First newsletter critique on deck

I got a great surprise today!  I looked in my email and saw the first newsletter issue of the summer. Yes! We are back and ready to get some work done. So let’s get to it.

Loved seeing a video in the newsletter. We are a digital first news organization and video is a tool to tell stories. I’m glad that we saw this an opportunity to tell a story through visually. Great job, Kayla.

I’m also glad to see two rookies making their newsletter debut — Anna Gutierrez and Christian Ocampo!

Now let’s talk about this newsletter. There’s one big things missing from it. I was surprised to not see the new VPSA announcement in the newsletter. It was announced on Monday and the campus was buzzing about it yesterday. Not acknowledging it in the newsletter was surprising. I’m hoping there’s going to be a great story in the paper about what plans the new VPSA has when he gets here. FYI, this is the guy that will have among his charges Student Publications.

I would have liked to have seen the Powwow story up on Sunday instead of late Monday. When there’s an event the story needs to be in to the editor an hour after the event. I know that we’re all wanting to get use to things but we can’t slack on this. This is part of being digital first — getting the story up and to readers quickly.  Also think of it this way — for writers, writing with the quick turn around is actually better than taking your time on it. Why? The worst thing for a writer to do is think. Thinking is bad. So much of storytelling is natural, we’ve all been conditioned to tell stories since we were knee high. Thinking about it means you analyzing something that doesn’t need to be. Just tell it.

Looking deeper into the powwow story, I am happy that the writer did something I love from event stories. They told us what it was like to be there. I could hear drums and see regalia and see people enjoying their time there. Great! In particular I enjoyed this paragraph:

Men and woman in traditional Native American regalia danced and sang. The sound gourds and the beating of drums were followed by the ringing of bells adorning their garb. Some men wore feathers, fox pelts and bone necklaces while some had tattoos and body paint. Children were dressed up in traditional outfits and danced during the Grand Entrance.

Good details!

However, let’s watch out for word choice here. Regalia is the appropriate term for Native American dress. Garb isn’t.

Also on this story, let’s watch out for structure. The descriptive paragraph was too high up it needed to be graph 4 or 5. We needed to know some context here — it’s 20 years of history that need to be addressed in some way. Also, how many people showed up? Why was this event, which was cancelled because of weather, important for the community? This story was missing these points. So for the next event story, make sure we’re hitting some of these points.

Again, the video on this story was great. Now, let’s take it to a new level. We need to think of videos being able to stand alone from the story. Gasp! Yes. You read that correctly. A reader needs to be able to click on the story and get one thing and then click on the video and get something else. It doesn’t mean that they compete with each other but rather compliment. For example, in this case, it would have been great to talk to someone who is participating in the dances or the Grand Entrance and talk about what this means for them to participate. That could be a voice over while there are videos and photos of that person participating. Stories are about people and how they chose to live their lives. So let’s tell people stories in video too.

Who knew financial aid over the summer could be such a sticky widget! I didn’t. So I was glad to read the story about it in the newsletter today. Great things were happening in this story. I love that this story has some student voices. With it being summer, there’s always a concern about there being students to quote. Lovely!

The improvement with the story can come right from the beginning. Reading the lede, I thought the story was about summer adjustment but it’s really about how financial aid is different in the summer. I wish that we got a sense of what the article was up front. This is a good example of News2Use, that means it’s an article (or image or graphic) that is useful for the reader and will make their lives easier. Think of someone printing something or clipping something to Pinterest to refer to later.

Alright folks, that’s all for now. As always the full critique is on the board and I’m available to questions.

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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.