10 Things every college paper should cover…but many don’t

Note: This “post” will be in three installments.Yesterday were the obvious, today will be the less obvious and Friday will be the often forgotten.  Please comment liberally.

Today we are looking at beats you may not be covering or may not be covering correctly.

Athletics

The college newspaper sports page is more than just games. In my experience as a college editor and adviser, the most recognized and memorable stories didn’t involve a contest or contests at all. The best sports writing transcends the schedule and looks at people, places and things. Think of it like the Grammar Rock noun song with cleats.

In 2009, I read a story by Jordan Larimore and Brennan Stebbins of The Chart at Missouri Southern. I was their adviser and they asked me to give it a look. It was explosive.

It was about two football players who were graduating (with eligibility) and asked for permission to contact other programs within the conference about football scholarships while attending graduate school.

The players were different. One was white. One was African-American. One was an All-American, I think. One was an oft-injured journeyman. But they wanted the widest latitude to pursue grad school.

Missouri Southern, like many other programs would do, said no to the request to contact other conference schools. But The Chart covered the story. They did it well in about 1,200 words is all.

After I read it, I said, “I just got the first look at first place in sports writing at MCMA.” I was right, too.

The story was long, controversial, unpopular and got me summoned to the offices of the AD and the vice president for academic affairs. But it was accurate, ethical and well done.

And it wasn’t a gamer.

Look for the feature about the bare-footed kicker or the old man who comes to every game. Incidentally, those were award winners for a young woman who knows next to nothing about sports.

Look for features on the walk-on, the long snapper or the guy that carries the water bottles. Look for stories about the stadium, the locker room or the dorm room shared by two players.  Look for rivalries, mascots and rituals. Persons. Places. Things.

The Noun of Sports Writing.

The student activities organization

Oh, boy, can this be fun and be problems.

So often as student editors and advisers, we say “Here is an event. Preview story. Event coverage. Done.” And we have missed the boat.

I remember a college that hosted a HUGE comedian. The paper did a nice preview and had a review of the performance that was glowing. Then…they ran a story with the headline: “George Carlin: Funny man, big numbers.” And they showed how much it cost for that appearance. How much it cost of student fees.

Was it worth it? That is the reader’s call. But it is the paper’s job to report it.

The student activities organizations control a large amount of student money. Don’t they bear watching?

OK. So maybe you cover those. And maybe you cover them well. But next is one that only two papers in the MCMA that I know of cover at all.

The state legislature

As far as I know, only The Chart at Missouri Southern and The Maneater at Mizzou cover this beat with anything close to regularity.

That is a shame.

Every campus paper should have someone on this beat. Even if they don’t cover the legislature completely, they should follow the bills, meetings, deliberations and actions of the higher education committees and the appropriations committees.

Even if your paper is a long distance from the state capitol, most states have bill tracking websites and other online resources to follow things. And, believe it or not, the phone interview is still a viable option. Use it. Call state officials. You will be surprised how often they call back.

Now comes one we see often. But needs a re-think

Campus security/police blotter (done right)

Virtually every college paper has a police report or security report section.  Virtually every one doesn’t use it to its full potential.

When done correctly, this section of the paper is at times hilarious, beautiful, disturbing and a great resource.

The other descriptors aside, use this as a resource. Look for trends. Is one parking lot experiencing more car-related incidents? Are there fewer security cameras? Any?

And look for gaps in the information flow. If your campus uses a computerized system, look to see if there are gaps in the report numbers. Do they give you reports XYZ10001 and the next is XYZ004? Where are the other two? Call them on it.

Another good story is comparing Clery Act statistics between campuses. It is all public record.  Remember, documents are just as good as quotes. Sometimes, even better.

Tomorrow: The often-forgotten beats/topics

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