First paper issue of Spring 2015: Critique on deck

Comments, tips and ideas for improving our work, one day at a time. Have questions? Concerns? Complaints? Come see Icess.

Congratulations on your first print issue! How does it feel? Lots of good stuff and lots of stuff to improve on. Let’s get cracking!


Kevin Cushingberry Jr. and Yaritza Vazquez did a fantastic job using an alternative story form on page 16. Instead of doing a story about how the basketball teams did during the winter break, they put all the information in a graphic. It worked because it was eye catching and displayed the information in a way that was easily digestible to the reader. Great work, guys!


  • Yaritza did it again! Her page 10 graphic on campus calories was fun and interesting to look at and the information was super useful to readers.
  • Talking about that page, the headline “Conquering Campus Calories” was fun, to the point, and told me about the story. Three for three. Good job!
  • The Megwa photo is on point. The exact right photo to get. Kayla Stigall worked for this photo and, with some team work with Heba Said, got to the right place at the right time. Nice work!

Read on for comments about stories, headlines and visuals in the paper:

Front page

We had a newsy front page. Newsy. I love those. The mix, however, is off. The Megwa arrangement happened Thursday. This story should have been on the website last week; it shouldn’t have been on the front page running nearly a week later. That’s not how a digital organization works.

However, another story, the hit and run that killed UTA student Kelly Walters, was on the inside. Although that happened on Friday, there was new information for the search of the car that surely makes it a front page contenter.

Talking about the Walters story, with students now on campus, we had an opportunity to do something great with it. Although we had a great obituary, we needed more student voices. We should have used yesterday as an opportunity to get some student voices to add to the print story. Remember that we have a duty as journalists to tell great stories and to keep our readers informed.

So, if the Megwa story was too old to run, then what story could anchor the front? The gas prices story. It had art and there it had a numbers for a great graphic. Those elements can anchor the page and help a story that people would readily read.


For the new members of our staff, let me reiterate a rule that we have here at The Shorthorn. Every story has to have three sources. THREE. Some stories easily lend themselves to more. Just remember that there has to be three sources minimum with each story.

Saying that, I am concerned that there were a couple of stories that lacked the minimum requirement for sources. Think of it this way, would you want to know what happened from one source that only has a piece of the story? Is it fair to just get one person’s point of view? Of course not! You keep going until you have the full story.

The scam story was an interesting story. While there was a great quote from a potential victim of the scam, everything else was paraphrased. Where’s the quote from McCord? From the university? Could we have spoken to the Better Business Bureau?

Ledes! Ledes are so important because it’s the first thing people read when they read the story (because it’s at the beginning, of course).  Readers make a decision on whether or not they will read your story in those first few graphs so you’ve got to make it good.

And you want to lead with the news. What is the news? What’s the most important thing people need to read right now. Here’s an exercise that will help you write your lede:

You’re in the TSA line to go on your round-the-world trip. You’re about to hand your ID and ticket to the TSA officer when you remember you have to tell your mom/dad/significant other/child something. They are waving at you and the TSA agent is annoyed because you haven’t moved on and started taking off your shoes! You have 10 seconds — what do you say?

That thing you say, is what the news is and is usually the lede.

So for example, what’s the lede for the Student Congress story, what’s the big news? The election of a new vice president. However, the lede talked about what the congress members wanted to do/happen this semester. That’s what a governing body does every meeting but electing a second in command is important, that doesn’t happen every meeting. So, that’s the big news of the Student Congress meeting.

In the same breath, however, you have to make sure that your lede isn’t confusing to your reader. The UTA police story on the same page had a confusing lede. The first lede said there were six days without a crime on campus but the next sentence said there was one day without a crime reported. So there were crime reported everyday except one day? But I thought there were six days with no crime?  Confusing. At that point, that’s when readers stop reading and move on. Shame.

Here’s a lede that I thought worked well: the Netflix story. It has the right tone, conveyed the story quickly and made me want to keep reading. Nice job!

Photo and design

Big props for photo desk working it this issue. Lots of photos with stories. Keep up the good work!

Here are some things I saw that I thought worked well:

  • It’s worth mentioning again — the Sports graphic on page 16. Not everything is a story. A graphic is eye catching and conveys the same information. If this was a story, I don’t think it would be as well received and, frankly, may not be read.
  • Chris Perry’s Opinion illustration! It isn’t easy to convey loneliness in one visual. It isn’t easy to convey it along with being alone (read Fredrick Tran’s column. It’s a good read.) This ill did just that, with the focus on a child (devoid of color) who is sad and in the middle of a rushing crowd who is ignoring her.

So let’s talk about photo illustrations. I’m not a fan of them on the front page. Actually, photo illustrations should be a last resort. I would have liked to have seen a portrait of the potential victim to go with this story. That’s a solution for this.  So, here’s a challenge: NO PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS FOR THE NEXT ISSUE.  That means I expect the photo requests to be raining down on the photo desk. That means that if you haven’t talked to Kayla for a photo request, I’d do that NOW. RIGHT NOW.

Let’s talk design on Page 1. It’s solid for the most part. I’m put off with the timeline, however. While I think a timeline with this story is excellent and I appreciate doing something more visual with it, the opening and spilling pill bottle cheapens the information. It also condemns the Megwas. They’ve only been arraigned, not convicted of this crime. It’s like we’re making fun of them.

With graphics, so much of it is context. Context can come in the juxtaposition of the art elements to other items on the page.  Here we have a picture of the couple being walking in to the courthouse. You have the word arraignment in the headline, and then you have tumbling pills out of a bottle. All that tells the readers is that they did whatever it is they did, without reading the story.  So we’ve got to be careful. Think about the juxtaposition of things and what that means for context. This is an easy mistake to make. Don’t worry,this comes with time and experience.

Also from experience, comes photo choice. On page two there’s a picture of Julie Ngo twice and they’re both basically the same. Both are portraits of the same person but with different backgrounds. We need to vary our photos more. A picture of her working would have helped and been a great solution.

Alright, that’s what I got. This week there are two critiques on the board — A reporter critique and a design/photo critique. Don’t forget to put them back when you’re done.



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.

4 thoughts on “First paper issue of Spring 2015: Critique on deck

  1. I agree that the first two sentences of the crime story were confusing, but the second sentence is talking about the 2014 break, so it is saying that there were six days without crime for the 2015 break and only one day during the 2014 break. We classified this break as the 2015 break. We definitely should have been more clear.

  2. Icess, just getting a chance to check this out after reading your email. I really appreciate your feedback on the work we did in the first issue. I plan on applying some of the things I took away from this post in my next story.

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