Five things every college newspaper should cover

ImageHow would you like to be the star of your next pitch meeting?

I am going to pay for that lede tomorrow. Some student in my Reporting for the Media class will gleefully tell me I should avoid question ledes.

But the question stands. Would you, punk?

Then pay attention to the following five topics/stories that can give your college paper some real punch.

1. IRS Form 990s

Some of you are going to say, in your best Ronald Reagan voice, “There you go again.” And, yes, I bang this drum on a regular basis. But the stories that are there to be had are so good and so ready-made that only fools would ignore them.

So. Here I go again.

The IRS requires non profits to file Form 990. Think of it like your tax return. The form lists revenues, expenses and the salaries of top officers. And more. The information is fascinating. Especially when compared to previous years’ forms in the context of trends.

The form is public record. You are entitled to see it.

The biggest entity on your campus to file one is likely the college or university foundation. Is your school’s endowment going up or down?

So this must be a lot of work, right? No. www.guidestar.org is a clearinghouse of this information. It offers a free account that will allow you access to PDFs of non profits’ 990s. You can view, save and print the forms from the past three fiscal years.

You could compare your school’s endowment to similar institutions, look for trends and track the foundation’s contributions to student scholarships, for instance. It takes about an hour’s work and it could make your editor-in-chief think you are a genius.

2. Administrative salaries

Everyone knows that college and university faculty and staff haven’t been getting regular raises. And, in most cases, neither have the top dogs. But what do these folks — especially the president — make?

This is also public record — if it is a public institution. An open records request for contracts is the most thorough way to go, but not the only way to remove the epidermal layer from the person of a feline.

There is a quick and dirty way to find college and university presidents’ compensation information. It is so simple, it is embarrassing. Go to www.dhe.mo.gov and go to the “Research and Data” tab. Now click on the “Presidents and Chancellor’s Compensation Survey.”

And boom goes the dynamite. You now have salary and compensation information going back to 2005. You can see base salaries, housing and car allowances and much more.

2(a). Head coaches salaries

Also public record. But alas, no real handy link like above that I have found. Here you have to request contracts. But wouldn’t it be cool to compare your conference’s head football coach salaries?

Added bonus: This will send your AD and SID straight to the bottle.

3. Compliance

Speaking of the AD and SID, this might just be a positive one that brings them back from the abyss.

A student of mine actually thought of this one, too. The Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University was off the charts bad. But it raises the question for schools big and small, “Do we have safeguards in place?” and “Are we doing everything we can with regards to compliance?”

I suggest a profile of either/and/or the school’s director of compliance or that department. What do they do exactly? Have the rules/regulations changed?

It is a little-covered area and it could bring about a real cool story. And it will most likely be positive. Which will dry out the AD and SID.

4. The changing business of higher education

Wake up. Really. I know that header is boring. It nearly put me to sleep. But it is a good story.

My Missouri college and university friends should look at the course redesign initiative currently going on. It would radically change the way we deliver a college education.

The Sept. 12 USA Today had a great front-page story about MOOCs. That acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses. And they are gaining ground.

If you want to see them in action, try udacity.com, coursera.org or edx.org.

The story about them quotes an official at Moody’s Higher Education as saying, “MOOCs represent a rapidly developing and emerging change and that is very, very rare.”

In other words, a story.

5. Your state higher education governing board

In Missouri, this is the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. And last week, the CBHE began discussing its appropriations recommendations for fiscal year 2014 (page 7 of 107 is the agenda). Sounds like news.

Your college or university president was either in attendance or has been thoroughly briefed.

Everyone is talking about this year’s budget. Wouldn’t it be cool to talk with authority about next year’s budget?

Bottom line

Listen. I know I sound like a faculty member talking about news about which the average student doesn’t give two shits.

But you are already covering that stuff as a matter of course. This is the stuff that does a few things that set you and your paper apart.

First, it expands your readership. All those boring “grown ups” on and off campus will read it.

Second, it shows your ability to cover complex, hard news and provides the kind of clips that stand out to hiring editors.

Lastly, these can be really fun to do. Believe me.

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