The Line. 04.25.12

The Line.  04.25.12
The Good. The Bad. The Shorthorn.

The Best Thing in the Paper: “Last-stitch effort” was a nice treat of a headline in today’s paper. Thanks to Erika Dupree for finding the unique photo on an undercovered area, and to Bryan Bastible for the clever play on a phrase we know well at the end of the semester. Continue reading


Convention notes: Requesting information is part of the job

ImageBy Bryan Bastible, Shorthorn copy desk chief

“From Grubbies to the Web: How to acquire government data and post it online,” presented by Dave Cullier, University of Arizona and the SPJ national treasurer

Cullier is the director and associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he teaches computer-assisted reporting, public affairs reporting and access to public records.

He co-authored The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records. He also has a blog.


  • Having access to new data allows you to respond/engage readers online.
  • You should be able to take data and have it posted online within three minutes
  • Remember that anything in a database form has a paper file, don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Know the law (guide here) and your rights.
  • Carry a flash drive with you. It keeps people from using the excuse of having to print things off. All they need to do is throw it onto your flash drive.
  • Take an hour a week to submit a FOIA. It keeps you constantly reporting things. He said if you find one story a week from the FOIAs, then that’s 52 stories a year that you didn’t know about before.
  • Avoid PDF forms. When you fill out an FOIA, give plenty of options like email, CD, envelopes, etc.
  • When filling out a FOIA, provide a CD with a self-addressed envelope. It’s completely free to them then, and it’s one less excuse they can use for getting it to you ASAP.

Don’t know how to post things online? Here are some programs to look at for posting things/databases, etc.

Things The Shorthorn can do:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for documents, even if a FOIA is required. Filing a FOIA can seem scary at first and might prevent some people from filing it. However, it’s just part of our job, and it’s a resource we can use to go beyond surface reporting.
  • Know the laws. Sometimes, we’re afraid to ask for certain things because we don’t really know if it’s our right or where our boundaries are (myself included.) If we know what our boundaries are, what kinds of meetings we can and can’t go to, (which ones are closed to the public and why, etc.) then we are fully doing our job. An example could be the Student Service Advisory Council meeting that is coming up. It closed its meetings to The Shorthorn. Can it do that?

Excellent question, Bryan. Which others do you wonder about? Be sure to post and comment your ideas and questions about this post.

Look for more convention notes to come.


Convention notes: Stick close to the beat, says Pulitzer winner

By Bryan Bastible, Shorthorn copy desk chief

SPJ Region 8 Convention opening session with Ruben Vives, a reporter with the L.A. Times

Vives was part of a pair of L.A. Times reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a city council in a suburb of Los Angeles that was receiving triple-digit salaries and a city manager who was making about $1 million.         

  • Vives  said he found out the story idea through his beat reporting. He said he would go to city council meetings and be the first one there and the last one to leave. He said people remembered that other reporters would leave after the first 10 minutes of a meeting but noticed he would stay during the entire meeting. He said it was a way to get his sources to trust him and talk; it was a way to prove he was sincere about the stories.
  • He said once he found out about possible corruption, his editors didn’t think people would care because it was only a suburb. He kept bringing it up to them, but they would rather he report on other areas. Regardless, he did more digging and uncovered more and what the actual corruption was.
  • He said after winning a Pulitzer, there’s so much more pressure because your expectation level for everything is higher.


  1. Remember to keep doing your day-to-day job of reporting. Don’t let editors and sources keep you from doing what you are here to do: report.
  2. There is no dumb question. Go ahead and ask. What’s the worse thing that could happen, they don’t answer it?
  3. Take advantage of the opportunity now while you still can. He said who really knows where newspapers are headed? Take advantage of your opportunity as a journalist while you can. Use your power as a journalist while you can.
  4. Never let an award go to your head. They’re just plastic.
  5. You owe your job to the public (readers.) Remember that. We serve them, not the other way around.
  6. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut. He said his original assignment for the suburb he was covering was to find a feature story, but he kept going back to the possible corruption — and he was right.

Things The Shorthorn can do:

  • Never let an award go to our head. We’ve won a gold and silver crown along with a heap of awards at TIPA. We’re good, and we know it.
  • Go the extra mile in beat reporting. Go to the meetings no one else goes to, that’s where we’ll find and meet new sources and find the stories that haven’t been told. For example, Graduate Student Senate meetings. We haven’t reported on them recently. What are some issues graduate students face?

Thanks, Bryan. Watch for more convention notes as our delegates file their reports.Thoughts? Leave a comment!


The Line: Today’s best work

The Line. 01.17.12

Congratulations on a great first issue. I’ve seen folks picking it up across campus – pretty cool. You’ve given them good reason. And now, a drumroll, please …

Arlington resident Jacob Bradford, 15, hurdles over a hand railing Saturday in front of Carlisle Hall. Bradford and Arlington resident Will Williams, 18, right, like to preform parkour at UTA because of the really creative structures on campus and the thrill it provides them. (The Shorthorn: Richard Hoang)

 The Best Photo in the Paper: The parkour wild art found by by Richard Hoang on Page 2. It’s active, unexpected, and captures PEOPLE DOING THINGS on campus. That’s what makes for good wild art.

Note: Photos today were … interesting. We found the right moments — the football tournament, move-in, textbook purchasing — but the photos didn’t have the zing that comes with consistent composition. The key is to get people in their element doing the unexpected; find the moment over the topic. See below for more detail.

The Best Headline in the Paper: We had solid headlines throughout the paper, but “Residents go all in at center” best sold the story it was on to the reader. The story it was on is about campus residents enjoying an evening of fake gambling to test the new CPC. “Go all in” brings a double meaning, when interpreted as how the university is putting many of its eggs in the CPC. Good job, Bryan Bastible. Another good headline led the Sports page, “Basketballs bouncing both ways,” sold two stories – it did a nice job of summing up both the men’s team’s success and the women’s team’s not-so-successful work so far this season. Good job, Francisco Villarreal.

bike graphic The Best Design Element in the Paper: I learned a lot in this paper, but a nice “surprise” for this reader was the map showing different bike racks on campus (Page 12). It was detailed, included information about the types of bike racks, and was a nice “slice and dice” piece (meaning as a reader, I’m going to cut this out and use it frequently. Thank you Sarah Lutz and Lorraine Frajkor for pulling this together.

Note: The graphic worked because it included reference points that were easily identified — buildings and street names. Other graphics didn’t work as well — the map on the same page showing the location of a proposed apartment complex showed the location, but not its proximity to something students easily would recognize. Remember reference points provide context in your graphic.

And … The Best Thing in the Paper ….

Krista Torralva’s gripping lede and writing in “Sorority mourns ‘loving’ member’ ”  on Page 1 was a literal page turner. Krista did a wonderful job in interviewing key sources on this story, which unfolded tragically during the winter break. Krista took her time and developed sources who were not ready to talk until recently, which culminated in some amazing storytelling through their eyes.  This quote … “I texted back, ‘I’m sorry your uncle is acting weird,” Garcia said. “I ever heard anything again.” Is both chilling and good foreshadowing. Nice work finding a way to update the story without repeating what has been reported in other media.

Note: The vigil, which is the most timely element in this story, needed to be included in a nut graph on Page One to let people know why they are reading this now. Don’t forget the basics, especially when pushing narrative form.

But that wasn’t all …

Holly Ward did a great job explaining how methane emissions in landfills can be turned into electricity (no easy thing to describe succinctly!).

Tra Nguyen found a way to report on the private event at the College Park Center even though she and Casey Holder couldn’t get in. They set up camp outside and interviewed folks as they went in and out of the event. Good job finding a way to do the job we needed to do.

Betty Rodriguez had an interesting take on exercise with her workout trends illustrations on Scene (Page 6).

Randy McVay had a great lede on his women’s basketball story  — it summed up the story concisely and accurately. (see Page 15)

(Don’t forget to get the full critique, posted on the wall by my office in the newsroom.)


Internship: The Working Press

Folks, here is information on a wonderful internship through the Society of Professional Journalists. The organization’s national convention draws thousands of journalists, and SPJ selects 12 students from schools across the country to produce a newspaper covering the convention. It’s fast-paced, a wonderful place to show off your work to people in the field, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Information on how to apply is below, but be sure to talk to Bryan Bastible. He interned as a copy editor for The Working Press this fall during the New Orleans convention.

SPJ is seeking 12 interns for The Working Press, a daily tabloid newspaper and online news site, that will cover the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference. Collegiate student reporters, editors, photographers and designers are invited to apply for these select positions. This year’s conference is set for September 20-22 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. For more information, click here.


From the SPJ national convention…

Hey Shorthorn staff:

I’m psyched to be back in the newsroom after an exhilarating few days of walking and talking journalism with the pros during the Society of Professional Journalists national convention. Over the next week, I’ll post notes from about 14 sessions to this blog. Be sure to share anything you really like.

I brought back copies of The Working Press, the daily newspaper covering the convention. Our own Bryan Bastible is one of 12 students from across the nation working to produce the newspaper each of three days. I have days one and two posted on the bulletin board as you walk into the newsroom. check out the students’ work. PS: This is an incredible opportunity for students – the application process for next year will start in the next month or so. Be sure to pay attention for updates on the deadline. Among the things Bryan has to brag about when he gets back: Rich Holden, executive director of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund internship program, was his adviser and critiqued his resume. Talk about an opportunity!

I also brought back Monday’s edition of The Times-Picayune, the incredible daily newspaper in New Orleans. It’s posted on the wall by my office. This is a wonderful news organization … and one that has internships available. Be sure to check it out and apply during internship season.

More to come!


The Line. 11.09.10

The Line. 11.03.10

Some notes on today’s paper!

Best thing in today’s paper: The Page 1 headline – “Stage is set/for budget/reductions”

Why? It was specific, clever and illustrated clearly where the cuts were impacting the reader – in the plays students produce and they watch. Also, it was the only headline on Page 1 that made me want to read the story (it was the first story I read). Nice work, Bryan Bastible!

Best story: Vidwan’s Page 1 story about the Theatre Arts Department cuts. Vidwan had a tightly focused story that gave no more information than the reader needed, and no fewer information than the reader wanted. The entire story focused on the impact of the changed budget, and left out information that didn’t adhere to that focus. What resulted were relevant quotes and data (including the budget amount), and an emphasis on how students are impacted. Nice job. Read it here.

Best photo: Minasi’s Page 1 photo of the prep student enjoying her time in the art studio. Lighting plagues the photo, but Michael found a nice moment and captured it. Note: Please, please, please correct lighting situations BEFORE you shoot, not in the production process. We have mobile lighting equipment that you can use outside of the studio. Check it out for assignments you know will be difficult to light. Also, be sure you’re manually focusing – not auto – for specific situations.

But we have some things to work on:


Clarity matters:

The DREAM act story was wishy-washy on where the act was in the process. In the first three graphs, we use “will,” “if passed,” and “enables” interchangeably to describe what the act – which has not passed – would do. This is inaccurate and confuses the reader. Adjust all language to where the act stands now, then adjust tenses according to what your sources are saying.


Bryan’s headline shows what we can do when we illustrate/sell the story we have (not the story we want it to be). Think about whether the headline you’re writing fits the story in hand and not the budget line. That said …

“High-scoring students/consider Maverick life” = double meaning for high-scoring. Avoid double entendre

“Transient Artists” = transient is most frequently used with homeless people. Think about common use, not just technical definitions.

“Volunteers brawl for local charity” = A boxer will knock you out if you call his training and workouts only good for a “brawl.” Technical matters here – brawls are rowdy, unorganized chaos. Boxing matches are organized and generally well controlled.

Page 1 headlines used the word “students” FIVE TIMES. It’s used two more times in the entire section. Don’t bore your readers with repetitive headlines. Get creative.

Page 2 headlines = “Hefty” is an opinion. Don’t editorialize. Also, headline needs to say the news. Grants are generally used for living expenses and research…what’s new here?

Show, don’t tell:

Our stories have been reading like essays lately – a no-no in a newspaper. (Examples: High-scoring students, LARPing, the P1 standalone package, Toastmasters) Instead of the writer explaining the importance of something, the impact of something or how something works, let your sources say it in their voices. For example, in the LARP story (a GREAT story find, by the way), the writer devotes an entire section to explaining how the game is played. So much so, the explanation pushes the sources’ voices to the bottom of the story! Instead, let the action and characters/sources SHOW the reader through vivid description of the events at play. Doing so in the LARP story would have trimmed 12 inches naturally and cut out the section that reads like we wrote it for English class.

Develop your anecdotes:

If a source tells you that the support system has been very good for her at UTA (Page 2 story), we need to ask the questions to draw out specifics – What’s the support system the source is relying on? How does it help? What are her concerns/worries? Providing the detail will allow us to care about this person and relate to her. The more your readers connect to your stories and sources, the better credibility and need you create with them.

The LARP story is another good example of needing to develop anecdotes. If you’re going to start with fireballs flying in an imaginary world of fighting, you dang well better tell me where they landed and who died! See the attached page for the redeveloped lede that Will came up with after we completed the anecdote he started in the published lede.


–        Don’t run photos that don’t have some sort of action or information in them. Four of our eight photos today were people standing and talking. That’s pretty boring – and doesn’t sell the story you are illustrating. If you have dull photos with no action, it’s time to reshoot the assignment. Or shoot new art for standalone. Shooting the a different “Guy at front of room” is not going to improve your skills. If an assignment is not photo-worthy based on the photo assignment, go find better content to shoot. Don’t wait to be told. Just go find it.

– Nothing above the fold today made me want to pick up the paper. Headlines were weak, photos were muddy and didn’t show action, and story selection didn’t emphasize your student readers. Fight Night and theater would have made good selections for your readership, based on the first several graphs.

Let’s pick it up. Every day is a new opportunity to tell and show good stories on our campus!