Guest critique: Feedback on today’s Shorthorn content

We have a guest critique for you today: Natalie Webster, newspaper producer for the Journal Media Group Central Desk and former Shorthorn editor in chief. Natalie spent time on and shares these thoughts:

I have to be honest when I say it has been a hot minute since I’ve made my way to Having graduated two years ago (holy cow) I don’t find myself itching for news of a campus I’m no longer on. But, where I think this may help is that you’re (at least for this critique) getting my first opinion of not just content but the site and tone of The Shorthorn.

Moving on – today I’ll be critiquing the website, Facebook and Twitter including only content posted today before 1 p.m. Why? Because (let’s pretend) I’m a student, I’ve already woken up and had my 8 shots of espresso and dragged my flip-flopped feet to my first class, through which I will alternatingly sleep and scroll through social media before grumbling something about textbooks being written in dead languages, then leave for maybe another class and then finally – lunch! (Man, I miss Diggs.) The rest of the day is a blur between food and getting back to bed.

What I mean to say is the first half of the day (before lunch) is the most critical time to capture my (le student’s) attention before I decide you’re not covering the news, not informing me and are also super less interesting than 14 quizzes on Buzzfeed about which Quidditch team I should support (Puddlemere United.) With that being said…

Overall: I’m starting here because I expect most of your readers will start here. I appreciate the frequency with which the page is updated, especially since I’ll be checking Facebook at the beginning and end of every class. Also, have your staff like the stories on your page – it’ll trigger Facebook’s algorithm to widen the audience able to view your posts. And have reporters share their stories from the ‘Horn’s facebook page to their own. Ditto with liking a post.

Story: “Crime update- 2 bike tires were reported stolen over the weekend.”
My first reaction: “Kay.”
Other notes: The description text doesn’t tell me anything the headline doesn’t already say, so I’m feeling uninformed and bored.
My final reaction: *shrug* *scrollscrollscroll*
Would I click it: No
Suggestion: Use a map as an image with this story showing where the tires were stolen. It could either show 1) a concentration (well, not really, it’s just two tires) or 2) that they were spread across campus. If I don’t have a bike I do not care about this at all. Make me care. Make it an issue of proximity. Is this the first time this has happened this year? If so, note that in the description of the post. If not, not that in the description. Give me a reason to want to click on this story.

Story: “Parking permits purchased after Oct. 1 will be prorated”
My first reaction: “Sweet! I still haven’t bought mine/That’s BS I bought mine on time and I’m being punished for it”
Other: This post has a bonus of comments I get to click through, which of course is only going to interest me further in the story as a whole.
My final reaction: Parking is something that students care about, and I (hypothetical student) care about this.
Would I click it: Yes
Suggestions: The actual text accompanying this story “On this parking update you can find out why permits already bought will not be reimbursed” is clunky. It wouldn’t be “on this update” it would be “in” or “with this update.” And the rest of it is worded in a way that implies that permits already purchased should have or could have been reimbursed. Did the university ever say they intended to reimburse students? If not, it’s not a matter of why it’s not happening, but why permits purchased after Oct. 1 will be prorated. Switch this out with a questions to the readers like “did you wait to buy your permit? Why?”

Story: “Sex trafficking lectures to bring awareness to local problem”
My first reaction: “WHOAAAAAA. Hold the phone. How is this a local problem?”
Other: At least on the facebook page, you don’t tell me how it’s a local problem. I feel like maybe you used “local problem” to get my attention when it’s not local. Now I don’t trust you so much. Also, the text “Don’t miss the opportunity blah blah blah” takes a really casual and almost cheerful tone with… sex trafficking? Now I also think you’re insensitive.
My final reaction: I’m a little concerned The Shorthorn doesn’t actually care about sex trafficking and just made a calendar item a story.
Would I click it: No
Suggestions: You have a GREAT graph in the story about how Texas ranks high in human trafficking and that it’s more common in international communities and big cities (sounds like D-FW!) THIS is what your text should have been, not some off base “Hey kids, don’t forget your free ice cream with your human trafficking pamphlet!!” Guys, be aware of the tone of the story and write to that.

Story: “Department celebrates Saxe with ice cream social”
My first reaction: “Haha Saxe sounds like sex”
Other: My eyes go from photo, to headline, to text beneath it, then finally to text in Facebook post. Not until the “Scenes from the ice cream social…” blurb do I find out WHY they had the social. Also, that blurb isn’t a sentence so it reads weird.
My final reaction: Cool. I guess.
Would I click it: No
Suggestions: Change the headline to read “Department celebrates 50 years with Allan Saxe”, have ice cream in the main photo, ask students to share their memories of Saxe as the blurb instead of basically restating the headline.

Story: “Arlington adopted budget includes tax increase”
My first reaction: “Is that missing a word or a hyphen or a comma? What are you trying to say? Baxter, you know I don’t speak Spanish.”
Other: What exactly are they increasing? Tax rates or tax revenue? You never tell me in the facebook blurb
My final reaction: I’m curious so I click on the story find that… it has nothing at all to do with me. Why did you cover this? How many students live in Arlington as “homestead property owners?” How is this relevant to UTA? Were you guys bored or practicing city council coverage? This is a brief at best. Also, I’m not an employee of the city so I also don’t care about the health care provision.
Would I click it: I mean, I did. But I wouldn’t do it again.
Suggestions: When the reporter got back from the city council meeting the editor should have recognized this was not a UTA story UNLESS the water/garbage/stormwater rates affect UTA. Which, by the way, do they? Story doesn’t say. Is it just residents or businesses?

Story: Nursing dean highlights redesigned facilities, new policies
My first reaction: I’m not a nursing student but I like looking at facility renderings. Plus this is a sharp headline I can get behind. Sounds newsy.
Other: The blurb needs to lose about 80 pounds of extra verbiage. You could just say “recent event” instead of “College of Nursing and Health…etc.” Cause, dude, Idk what that is. And what policies are new? There’s no example in the blurb. (After clicking on the story I don’t see one there either.) Also, color me disappointed, no renderings with the story 😦
My final reaction: Bit of a bait and switch in that the headline garners my interest but the blurb and art don’t really deliver.
Would I click it: Yeah
Suggestions: Explain to me the types of policies that are new, show me a rendering of expanded spaces, and tell me specifically why the nursing college is so critical to UTA. I sort of just get ho-hum noncommittal noise-type info in the story.

Story: Cartoons of Saxe
My first reaction: CARTOONS YAY
Other: Blurb could’ve been tailored a little bit more to the “Transformation Tuesday” part of it. Like “See how professor Allan Saxe was transformed into comic form for this week’s #TransformationTuesday”
My final reaction: Dude, comics and pics sell
Would I click it: Yeah
Suggestions: There’s only two comics! Isn’t there a link on the site to older comics? You could redirect readers back to the site for more. Also see “Other”

Story: “Town Hall meetings to provide opportunity for campus carry questions, concerns”
My first reaction: I’m out of breath from just reading that headline.
Other: I need a time peg for this (which will take effect, which took effect, etc.) Also, the blurb doesn’t do much for a call to action or to engage your reader. Ask them to share WHAT their concerns or suggestions are in the comments and have your reporter go to the Town Hall to get those answered. (Yay interaction!)
My final reaction: Good timely story. I hope this was posted during your peak traffic time for Facebook because it’s sure to get clicks.
Would I click it: Yes
Suggestions: Art’s a little weird because at first it looks like a Modcloth ad. Maybe just used a picture of a gun in a backpack? (I’ve seen stock photos of that)  Also, see “Other”

Nice to see lots of these posts with photos. They’ll do better on the platform.

Post: Parking
First reaction: Good, concise post. Good art. This is well done.

Post: Bike tire theft
First reaction: Really nice art. Little bored with the post because it reads as old and I don’t have a bike.

Post: Arlington Budget
First reaction: *falls to knees in the rain and mud screaming “NOOOOOOOO”*
You guys. It’s. Not. “CITIZENS.” It’s residents. A citizen is someone who can legally reside in the U.S. A resident does not necessarily include legal status. DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE.
Also, this blurb doesn’t tell me why, as a student, I should care directly. This is because based on the story, I don’t need to.
Nice art though.

Post: Campus carry town hall
First reaction: Why doesn’t this have art with it?!?!?!?!
ALSO – GUYZZ you could have totally worked with marketing to plan a “Shorthorn does campus carry” thing and used a hashtag to garner questions from students that your reporter could ask! Big picture, folks. Always be thinking of how to engage your readers and use them to find the news.

Post: “All star” column
First reaction: Wait, as in Smash Mouth? As in “Hey now, you’re an all star?” Dude, what year is this and where’s my car?

Post: ice cream social
First reaction: Good photo, weird tease. Please don’t talk about my eye. Just say “take a look.” Also, if I don’t know all about Allan Saxe already, I don’t know why this post is important. Provide context.

Post: Human trafficking
First reaction: See Facebook

Post: Wok Box ad
First reaction: OMG now I want food

Post: Saxe cartoons
First reaction: THIS is where Facebook should have taken me


There’s only one piece of fresh content published Tuesday. No bueno. Try to embargo at least two pieces of content to be posted in the mornings while reporters are in class to keep the site fresh. Because of that, I’ll also include a pretty thorough review of the site itself, especially since I’ve yet to see it in this iteration.

New content: Step video

  1. Ugly font for title screen.
  2. Can’t pause video on my phone 😦
  3. No explanation of what stepping is, how it got started, why it’s so popular… nothing?
  4. Coming from someone who was on a step team in high school…that’s some weak stepping. Couldn’t get him to do something more… steppy? There’s no clapping or stomping or anything. There’s no rhythm or beat. Next time I’d ask someone to teach a specific step – and try to get two people in the video (the interaction between them would be more engaging to the reader than just a solo performer.)
  5. Headline is weak and misleading because the video is really “how to throw your shoulders and toss your leg in the air.”

Site appearance review:

Wow that rotator sure ain’t pretty. That text is SUPER hard to read and those headlines look gargantuan there. You should trim headlines for the rotator.

Example: The only people who care about the IFC know what IFC stands for so just use that acronym. “IFC sees record rushes, bids” (the word “number” is implied here.)
Example: “Nursing dean highlights facilities, policies”
Example: “Town Halls to address campus carry concerns”

Carrying on…

I’m digging the updated news module beneath the rotator. Visual but not overwhelming, plus I can choose from different topics above it.

Today’s events are cramming poor Life and Entertainment into a corner. Noone puts baby in a corner. Don’t suppose you could make the Events module thinner or put it in the right rail under the ads? It’s really making the L&E stuff awkward to read. Plus, where they don’t even off at the bottom and trap white space is pretty gross. I will say L&E does a good job of keeping headlines shorter for ease of reading (Also I really want a spotify playlist with that “driving jams” story that’s called “traffic jams” … get it? I’m hilarious.)

I really like the Most Popular content module redesign as well as the “Talking about” and Instagram feed.

Multimedia: Hot DAWG is that a giant module or what? Don’t really like how it’s the same thing in the rotator. Very redundant and takes up valuable space on the site. Maybe change this to a clicky rotator?

And THAT’S where sports and opinion are! I was beginning to wonder if they just weren’t important enough to be on the front page of the site anymore. Really looks like you don’t cover sports at all. On a college campus, you need to. I really suggest considering moving those modules up. Also, where possible, use “Mavs” instead of Mavericks to avoid weird headline lengths and breaks.

Why are “photo” and “galleries” separated by a white space? Why is there a picture of a guy staring awkwardly at the camera the main photo for a restaurant photo gallery?

WOW THAT’S AN UGLY POLL. Why is it squeezed into an itty bitty column like that? Did it do something wrong? Is that punishment? Man that looks weird. Also, your poll asks for students to rank something on a scale from 1-10 but does not say which is considered best (one being “great!”) You won’t be able to use this poll data for anything now.

Headlines overall:

Not bad but watch wordy headlines and errors. Here’s some edits…

NEWS: Interfraternity Council sees record… = IFC sees record rushes, bids

NEWS: Nursing dean highlights redesigned facilities… = Nursing dean highlights facilities, policies

NEWS: Town Hall meetings to provide… = Town Halls to address campus carry concerns

LIFE: How a junior balances 4 jobs, 6 classes (don’t just tell me the junior does so, that just makes me go “Yeah, well, so what?” Reframing it as a how-to lets me know I can learn from the story)

SPORTS: Freshmen emerge (not emerges) as Mavs start conference 2-0

SPORTS: Volleyball survives match, defeats (not defeat) Georgia State 3-1 (also, survives implies they were doing very poorly during the game)

SPORTS: Men’s cross-country (is cross country supposed to be hyphenated? I don’t remember this) wins, women (is it not women’s to match men’s?) finish second at home meet

OPINION: Column: Don’t shame others for what they like (preferences is too long of a word and makes the headline break funny)


2 thoughts on “Guest critique: Feedback on today’s Shorthorn content

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