university scientists and experts whenever we can.

The West Nile mosquito and rabid bat story is also interesting. It doesn’t just tell us what’s going on with the West Nile spraying, which is a very basic story. It tells us about how that all affects people throughout Arlington and the health risks associated. Again, to broaden the UTA component, we could have reached out to the university what efforts the college is making to keep students safe. There likely also is a university source that we could have attempted to contact about bats, mosquitos or West Nile.

Let’s remember that UTA is the community that we cover so any effort we can make to ground these stories with a university connection, the better. Being able to localize a larger trend is a valuable skill that you will routinely use in the professional world.

Needs improvement:

Do we have a photo with the FabLab costume design story? Is this something we could have worked ahead with to assign?

The lede on the Student Congress seeking an education senator could also have included more info that tells us why. It’s in the second graf, but would be more effective in the first: “Student Congress executive board members are seeking a write-in candidate for the education senator position because no one has filed to run for the seat.”

We need to tell people right away about why we need a write-in.


Scooped: A lesson in watching the news


Unfortunately, a UTA student lost his life last week. Cristian Cecilio, 21, was killed last week when a wrong-way driver hit him on his motorcycle on the George Bush Turnpike. Services were Monday evening, as the report states.

This is the type of story that, while sad, impacts the UTA community and therefore is a Shorthorn story. Not today, a week later, but immediately after we saw a 21-year-old had been killed in a wreck, it needed to trigger a response from The Shorthorn. It didn’t, and The Shorthorn got scooped.

Here are some pointers going forward:

  • Pay attention to the news. Not only when you know something is going to happen, like the debates, but all the time. This is our business. The televisions in both the newsroom and break room are there to keep the news on. You should be reading local media and watching the daily morning, afternoon and evening news. You should have Google alerts related to UTA and your beats/areas of interest set.
  • Initial reports on an accident or crime typically don’t identify the victim or alleged criminal. Followups, however, typically do. (To see the followup, you need to followup on stories of interest to college students and college-aged students – not just what you are interested in. You no longer represent yourself, but the news consumer.)
  • You might get enough information – or in this case, the name of the deceased – to do an initial check against “find people” and your Shorthorn archives. If you have a match, you need to get the date of birth from the police or the medical examiner, then check in with UTA media relations to confirm the person’s student status.
  • I strongly suggest reading the obituaries each day. Some identify community members with UTA ties, while other cues include the age of the deceased. If someone is between the ages of 18 and 35, you should check out if they were a UTA student.
  • Anyone – whether deceased, injured, the alleged cause of an accident, or “making the news” in any way – who is about college age (I’d say between 18 and 35) should give you pause and be someone you check out against find people. If you find a tie to UTA report it … THAT DAY. The last thing you want is to get scooped by local news about UTA when The Shorthorn has consistently been named the No. 1 source of news and information about UTA. We can’t afford to let that slip.

Professional news outlets consistently look at what their competition is doing so that they do not miss a story. Moreover, watching the news and obits ensures that you don’t miss a tie to your specific community – UTA. This doesn’t fall on one person in the newsroom; it is everyone’s responsibility. If you see something of interest or that could have a tie to UTA, look it up. Don’t wait for an assignment. Check it out the minute you see it, and get going on it. It is OK to replace a planned/current assignment with a breaking assignment. It happens in newsrooms across the country daily.

For now, let’s get those monitors on the news and your eyes toward them.



Online stories, Oct. 18 critique

Best things:

       The coverage of the fair visit with the international students was top-notch. The story was filled with nice moments of dialogue, observation and description and a good pairing of students in the photos with students quoted in the story. The online slideshow shows great expressions, good use of cropping and composition, and, as usual for Cody, great moments. This kind of coverage takes a lot of attention and energy, so thanks go out to John and Cody for taking the initiative, riding the bus and reflecting this outing for the fun event that it was.

Zahraa has figured out the goal of Ransacked: to give us insight into students’ lives through their school bag. And to help you guys learn to talk to people and get them to talk to you. This time around, I got all of my incessant “why’s” and “how’s” answered. She tells us the kind of headphones—model, price—and that her subject doesn’t care for ear buds because, “I think my ears are deformed or something because they won’t stay in.” Nice touch.

Love Allee’s photo from Drop it Like It’s Hot. Nice, tight shot of pure student reaction—what event coverage is all about.


Needs improvement:

       On both the writing and editing, we should have caught the name of the fair: It is the State Fair of Texas, not the Texas State Fair. We need to be checking these things. Everyone. For the reporter, look up the web site. Look at your ticket stub. On the edit, check every proper name. Check together. Nothing erodes credibility faster than not getting the name of the event correct.

The following lede should not have run and the editors should have pushed to make it more specific: “See through the eyes of women by way of film.” This tells me nothing. Let’s try: “Showing the world through the eyes of female filmmakers is the goal of an upcoming showcase.” We need to be making these ledes actually say something.

Online stories, Oct. 17

Best things:

       Ok, maybe I’m a geek for these things, but I like that we have a story about UC street lamps being replaced and a multimedia slide show about liquid nitrogen tanks being refilled on campus. These examples show that we’re curious and that we’re paying attention to life around us. Readers likely noticed these things, too. We should be doing more of this.

I also liked Jeff’s story about the cold vault in the library that will store photographic negatives. It’s such an interesting look at how to properly archive these important pieces of history. His lede “Near freezing temperatures will halt the sands of time for photo negatives” was nice as well. It’s simple and straightforward but makes me want to read more.

I saw Ariana’s yoga poses on campus story over the weekend and read the whole thing. It caught my attention. First off, we’re lucky that Ariana being a dancer means that she knows other dancers who are willing to pose like a pretzel all over campus. Kudos to Jayme for a series of well-composed portraits that illustrate these yoga moves. The story itself is timely, as students are stressed from midterms and the semester getting tougher. Good job quoting students as well.

Needs improvement:

       As much as I love seeing Kris’ name on a column, her piece about gender identity is not thorough enough. I suspect she wasn’t given enough time to fully think through her ideas or discuss the issue more in-depth. It’s a tough topic and, because it’s just too short, it looks like we didn’t give it enough thoughtful consideration before we ran it. I’d love to see it expanded upon because she has a lovely voice as a writer.

The lede on the Wellness Expo is not thorough enough, either. “Resources on campus make money well-spent”. What does this mean? Are we trying to say that student fees provide resources to students?

We just have to be more careful about being intentional with what we’re trying to say. Many of our articles are clear and make an effort to get right to the point. We need to make sure that all of them do. Let’s write and edit like we mean it.

Online stories, Oct. 14 critique


Best things:

The lede on Destine’s volleyball story achieves exactly when we’ve been striving for: “A breakout performance from freshman outside hitter Kylie Jedlicka and a wave of pink fans were not enough to prevent an emotional second consecutive Dig Pink defeat.”

The second graf: “The volleyball team lost 3-1 to Texas State University in its annual Dig Pink match Thursday at College Park Center.”

This lede carries us into the story with momentum, tells us what we need to know and then tells us some more in graf 2. Good work.


Anthony’s column on revising the federal drug policy was tight, to the point and filled with interesting points about the toll our current drug policy takes on individuals and families. He carries us all the way through his arguments with few wasted words—fewer than 300 words to be exact. Well done.


The feature on Dr. Who Day by Chanel was fun. It delves into the cultural phenomenon of the show but also talks about the upcoming event in Grapevine. It’s a talker story for fans and for the curious.


Needs improvement:

       While I applaud the voter registration number story, it has a few places where it needs work. The second graf about 78 percent of the voting-age population being registered to vote in Texas is a little out of context. And we say that a record 15 million Texans have registered to vote, but we don’t say if this is a record for Tarrant County. Let’s be smart with our numbers and pair them with like categories and prior years for context. Numbers only work for us if we use them well.

Online stories, Oct. 13 critique

Best things:

Love the lede on the Star Wars themed Bed Races event. “In a stadium far, far away, unrest grips the students as midterms loom, but a glimmer of hope remains — Bed Races.”

You can get away with using present tense there but only because the Star Wars opening it references does the same. I also see a theme with this and the cutlines on the fantastic multimedia slide show that accompanied the story: “There was no try at the 36th annual Bed Races Wednesday at Maverick Stadium, only do and do not.” You can’t go wrong with Yoda.

Sam did a fair and balanced job covering the PSU march highlighting police brutality. She quoted the protestors as well as the police who accompanied the group. It was a smart move and a great opportunity to highlight the important work of campus police.

The election-themed political views in the Life mug and quotes was nicely done. I like how we’re incorporating our election coverage plan throughout the sections. Let’s be sure that we use our election banner on such features, too.


Needs improvement:

Brittany’s story on the program that helps political fast-checkers appears to be a follow-up to a story she wrote in January about this UTA group. In January, in the story and the accompanying web site, we spelled it as ClaimBusters. This time around, it’s lower case as Claimbusters. Which is it? It’s always a good idea to refresh your own memory about a story that you previously wrote, especially if you’re doing a follow-up. The more places we check ourselves, the more accurate we can be.

A word about subheads: we may be going a bit overboard with them. They are meant to divide up large amounts of text, not to be used every few graphs or so. If reporters need to use them when they’re outlining their stories, that’s OK, but let’s keep them in your notebook and only use them when we have dense passages to break up. We should not be seeing them in so many stories.

Online stories, Oct. 10-12

Best things:

Destine is really killing it on volleyball coverage. She turned out two solid game stories from the weekend that were styled and organized completely differently. One was about taking on and defeating an old rival; the other, about being swept and losing to another formidable opponent the next day. Solid writing and command of her play-by-play carried these two strong efforts. Those stories led the way to her profile of volleyball coach Diane Seymour in the print edition. That profile, by the way, is a great read. A large part of the reason why is because Destine has committed to her beat. The profile allows her to stretch past game coverage. It could have (and should have) anchored Page 1. Great photo with it, too.

Ariana did a really nice job on the mariachi band story. I’ve always been curious about this group and she did fine work telling us about the members, their background and their musicianship. I would have read even more. We could have stretched even farther.

The profile on Hillary Green, the university’s social media manager, also was a nice tale of how one student wouldn’t be deterred by adversity.

Samantha also turned in a really nice read on the drag queen coverage. That is not an easy story to tell, trying to balance the students and their personas while writing about the professional drag queens and the event itself. Deft juggling and good reporting lined up with solid writing and observation.

The government team of Madelyn and Nick gave us great coverage from city council and Student Congress. Clean, smart, well-organized stories really served the reader.

Our new reporter, John, did nice work on the protested pipeline story. I like how he wove in student opinion. Let’s remember: no need to tell me the time an event took place when the event already happened.


Needs improvement:


While the volleyball coverage and the Green profile are strong, the ledes on one of those game stories and the Green story are not.

“The drought is over.”

“Overcoming challenges are all part of the journey one embarks on.”

These are not purposeful ledes. They are too vague and don’t get us where we need to go, which is into the story. Tell me a snippet or a nod to what the story is about but be specific. I should have some clue how the lede pertains to the person or the issue we’re writing about.


Reporters need to work on—and editors need to encourage—asking how and why questions. And to ask them as follow-ups.

An example: in the Bed Races advance, there were multiple times we could have asked “how so?” or “give me an example.” We have this quote: “It’s like you go into this different world,” Aguirre said.

OK, I want to know what that means? Ask: “How so? What does that mean?” It’s a great quote, but I want to know more.


In the West Campus development story, why are we leading on Tuesday with the university soliciting student feedback when the deadline for that feedback is was on Monday?