The Good. The Bad. The Shorthorn.
Feedback on the Sept. 9 print edition of The Shorthorn.
The Best Thing about the Paper:
I wish I could say I loved one piece of content over another this week, but I can’t. Each story reflected initiative from the staff to find and report unique stories. This week, I was surprised on nearly every page of The Shorthorn with stories I hadn’t read elsewhere:
- Narda’s feature on Chevelle Frederick, the nontraditional student who joined a sorority
- Sorayah’s feature on a student’s family in the Gaza Strip
- Anna’s feature on the van Gogh car and its owner
- Braulio’s newsy update on the parking enforcement situation
- Jon’s gas price story
- Rebecca’s feature on Syed Abood, a student who has been diagnosed twice with cancer
- Grant’s timely story about the cross-country teams pulling from the weekend meet.
All of these stories delivered news I’d not heard elsewhere. Good job, Shorthorn!
Please read the board for details on each of these stories. While great story angles, the stories were incomplete.
“Van Gogh-ing places” did a great job of summarizing the feature story focusing on a painted car. It was clever and referred to a quote in the story, while conveying a sense of movement. It definitely made me want to read the story! Great job!
The Shorthorn is pursuing stories that people care about and that are affecting people’s lives, helping them make decisions about their commute, where to park, what to join and how to spend their time. That’s important. Completeness of those stories is also important. Most stories in The Shorthorn’s print edition this week reflected we know the news but didn’t consider the stakeholders who are impacted by the news. For example:
- The Page 1 parking story, which contained excellent updates and explanation from Capt. McCord on the MavPark implementation, contained one source: McCord. But this story impacts much more than the police department. Numerous people and entities have a stake in the successful implementation of this system and needed to be represented:
- Drivers, both faculty and students.
- The university administration, which is having to reorganize to adjust for something outside of its control
It’s difficult to imagine that we couldn’t contact or find those entities at any point during the day or evening Tuesday.
- The Page 1 sorority feature, which was an excellent story find showing the impact of sorority life on a nontraditional student, showed two people representing one voice: that this sorority is welcoming. Who else might have a stake in that topic?
- The woman’s daughter, who is referenced in the article. The student says she is supportive, but we could ask the daughter.
- Are other sororities inclusive of nontraditional-age students? Might they have something to say to show that they, too, have broken stereotypes? Consider them stakeholders – does this story make them seem as though they are not inclusive? I’m not suggesting you contact each, but these questions can be answered by contacting the overarching department that supervises FSL leadership.
There are several other stories (see markup on the board) that are similar: We get part but not all of a great story. It’s important to eliminate the term “sources” from your vocabulary and instead consider stakeholders. As a reminder, stories must have three unique voices in them to be considered complete. Find and talk to at least three stakeholders for each story. (As a reminder: Incomplete stories will result in reduced payment for those stories, effective immediately.)
This week’s print edition was visually unappealing, despite interesting story content. While the design team is using design elements such as headline size and spacing better, selection of images with story packages missed the mark throughout. That could be because of an overreliance from the photo section to emphasize static, glorified mug shots of story subjects. Here’s more:
- I loved that The Shorthorn coordinated courtesy photos from our Gaza story subject. However, the images of destruction were redundant – one would have been enough to show the damage. Instead, a map showing the area in question with a timeline of major recent events would have been more informative to the reader. The mug shot of the deceased cousin would have been more appropriate on an inside page; the story begins with the UTA student speaking, and the reader naturally thinks that the only photo of a person with this story package is the person speaking in the story. Help the reader learn through design and photos. If the element doesn’t add to the package, eliminate it.
- The photo accompanying the story about the two-time cancer survivor should have been cropped to a mug shot, not used as a centerpiece on the Life cover. While the story was touching, the photo was … lazy. We easily could have arranged to follow this student to class for a few hours and take photos of him interacting on campus with friends or with his instructors – much more interesting and directly tied to the story we are telling than a guy against a wall. Action drives photos, always.
- Ditto on the photo of the van Gogh-mobile. The story described in great detail the gawking that happens when people see the car. We easily could have hung out by the car and caught people’s reactions: them peering inside, them pointing and smiling. Action drives photos, always. See the critique for more details.
- Text boxes and graphics remain a challenge for us. Remember that each element must inform the reader and further develop the story. In the pumpkin spice latte story, the graphic was interesting (cost over time of buying lattes and what you could buy instead) but didn’t relate at all to the story angle (the new formula). What the graphic ends up doing is taking an interesting story angle and editorializing it: We’re saying instead of buying this, buy that … and distracting from the reporting Carla has done.
- Online teases remain vague. They should point to specific content, such as video, audio, interactive graphics, or full interviews, that directly relate to the story that is being told today. “For more stories about global issues,” “For more stories on crime,” just isn’t enough to make me get to the site, nor does sending me to “theshorthorn.com” make it easy to find the content. If you don’t have an extra, solve that problem, don’t draw attention to it by being vague.
- Potential extras, when you don’t think you have any:
- A Q&A from interviews containing additional material that complement the story but didn’t quite make it.
- Graphics or PDFs of original material (the budget summary is a good example of a story that should have included a tease to that specific material)
- Potential extras, when you don’t think you have any:
Team: We’re on the right track. It’s about refining and holding ourselves to best practices. Let’s work on the two areas mentioned here this week.
- Brainstorm with your teammates on stakeholders and on visual options when you start planning a story, rather than at the end of an assignment.
- Challenge your assumptions about a topic or story you are covering, editing or designing. Is parking really bad? How do the victims in the Lot 50 robberies feel about those shirts? Think outside the box.
- But don’t limit yourself to only outside the box. Sometimes your stakeholders are closer (and easier to photograph) than you think.
Questions? Comments? Let’s talk.