Transitions, quotes, and context. July 30th edition critique on deck

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As the blog post headline suggests we collectively need to work on transitions, quotes, and context.  That means, essentially going from basic to good but on the way to great. It’s about that polish and that finish that we keep talking about during these critiques. Anyone can just write things down, slap some quotes in and walk away. What keeps people reading is knowing that they are getting information they can’t get anywhere else with reporting that is accurate, fair and in context.

So, let’s get to it.

Best lede. Didn’t really see a great lede this week but saw a good one.  Richard Hoang for the Metroplex story.

“School starts in three weeks. Let that sink in.”

It’s short, conversational, and grabs my attention. It got me excited to read the story.

Best visual: Ashely Pena’s 1A graphic on children immigrating was great. Here’s why: 1) got a snap shot of information really quickly  2.) it engaged me and awesome — the countries to look like their flags. Lovely.  For visuals, I also like to mention Adrian Gandara for the Mavstrong photo. That dude is SO training for the competition and he’s training hard. Adrian captured that intensity.

This week I decided to do an experiment, I wrote down where in the story I wanted to stop reading or if I made the jump. This is important because if someone stops reading, they stopped engaging and that means something is wrong. Structure? Lede? Just plan boring? Yup, all that can happen and it happened in this issue.

First up, the VPSA story. The lede was not great and I was instantly irritated as a reader and I spent a good minute thinking of how to reword it.

“Timothy Quinnan was announced as the new vice president for Student Affairs on Tuesday.”

Was announced?  No. Try it this way.

Timothy Quinnan, vice president for campus life at San Diego State University, will be the next vice president for Student Affairs, the university announced Tuesday.

The story also needed a couple of things:

1) Context. Where else did this guy work? What else do we need to know about him? Did you know that he’s the CEO of a leadership organization? He’s written two books? How did I find that out? Google search. GOOGLE SEARCH. I’m sure there would be more things I could find out if I went to the second page of my search. Come on, folks!



2.) Asking why and putting it in the transition. Saw this all through out the story. Here’s what I mean.

Social work senior Michael Lummus attended the open session for Quinnan and said he favored him as a candidate.

“His university was more diverse like ours is and had programs similar to ours already, and [he] had good ideas on how to enhance our programs that we have here,” Lummus said. “I like that, plus he was willing to raise funds as UTA grows. He was willing to raise funds within working with his colleagues here at the campus if he was selected.”

It could have read like this

Michael Lummus, social work senior, said he favored Quinnan for the position because he came from a diverse campus. He was also impressed by Quinnan’s ideas on how to enhance campus programs.

“I like that, plus he was willing to raise funds as UTA grows,” Lummus said. “He was willing to raise funds within working with his colleagues here at the campus if he was selected.”

The difference? The transition is doing some work for you. Rather than saying how one person liked a candidate, the transition is telling you why and at the same time leading the reader into the quote, which is also doing some work — expanding the thought from the transition while adding new information.  Lesson: don’t let transitions sit flat. They are taking up space, always make them work for you.

3) The third thing this story needed was for someone to ask the BIG question. I mentioned it last night and several of you chimed in and wondered the same thing. Where’s the answer to that question because I guarantee if you’re thinking it, so is everyone else on campus.

Let’s talk about context some more. Nearly every story needed it. The child immigration story needed it badly.  After one of Mitschke’s quotes (it’s on the physical critique) where’s the background? I know that there’s a great graphic but that doesn’t do the job. How many kids? Why are they coming from? What has the response been? What’s the latest? Etc.

I had the same comment for the Girlgeneers story. Some national stats would have been amazing.

So, let’s talk about when I stopped reading. The beat the heat commentary made me stop reading after paragraph two. I didn’t need a tip list. I wanted to know what the writer thought about it, her opinion. It’s an OPINION page so why not give it (with some background research and reporting, of course) So, I just stopped because as a reader, my time was about to be wasted. That’s bad, folks.

In the professor in Uganda story, I stopped in the middle of the fourth paragraph. I would have stopped sooner if I didn’t really want to know what the prof was doing there. At that point, I didn’t know what she was doing and I was frustrated as the reader. Not getting a sense of the story by paragraph four screams structural problems. That’s an editor problem as much as a reporter/writer problem. At some point, both of these stories needed to be pushed back and redone. You guys know better and are better so do better.

The WWI and coach story didn’t make me want to turn the page. At all. I will let you debate why.

Alright guys, we got some work to do and fall is around the corner. Let’s get to it. Door is open.

Onward and upward.


This entry was posted in Training by Icess Fernandez Rojas. Bookmark the permalink.

About Icess Fernandez Rojas

Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope,, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.

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