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

Critiques, online stories, Jan. 25-Jan. 30

Best things:

John did nice work explaining the wonderful world of cosplay. He didn’t just talk about the role-playing aspect. He also included the why and how of people involved. Plus, I just love that this guy built a giant sword (if you encounter something unusual like this again, give our readers some dimensions of it.)

Jamil’s Cuban history story was very interesting. It was a nice blend of a local UTA angle with some science, history and good quotes mixed in.

Good hustle from Sorayah on the intoxicated student in the UC story.

Matt’s tree story was informative and quirky—how those in charge of the university’s substantial tree population stay on top of their health. This is a great example of a story that’s right under our nose on our own campus.

Sports did an excellent job sourcing the new volleyball coach story. Having an interview with the new coach the day his appointment was announced was a major score.

Speaking of Sports, give Selby’s short feature on the basketball freshman that his teammates have nicknamed “Bill”—for no apparent reason—a read. Great little tale and a scene from inside the team and fun beat coverage.

I enjoyed Cody’s column about the stifled flow of information from government departments since the inauguration. It was straight to the point and talked about an important issue.

The story on the UTA doctoral student who serves on the DeSoto school board among other commitments was a nice reminder of how to tell stories about all of our students. Points also go to the photographer for going to DeSoto ISD to shoot the photo.

The male make-up artist story was effective because it mentioned more than just the trend but the people who are embracing it. The accompanying video was a nice touch.

Nice photos from Braulio on the shooting pool story. Shay also had a really cool portrait of the craft beer company owner.

Zachary’s list of “People I don’t feel sorry for” in the celebrity privacy point/counterpoint Life column was just priceless.

Finally, weekend coverage at DFW Airport from the executive order fallout was a great way to inform our readers about the evolving issue. Having our own students on these big events is great training for our staff but also provides a unique perspective for readers. Good work on the stories, video, slide show and social media.


Needs work:

Please continue to weigh protest coverage and make sure we can balance that with the other side that may have opinions but are not protesting.

We also need to work on ways to file from the field when we’re out covering events. Having a social media presence is important but it doesn’t take the place of having a story, even if it is an early version, up on the site. The social media should drive traffic to the site.

Let’s work on making our writing more intentional. We use “have the opportunity to” a lot. Let’s get right to the verb and what we’re trying to say. We tend to surround the point with prepositions and words that are just not necessary. We’ll continue to work on this in coaching. These passages also are noted on story critiques so make sure you are reading yours.

Semicolons are your friend and are helpful in breaking up long lists.

Please refrain from using “very” and “really.” These are qualifiers and we don’t need them unless they are included in a direct quote.

Critique, online stories, Jan. 24

Best things

       Shay. Yay.

I guess based on the topic of his terrific video today on National Compliment Day that I should also compliment him. So here goes: Shay is imaginative and curious. And he worked really hard on this video.

The way that he incorporated a diverse variety of languages (a hallmark of UTA) and translated and paired them with what the person was saying was very effective. I took a lot of pleasure in watching him track people down and usher them in for interviews. It also takes a lot of legwork to pull this off. Good work!

Soryah told an interesting story about the students at Townview Magnet Center in Dallas where she covered the inauguration protests. The story focused on a smaller group of protesters, high school students who were concerned about immigration issues. It provided a nice window into their unique struggle and perspective.

Kyle’s parking update story quickly became one of the day’s most read. It included a new twist as well: using underused parking spots at university apartments. It’s an interesting issue that continues to evolve.


Needs Improvement

I always love a good Casey illustration. But the one with Zachary’s dorm dining story confused me a bit. Although clever (and it does look just like Zach!), when the character in the frame addresses him as “Zach” I thought it was a column. We put the writer to the story in the illustration so it set off an unintentional shift in tone. It’s a packaging thing that we just need to be aware of.

Critique, online stories, Jan. 23

Best things

There was a deep, full e-newsletter this morning filled with your weekend coverage of sports, inauguration protests, women’s march and Monday advance stories for the week.

The large, enthusiastic response to covering the marches and protests was outstanding. Most of you found UTA students at these events, so that really helps our readers personalize it. You also looked for ways to keep these events balanced and Jamil did nice work writing a mini-narrative centered around a Trump supporter. The multimedia and social media effort was substantial as well. The packaging of these events in the e-newsletter looked impressive. Kudos to all those who assisted in this coverage.

Selby and Destine kept up with basketball on Saturday, each turning out authoritative beat coverage along with solid play-by-play in their stories. Selby went further on Sunday, updating our readers about the status of two basketball players who didn’t start, one held out for a discipline issue, another for a continuing knee problem. These are big deals on his beat. Selby noticed and followed up.

Needs Improvement

 With protest coverage, what separates journalists from others who can merely survey an event and post it on social media is the attention to detail, the reporting and the storytelling.

It’s all too tempting to grab comments from protestors or those who attend these large scale marches and leave it at that. But that doesn’t give our stories much depth. We still need the 5 W’s and the H in these stories. Context and details are important. Let’s make an effort to ask more than one question, which typically is “What brought you out today?” or something similar. We need to know why people thought it was important enough to gather in a large group to express themselves. Emotion isn’t always enough either. We need to know the personal story. It can’t just be that they’re angry. About what specifically? What experiences in their lives led them to that march? Even if we quote fewer people, it’s OK. It will be worth it.

Before we cover any more large protest events, let’s take a pause and weigh why we’re going. And we really need to move into stories that ask our professors and experts on campus to help us make sense of all this and provide some perspective on history.

Critique, online stories, 1/20


Best things:

Loved Matt’s squirrel story. Turns out there’s some interesting science behind the fearless squirrels on this campus. This is the kind of story that begs to be read but also imparts some interesting things to think about. I felt smarter after I read it. This often happens with a Fulkerson story.

 Anastasia’s story on financial aid refunds (which aren’t really “refunds” at all…and not free money either) was thorough and affects a lot of UTA students who take out loans or borrow other money to attend school. She interviewed a wide variety of sources and included some great info. And it was conversational. So many financial aid and money stories can be dry. But this was a timely story that offers good, practical advice and hits students where they live. Good work!

We have a good mix of stories online today and we’re publishing throughout the day. Good job to all who help to make this happen. It’s important to engage our readers throughout their day with different types of content.


Needs work:

Isabel’s new weekly column sounds like a great idea. But we need to brand it and tell people about it with an info box so readers know that it’s a standing feature so they can expect it. Anything that explains her idea for it and when it runs will help, too.


We need to continue to build on the solid line editor training that Beth conducted at Editor’s Retreat. I’m seeing fewer grammatical errors (except its and it’s. Sigh), but we need to work on tightening sentences. Several stories wandered and used too many words. Get to the point. Ask the writers “what do you mean to say here?” “What point are you trying to get across?” Their answer will be shorter and more conversational than the way they have written it.

Critique, online stories, Jan. 17-19

Welcome back, everyone! You’ve started the semester off strong this week with some great journalism. Here are some highlights and areas we need to work on based on our online coverage so far this week. Print critique will be at Friday’s staff meeting.

Best things:

We had a great map and follow-up story from Nick about the deluge on Sunday night and the storm’s aftermath. He pursued facilities officials and a campus leader who was stuck in the storm after the Cowboys game. He stayed after them until he landed interviews. Good hustle!

Kyle brought us up-to-date on campus parking as we start a new semester. This and Nick’s weather story were two of our most-read.

I enjoyed Jamil’s story about Richard Cole, inaugural dean of the former School of Urban and Public Affairs, who died over the break. She was very thorough and quoted all the right people and kept a respectful tone in the story.

Kevin turned a nice piece about a library employee who wrote a book about an historic Fort Worth neighborhood. I especially liked one area of the story where he showed us through observation the mood of the crowd: “The crowd sighed, “Yeah,” with nostalgia when McClurkin asked, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these houses were still here?”” This is an ideal example of how to work some observation into our stories.

Selby wrote a timely column about the Dallas Cowboys’ playoffs loss and a turned a solid beat coverage piece on the men’s basketball team’s return to play its home games—great quotes from Coach Cross.

Kyle and Haley teamed up for a quick-turn story on the gas leak outside the UC.

Narda reported a newsy story about Coolberry Frozen Yogurt closing in College Park Center.

We’ve had great photography so far online this week from Daniel with a cool shot of the city’s new library; Edward had a nice portrait of the children’s book author; and Bridget’s sweet panorama of College Park Center.

Nick caught us up on Student Congress activity on deadline after the meeting.

Kevin had another nice story on an organic chemistry professor’s research that has ripple effects throughout is department. He included this nice detail: There are several purified chemicals, beakers, machines and other contraptions throughout the lab, all dedicated to researching ways to make medicine cheaper, Jeon said.

I’ve enjoyed our columnists’ work this week. Isabel and Andrea have challenged us to think about risk-taking, pedestrian safety, homesickness and academic success. Keep it up!

Here are some effective ledes we’ve had this week:

–While some commuter students are hungry for a meal plan, others have no appetite. (Nick)

–Several Texas senators and representatives are proposing legislation that would stanch the revenue flow generated from sales tax of female hygiene products during the 85th legislative session. (Renee)

–Kayla Bell plays a role in the research community every day without ever stepping inside a lab. (Audrey)

Needs improvement:

The Coolberry story would have benefitted from talking to students to get reaction to its closing.

We need to work on leaving out adjectives in anything that is not an Opinion piece or a review or commentary. It’s our job to observe and note things through description, not through assigning a judgment through words and phrases such as “exceeded expectations,” “beautiful” and “universal.” These words (found in several stories this week) assign a value to something and that’s not our job. Show through description “the red, brick building.”

Editors need to be catching these things.