Ten things that college journalists mess up that drive me BSC (Yes, it involves a bat)

September 11, 2013

APStyleThere are some things that college journalists do that drive me crazy. And not just regular crazy, but eyes rolling back in my head, bat scat fever crazy.

I was going to do this with just stylebook issues, but let’s see where my rant takes us.

Join me after the jump for all the stuff you guys are doing to kill your clips.

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Inevitable new school year story ideas that suck, but don’t have to

September 11, 2013
Sometimes those rookie ideas are worth a deeper look, Mr. Kotter.

Sometimes those rookie ideas are worth a deeper look, Mr. Kotter.

Every year, in my beginning reporting classes, I would survey the students about what stories they would like to see covered in the campus newspaper.

It was the usual roundup of stuff that pissed them off.

Parking. Food service sucks. Campus police are dicks. Athletes get to enroll early.

The first two are almost universal and in that order. The third is not far behind, but usually related to the parking gripe. That last one was a new one, with a bullet.

This is some boring stuff. A news outlet isn’t someplace to air your bitches about things you don’t like. But each of these topics has story possibilities. Think back to your first survey class in journalism. What are the news values? If you consider proximity, timeliness, impact, prominence, novelty, conflict and emotion, these topics might be worth considering.

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And the year begins: The dreaded ‘Freshman Quote’

September 9, 2013

Back in the stone-age times that were my undergraduate career we feared nothing more than being tagged for employing a freshman quote.

That is what the editorial staff and adviser called it when a writer repeated verbiage from a transitional paragraph to a quote.

Anderson enjoys fishing in his spare time.

“I enjoy fishing in my spare time,” Anderson said.

Here is one from an article in one of Missouri’s  best college papers (I am not calling them out publicly) that drew a face slap from me because the online version had the duplicated phrase almost physically one on top of the other. Here it is:

As of the first day of the fall term, Director of Housing and Residential Life John Buck said Webster University had maximized every bed on-campus to house the incoming freshmen class.

“We’re housing more people on this campus than we ever have. We’ve maximized every bed space,” Buck said. “We had a number of late-applying new freshman and late-applying new transfers that were from out of state… so we had to scramble.”

How do you fix this? You either paraphrase or change the quote’s set-up. Try something like this:

As of the first day of the fall term, Director of Housing and Residential Life John Buck said Webster University faced a challenge in fitting in everyone.

“We’re housing more people on this campus than we ever have. We’ve maximized every bed space,” Buck said. “We had a number of late-applying new freshman and late-applying new transfers that were from out of state… so we had to scramble.”

Don’t be a hater. That’s just off the top of my head, but you see the point, I hope. Redundancy does nothing for your reader, is lazy writing and invites trash talking from your newsroom buddies.
Quote freshmen. Don’t Freshman Quote.


Today day’s talk about yesterday’s va jay jay story

August 23, 2013

I spent the better part of my journalism pondering yesterday processing how I felt about the honi soit cover featuring 18 vaginas.

I like it. It was daring. It was creative. And it sparked discussion about how we view body parts/types and what is truly obscene and what is just what it is. And those are important subjects.

Was there another way to present the coverage? Of course. There always is. Is it better? Not necessarily. And sometimes you SHOULD be made uncomfortable. And, my dear students (and I can’t emphasize this enough), don’t EVER, EVER, EVER in your most insecure moments make a content decision based on how people — even your adviser — might react. That is the edge of the slippery slope to cowardice.

What if my students ran the honi soit cover with the vaginas?

Well, I would have called a good realtor. I would have gone to the liquor store. And I would have called Frank LoMonte and Michael Koretsky and said, “Guys, now I am really fucked.” Because I guarantee I would be fired. And if my students didn’t run it because they worried about those outcomes, they should be fired.

So there. I am good with the vagina cover of this paper. I ain’t a prude and I would sacrifice — and have — my livelihood to defend my students’ right to publish what they wish.  That being said, I got to thinking. Could the paper have been provocative in a more subtle way and been as effective?

The answer to that question isn’t simple. It is “yes” in that they could have gotten the attention of their usual audience, and delivered their message effectively. But it is “no” in that it wouldn’t have had the same play on an international scale. It wouldn’t have made College Media Matters and The Huffington Post and blown up on social media. It would have been just another college piece on an edgyish subject.

To illustrate that, I created two alternate covers. Two caveats. First, these were done quickly. I didn’t really take time with the finer points and I am not principally a designer to begin with. So don’t nitpick. Focus on the larger issue of whether tamer is better or not. Second, I promised three. I give you two. I got busy. I got tired. I got drunk. Take your pick. Sue me.

Truth is, I have a fantasy football draft to prepare for. Sad as that is to admit, it is true.

Look at these and see what you think. Personally, I would have gone with the vaginas and not lost any sleep. A job? Yeah. Sleep? No.

This is simple text with the key word front and center in pink. The idea here is to be understated but have the subject out front.

This is simple text with the key word front and center in pink. The idea here is to be understated but have the subject out front.

This one features a button expressing the central theme of the piece with a pull quote from the paper's editorial defending the original cover.

This one features a button expressing the central theme of the piece with a pull quote from the paper’s editorial defending the original cover.

 


The Vagina Dialougues

August 22, 2013

When you want to get readers’ attention, there are a few theories.hs2

One is that you hit them over the head with a sledgehammer, punch or kick them in sensitive areas of the body and set their hair on fire.

Another is that you provide a simple visual message that draws the reader in, provokes them and yet doesn’t have them running for an Advil, a fire extinguisher and a bag of frozen peas.

And both have their place.

The honi soit at the University of Sydney in Australia recently chose the former. And it is getting lots of buzz.

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Sleep is for the next life. Plan your college paper now

May 14, 2013

editor 2Commencements are pretty much over. And now incoming student editors need to commence their planning.

Sorry, gang, you don’t get a summer.

But The Old Newsman can help you out. He was there once. So here is your homework for the summer. And a lot of it can be done at a pool or sports bar. So stay with me.

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Terrorism, The Spaceman and a city you don’t want to mess with

April 18, 2013
You can't beat a city with balls and heart.

You can’t beat a city with balls and heart.

My wife hates the Boston Red Sox.
I don’t mean dislike, either. With the heat of a thousand suns-type stuff.
And the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon got me thinking.
I have loved the Red Sox since 1975. Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant. Carl Yaztrezemski — who once won a Triple Crown with a .301 batting average — Rookies Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.
And then there was Bill Lee.

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