Online Critique, June 22 newsletter stories

Best things:

Good, quick work by Nick the new Liberal Arts dean announcement brief.

Nice job by Sorayah on the gallery of Dallas Wings photos. She’s really learning quickly on her first summer on multimedia.

The economic development story on the city of Arlington topping Plano in new business construction and activity was very readable. Good job by Nick and Sam on reporting and editing that one. Including students was a necessary touch that made it a fully functional story. I know that took some extra time, but the story would not have been complete without it.

Nana has been killing it on Sports coverage this summer. As in other areas of the university, summer is a deceptively busy time in athletics. Recruiting for next season is in full swing. Nana incorporated lots of context and background on the story about the volleyball team’s season schedule announcement. An interview with the coach, who’s returning to the team, its record at the end of the season all contributed to make what could have been only a brief into a full-fledged story. Good job.

Needs work:

We need to slow down the editing train and make sure when we move things in stories the right people are matched with their actual quotes. Arlington’s economic development director is quoted as saying something he did not say. Not good. This is a correction that is not on the reporter but the team on the other side. People don’t like to be quoted as saying things they didn’t.

Where are they?

–Let’s follow up on the Liberal Arts dean announcement with an interview with the new dean.

–Gospel artist and music producer Kirk Franklin just opened his new studio downtown. Who’s doing that story?

Online critique, June 20 newsletter stories

Best things:

John did really solid job on the story about UTA’s ongoing educational outreach efforts with the Arlington ISD. And he sought out and included a good interview with Dr. Karbhari for it, too. Good work!

Love the effort by Kevin to contact the professor on campus who teaches the class on Jay Z lyrics as Mr. Carter was named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It also was a smart touch to include how those lyrics are analyzed and how that data helps teach about the use of literary devices.

Demi wrote a nice overview of the new folk market that debuted at UTA last weekend. She interviewed several artists, the organizer and described the scene well.

Multimedia turned out a beautiful collection of photos and a video of the Folk Art market, too. Well done.

Needs work:

Let’s please stop using the word “now.” It’s not particularly helpful and it doesn’t really provide any additional sense of timeliness.

We all need to remember to be curious. Reporters, editors and photographers need to be asking all kinds of questions that will provide context to our readers. “How does that work?” “How long does that take?” “Who else should I talk with?” “How do I know it’s correct?” Copy editors should be asking: “Does this story make sense?” “Is it thorough?” “Is it confusing?”

Several stories needed more explanation:

— The cancer start-up award story. Tell the readers step by step how these science start-ups work. How many are at UTA? How does this cancer technology work specifically? We can and should be as specific as possible. Many of our readers are curious.

–The folk art event coverage could have used some more information from the International Folk Art Alliance web page or interviews from folks in New Mexico. Just because it’s event coverage doesn’t mean that we can’t do some more legwork ahead of time to show the bigger picture. We needed some more background in that story to show what a big deal it was for Arlington to have only the second one aside from the one in Santa Fe. How many people come to it there? How many artists? Did we get an estimated crowd count?

–the two sports stories could have used some more background. How are players selected for the Junior Women’s National team? Tell us some more about volleyball recruiting. How many spots are they trying to fill? Who graduated? How is the new coach’s first recruitment season going?

We also need to tell our readers why we interview certain people for our stories.

The Jay Z story should have told readers right off that the reason we interviewed the English professor was because he teaches a class on Jay Z. We make people wait until way too deep in the story to tell them why that source was the right source.


Where are they?

This will be a continual section that pushes for stories that we haven’t been pursuing or need to pursue that are of interest to our readers:

–Follow-up story on the International Folk Art Market. Call Santa Fe and also talk to local organizers. Did it meet expectations? Will it be back?

–How did the Student Service Allocation Committee meeting turn out?

–How are the statewide cuts to higher education in the wake of the legislative session playing out at UTA?

–Summer enrollment?

–How is the international student population at UTA faring in enrollment post-immigration executive order?

Online critique, June 6, 2017

Best things:

Nice work by Shay and photo newbie Sorayah on the Special Olympics multimedia gallery. This is an event held yearly on campus and it represents a great opportunity to practice our visual storytelling. It also allows one new photo staffer to shadow a more experienced one to get their feet wet. This teaming up and hands on training is important and we should make sure we’re doing more of it.

Madelyn finished out the semester in fine fashion with her excellent legislative coverage. She did an outstanding job for months of tracking down meetings and lawmakers, following the complicated world of the statehouse and pulling out substantive stories that resonated with our readers. Her two wrap-up stories on the budget and on big issues were a good way to end her session coverage.

Nana also contributed excellent softball coverage this semester. Rich with play-by-play details, her stories followed the team through its more successful season in years. She capped it off with the loss in the championship game.

Nick included some additional summer weather perspective in his weekly weather wrap-up about temperatures this time of year and how the hurricane season affects those inland. Good work.

Needs work:

 Kevin did a fine job writing about environmental awareness (or lack thereof) on campus. But because he focused on paper recycling in the lede, the headline and the packaging and newsletter tease made the reader expect a story about paper recycling. In reality, only the first three or four paragraphs were about paper recycling. The remainder of the story was about the overall environmental efforts on campus and the apparent disconnect between what the university does and what students think. That’s the better story and the lede should have reflected that. Then the entire package could have been about that topic. The paper recycling is only one facet of that but it became the story based on how we played and promoted it.

I like the idea of the city council wrap-up story, but it didn’t go deep enough to explain what happened on several major issues. Approving supplemental Handitran Services to the tune of $2.3 million needed more background. Who benefits? Why is it needed? What hole is this filling in transportation in a city without mass transit? We also should have included more background information on the lawsuit that the city settled on the 2015 shooting.

The City Council agendas are accompanied by an agenda packet that links to background reports and material. We need to include as much info as we can from this source.

Critique, Online stories, Feb. 14-28

The last two weeks (Feb. 14-28) have been productive and busy, with solid beat coverage on news, consistent sports coverage of both men’s and women’s basketball along with softball and baseball, stronger columns and inventive multimedia galleries of both events and wild art.

Best things

Some highlights:

–Kenney practiced good, careful writing and balance and reporting that he continued throughout the weekend on a sensitive story about UTA students and alumni who were accused of posting anti-Semitic messages online.

–Ashleigh quickly turned an FSL bid day story in fine form because she wrote as much of the story background as she could ahead of time. This is an excellent practice for anyone on event coverage.

–Zach has written several interesting stories recently. From the vinyl records feature to his New Black piece to a smart story about crowd funding, he’s really going deep with his interviewing and writing.

–Audrey did a great job covering Engineers Week. Her beat coverage across the board—from the Engineering/Liberal arts collaboration to her story about international students who find solace in the lab to her fun feature on the mechanics of pie-ing someone—are well done. And she’s finding her voice as a writer.

–Sports stories have been rich with great quotes from both players and coaches. This is important for readers and shows that our sports reporters are taking time to build relationships on their beats.

–Duy turned out a beautiful slideshow that features use of shadows and light. Great initiative!

Needs Work

 We’re getting better at using “its” instead of “they” in the proper place. But now we’re using random “they” in stories without a clear idea to whom we’re referring. Make sure you—and the reader—know what that pronoun is for. Better yet, just name the subject again. If the reader has to circle back to find out whom we’re talking about, they’ll give up and stop reading.

We’re seeing quite a few incomplete sentences in quotes. If a person doesn’t complete the thought with both a noun and a verb it’s not a complete sentence. Either paraphrase the information or use the fragment, but add it on to the rest of the quote with a comma.

For example:

Before: “I find [my groove] much easier when I’m playing defense. When I’m in talking trash in the offensive player’s pocket,” he said.

 After: “I find [my groove] much easier when I’m playing defense, when I’m in talking trash in the offensive player’s pocket,” he said.

We also continue to repeat words throughout our stories, especially when the words in the transition mirror the quote that comes after it exactly. Find more than one way to say the same thing. It will make you better.

Critique, Online stories Feb. 10 -13

Best things

Matt did a very thorough job on the UT System Board of Regents story, including the item on the increased price tag for the new West Campus development now under construction. We should never take for granted reporters who can tackle these Regents stories and include comments from the university president who spoke at the meeting. These developments are important to our readers and give updated news pegs for future stories. Good work, Matt.

Kenney and Braulio did a nice job on the General Motors wind power story. It was an interesting environmental story told well with short quotes and packed with information. The photos were well done and feared plenty of different angles.

Isabel’s column, part of her UTA love letter series, about the MAC received some good traction on social media and resulted in a Facebook love letter response to her and The Shorthorn back from the MAC. Cool!

Weekend basketball coverage, particularly from Selby, was impressive. Tight writing, active verb, command of the subject matter—these are all key to great sports writing and beat coverage. Selby and Destine really shine at this.

 Needs work

 Friday’s normalizing sex story lacked structure and was a bit too conversational. I thought at first that it was a column. Our ledes need to be an overview about the story’s intention or a wrap-up of what experts said. This leade tries to hit too many marks. Let’s be honest: Sex happens. People may love the very idea of sex itself. Sex and talk of it can be found in a variety of places.

Reporters and editors should be talking on the edit about the story and if it turned out like the premise or if the reporter found new information. Let’s not forget to have these conversations about intent and structure. Otherwise, our good ideas aren’t getting properly communicated.

Let’s start doing a search and replace on the word “opportunity” before we file stories or before they are edited. We’ve used it enough now.

We’re still struggling with the need to provide context. It’s not enough to simply tell people about a topic or an event. It is our job as journalists to ask probing questions to get even more information than a member of the public can get. We have to provide as much of the full scope as possible and that means asking more questions. How so? Can you give me an example? Why?

The UTA student/Mansfield City Council candidate story doesn’t tell me if the subject grew up in Mansfield. I’m assuming he still lives there because he’s filed to run for office. Does he live with his parents? Did he get his own apartment there? Residency is important in elections. Also, has he ever run for any sort of public office before? Why City Council? Did he ever run for Student Congress or serve on student council in high school? If we’re going to write about people, we need the full picture.

The Arlington story about the city’s new public records site doesn’t walk us through what can be found there or direct us where to find it. Is this a money-saving move or strictly a way to advocate for a more open government? Have city leaders been criticized for this? Again, we can—and should—be asking more.

Critique, Online stories Feb. 7-9

Best things:

Ashleigh’s story about a fraternity member’s work in Kenya was nicely done. Great handout photo, too. It’s good to hear about the charitable work, especially work done overseas, that ties back to FSL students here.

Zachary’s story that examines romance in film was well done, including this priceless lede: “Valentine’s Day is nearing, and for those who prefer to spend an afternoon with their significant other in a dark room, unable to talk, watching what they wish they had, there are a plethora of romance films to be seen, in theater or at home.”

Audrey did an exhaustive job bringing Innovation Day, with all of its fun new technology, to life.

Braulio’s photo gallery of the student staging a solo demonstration on what it means to be Muslim was touching and effective through photographs.

Madelyn is killing it this week with two dailies about developments in Washington and in Austin. She jumped on the nomination of the new education secretary and pivoted on a state legislative sanctuary cities story that developed. She got good student and local reaction to both those stories. These are important developments evolving in real time and she’s keeping pace with them. Well done.

Nick is doing good work keeping up with the Student Congress’ possible change to a three-branch system. He’s explaining the process, how things would change and how that would affect students.

John’s super heroes/Greek mythology story was interesting. Good quotes in that like this one: “They’re kind of like the greatest versions of ourselves- they’re truthful, they’re honest, they fight for justice, they’re larger than life,” Farnsworth said. “All of these different attributes we aspire to, they are those attributes times 10.”

Speaking of quotes, Chanel did an outstanding job talking with students affected by mental illness issues in her social work story. They opened up to her about family histories of mental health and struggles within families. We’re going to work some more on getting those types of people into our event coverage ledes. As a rule, if the people we interview are as interesting as the event itself or typify the event itself, put them higher up in the story. We can always put the event details in the nut graph.

Just a word on Shay and his photo illustrations this week: imagination. And two more. Valentines Day. Take a look at his visuals for the stories about chocolate, romance in film and the history of dating. All are perfect for the story and all different. I know I’m in for something special when he comes to my office asking if I have a ring he can borrow.

Needs work:

We need to stop trying to cram too much information into a single sentence. Commas are wonderful. But when we abuse them, they cease to become useful and only support our bad habits. Don’t use them to set off a parenthetical phrase such as Laurie Fox, a student media adviser, spoke at the meeting. AND THEN add another element or two that also require commas: “Laurie Fox, a student media adviser, spoke at the meeting, which was organized for student journalists throughout Texas, a competitive area for the news industry, which is experiencing a decline in advertising….”

Too much. Be nice to the comma. And don’t make your readers work too hard. This is something on the editing end that we should be watching out for. For the most part, one sentence per thought. Otherwise, we confuse people. Break up thoughts into a separate sentence and then use a period.

Active verbs are hiding within perfectly well-meaning sentences: “focused on giving advice”=advised. “Had a table presenting”: presented. And please, please let’s stop using

“had the opportunity to.” The verb after is all you need. “had the opportunity to learn” = learned.

If we’re referring to something that is proposed or could happen in the future use “would.” Using “will” implies to the reader that the future outcome in certain. In issues like the Student Congress three-branch proposal, we need to use “would” to describe how the plan may work. Because it hasn’t been approved yet.

We’ve had a rough few days with editing errors. We missed a dollar amount style error, it’s $1.5 million not 1.5 million dollars. We also have glazed over extra words and missed some places where a word was needed. Just assume you know what the sentence is saying. Really read it.

Critique, online stories Feb. 1-6

Best things:

Kenney and Kyle both did fine work on stories that put into historical and constitutional perspective the new presidential administration. Kenney’s story about the surging popularity of the dystopian novel 1984 did a nice job talking about the novel and its new place in pop culture lore. Kyle also did good work on sorting out President Trump’s executive orders and the precedent. These stories were both timely and meaty and allowed the writers to pursue angles that challenged them—and our readers.

Similarly, Nick’s Student Congress story on the potential move toward a three-branch government model told our readers how the plan would work and why UTA is considering it. Both pieces are important. He’s following it up this week.

Over the weekend, Sports and Multimedia turned out solid coverage of both basketball and tennis. These games are great practice for student journalists to hone their play-by-play, sports photography and deadline skills. Grab every opportunity to cover and shoot these events. If you don’t you and your skills won’t grow.

Audrey nabbed some great quotes in the story about the e-sports team Dark Blaze. “We’ve had really quiet kids just be complete monsters within the game because they’re able to make those calls ­­­— the silent but deadly type,” Smiley said.

Jamil’s speaker coverage from Friday on the Baylor anthropology professor who studies bones was fascinating. She works with law enforcement agencies to return human remains to family members. Many are immigrants who died trying to cross the border.

Needs help:

The Life story on the trend of playing Magic needed color from watching players play the game and describing it to readers. We had photos of the game being played, but the color and description were needed, too, to pull the reader in.

Several of our stories have suffered from being one-dimensional. Just because we interview what seems like “the right” people doesn’t mean that we’re asking enough questions of those people. Stories that explain something new need specifics. Stories that tell us about something obscure need to provide more detail. Don’t settle for who, what, where, when—the why and the how are necessary. Make sure your interview questions actually include why and how. If you can’t force yourself to be more curious, ask a curious friend to help you out with questions. Stories without content and deep description are merely “survey” stories. We have the talent to do better than that