Newsletter Notes, 7/28/15

Notes and tips based on newsletter content. 

Overall: Today’s newsletter contained … one new, newsy item. That’s disappointing, considering the talented staff we have at The Shorthorn and the amount of events, people and things going on at UT Arlington. You’ll find a story tip list attached to this critique.

Bottom line: What you choose to cover each day affects whether people will come back to The Shorthorn for news and information. Ask yourself:

  • Am I being curious? If you see something that looks out of place from what you’re used to, walk up to someone to ask. Don’t wait for a story assignment.
  • Am I giving the reader something new or different than what they’ve seen before? If not, time to keep reporting. (The first three letters of news are NEW.)
  • Does this story just rehash a press release? If so, time to do some original reporting. Don’t take information from a second-hand source.

More to come … but we need to reflect the campus life each day. Based on our newsletter, nothing happened on this campus for the last five days. I doubt that to be true.

 Best thing in the newsletter: Nnenna’s writing in the poker story literally had me on the edge of my seat. It was active, descriptive and suspenseful … about a poker game. It would have been easy to say that someone played a hand that beat another hand. But Nnenna went beyond that:

“He wins,” Edwards said when he flipped his cards. Shivkumar’s pair of kings beat out Edwards’ two jacks, and Shivkumar pulled in all $40,000 worth of chips.

Details matter. They paint a picture. They put a reader in the scene. They take the most mundane second round of poker to another level:

Before the game could reach the second hand, university studies senior Tony Vu went all in.

“I want those big stacks like on TV,” Vu said, right before losing his hand. He was out in the first round.

If you haven’t read Nnenna’s story, please do so. (Have you considered a career in sports writing?!) Also of note: The structure of this story. Good, strong lede tells me what is going on, sets the scene in the final round, then reverts to a chronological telling of the story to circle back to the winning hand. Excellent example of a “Martini glass” structure.

Best headline: “WNBA’s Tulsa Shock could be calling College Park Center home”

Brenna did a nice job incorporating key terms – the WNBA, CPC — into this headline while not overwhelming with too much information. It’s direct. (One critique: Avoid verb setups that include a form of “to be” and the verb you are attempting to use. “could call” is so much stronger.)

Best original reporting: Kudos to Rafael for going beyond the press release and getting a direct interview with Doug Garner, who was recognized nationally at the White House for his efforts at UTA. Rather than take a press release quote, Rafael reached out to Garner for a direct response to his questions about the honor and experience.

Also of note:

  • Newsletter blurbs are doing a better job of coordinating the headline and blurb. However, include the time peg in each and be sure to give the whole story. (For example, the WNBA story blurb didn’t mention it still needs UT System approval.)
  • Kudos to Alexa for pulling together the short video with advice to incoming freshmen, shot during spring graduation. Hope you promote that video during orientations.
  • Need to work on news ledes. Many of our stories are lacking focus (we discussed this at the staff meeting last week). Once you get back from reporting, take a minute before you start to write. What’s the focus of your story? Hint: It’s not what you started out with. You started out with an idea; your reporting determines the focus. For example, what if you were wrong in your original thinking? Let your reporting dictate the focus, and only use the material that supports your focus. Save your notes for additional stories.
  • The photo department is lagging. The only new photo from all of Monday was of the poker tournament. All other photos were old or contributed. Each photog should be finding and shooting two assignments per shift and working two shifts per week. That … ain’t happening.
  • Folks, I’ve had three calls in the last two days about Shorthorn staffers showing up without calling ahead or asking if they can take video during an interview. That’s unprofessional and not how we conduct ourselves with The Shorthorn. Call ahead, ask if the person is available and give an idea of what you need. Don’t catch people off guard – they shut down before you have a chance to speak to them.

We have a lot of good stuff going on around us. Open your eyes and be curious. Go beyond the “minimum” and the press release reporting. This is improvement one step at a time … and I can’t wait to see what is next.


– BF


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