Critique: April 1 and 2 on deck

‘I dunno,’ Arthur said. ‘I forgot what I was taught. I only remember what I’ve learnt.”

Patrick White from The Solid Mandala.

Man, if there was ever a time where a quote made sense….

By this time in the semester, everyone has been taught tons of things, either directly or indirectly. However, did you learn it?

You maybe saying no right now or even maybe, but I beg to differ. You may not be able to write the perfect lede just yet but you’re not writing the lede you were writing on day one. You may not yet have taken the perfect photo or written a headline that you love but what you’re doing now is better than what you were doing when you started here.

Simply put, every assignment, headline, story, design, video, online project, etc is an opportunity to show everyone what you’ve LEARNED.  And by everyone I’m including yourselves and your readers. With each publication, what are you showing your readers about what you’ve learned, not only in information (i.e. reporting) but in skills.

This is what we as a team are still need to learn — news to use. That means being relevant to the reader, giving them something they need before they know they need it.  Readers come back when you give them something they didn’t know and information they needed.

That’s how we show what we learned.

So, for this critique, let’s look at from the news to use/ showing what we learned lens. But first:

Best darn thing in the paper/newsletter

 I’m liking this photo illustration on page 4.  It illustrates the story exactly. I wouldn’t have done the flash on the phone but this is not bad.

Garret Martin is working the ledes lately! The one with his story this week is great! It brings us into this story by showing, not telling, us what it is. Love. Love. Love.

Sorayah Zahir did a great job getting some breaking news in the paper. Breaking news is what news orgs do best, jumping on a story at a moment’s notice. Good job on getting the info out there and good job to the production desk for responding as well!

Now let’s talk about news to use. When we talk about being useful to our readers, we need to think about how they’ll want their information. The Arlington library story originally didn’t have a map budgeted with it. The story is about the new location of this place, therefore, location = map. Always and forever until the end of time. Map, map, map. That should be automatic. While the location is written in the story, that is not how to disperse information in a way that a reader wants, needs to interact with.

Here’s where we did it right. The strategic plan story talked about the four pillars of the plan. Yes, it’s in the story but seeing them pulled out and explained gives the reader the information quickly and in a nugget.  So this package did two things. 1) It told the reader what they needed to know 2) And it showed the reader what they needed to know.  

The Maverick Musical story. It’s the first time (not first annual. That’s not a thing) that they’re doing this. However, what’s the information readers really need quickly? Time, date, place, and how much to attend. That’s all in a if you go box, but there’s not one here.  A story is great but by not doing an if you go box, you’re getting in the reader’s way. Remember, we want to give them news they can us and show them what we learned.

Going to the newsletter, the severe weather story told us that there’s some nasty weather coming for us through Tuesday. However, it’s Thursday morning when I’m reading this. What is the weather going to be like TODAY. That information is useful to me as a reader, most especially if I open this story at 8 a.m.  

The NASA research story is another example where we can be useful to readers. While reading. Yes, it’s interesting that someone got half a mill to study space weather. That’s great. However, the most important sentence and the thing that makes this useful and important to readers what buried in the middle of the story. It’s this paragraph:

Lopez said atmospheric scientists try to understand the physics of the atmosphere by working on models that would simulate certain conditions. Lopez said eventually the models get turned over to the National Weather Service, who uses them as weather guides.

BINGO! This is why this half a mill grant to study space weather is important to the readers. This helps forecast weather. WEATHER. This impacts everyone but it’s buried in the story!

So quickly, with a couple of stories, I’ve show how we are telling information but we’re not showing what we’ve learned this semester, which is how we can give readers news they can use.  So then, here’s my challenge for the week:

For every story think about how to make it useful for the reader. What is the information that need to know for their lives on and off campus and how you’ll put it in a format that they’ll use.

 Alright, as always my door is open.


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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.