Archive for October, 2007

Put attribution at end of headlines

October 30, 2007

Put attribution at the end of headlines, not at the beginning as we did today. That way we are focusing on the thought, not who had this thought.




Emily tells interesting stories

October 30, 2007

Emily Zulz continues to write top-notch stories. She does a terrific job finding an angle, or person, that characterizes her assignment. Today’s precede on the EIU Pride event easily could been flat, resulting in a dull story that mostly cites facts and meeting times. Instead, she sought to find a story that helps characterize this event (bless you!) I LOVE stories, just love’em. And I’m not alone. Let’s continue to find and tell them to our readers. That’s how we learn about the world, through stories. Or is it really through Facebook? Hmmm. Anyway, make sure you read Emily’s terrific precede, as well as some of her other work. They are worth emulating.

Here is the beginning of her story.

Mason Abernathy cannot find high heels in a women’s size 16, extra wide.

He also is not sure yet if he will wear long gloves or get his nails done.

However, he said he does have a “wonderful” black and white dress.

Abernathy, freshman undecided major, is participating in “Hug a Queen or King.”

EIU Pride will host the event today in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union walkway outside the University Food Court.

Queens and kings will be available for hugs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m.

“I’ll be Miss Beautiful there,” Abernathy said. “That’s what you can call me.”

The event is part of Pride’s celebration of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month, which ends Oct. 31. LGBT History Month started on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day.

Local angle … specific examples … research … quotes … oh yeah, we’ve got ourselves an editorial

October 30, 2007


Today’s editorial includes good research, perspective, context and solid insights. The editorial offers specific examples, good sources and good writing. Plus, we offer a suggestion. We had ourselves a nice, relevant edit today, folks. Good job.

Here’s the context (or thesis)

Four people of the 11 in the board did not show up.

Apparently, the responsibility of managing more than half a million dollars for the campus is not enough to encourage people to show up for the meetings.

A quorum for the AB is eight members, and only seven showed up.

This includes specific examples.

Three absent members gave reasons for not coming – Pat Lindstrom, Karen Gaines, and Laurel Fuqua.

Fuqua is a non-voting member, so her absence did not cause the failure to make quorum. Her excuse was also much more reasonable than Lindstrom’s and Gaines’s – Fuqua’s daughter was having a recital, and she wanted to attend.

Lindstrom’s and Gaines’s excuses were “schoolwork.”

And later, we add more details.

Last year, AB forced University Board to cut $77,000 from its budget. That is not a small change. It caused a real reorganization of priorities for the UB.

We also have a nice conversational tone.

Understand, these meetings are not very long. With little new business, a meeting may only last 15 minutes.

Plus, we offered a suggestion, which is really a warning.

This is an organization with a great deal of power and influence, and one that needs to be active if it is to have any effect.

Leah Pietraszewski, chair of AB, said last year that she plans to strongly enforce the attendance policy.

This means that three unexcused absences result in removal from the board.

The board should start looking before we reach a crisis point.

‘The Onion’ offers humorous, candid lessons about journalism

October 29, 2007

This story reveals how The Onion can teach journalists how to cover the news better. Uh, huh, we’re talking the newspaper that satirizes the news in a candid, irreverent style — the same newspaper that is growing by leaps (and, yes, by bounds).

But type “best practices for newspapers” into Google, and The Onion is nowhere to be found. Maybe it should be. At a time when traditional newspapers are frantic to divest themselves of their newsy, papery legacies, The Onion takes a surprisingly conservative approach to innovation. As much as it has used and benefited from the Web, it owes much of its success to low-tech attributes readily available to any paper but nonetheless in short supply: candor, irreverence, and a willingness to offend.

Readers of The Onion — and the Daily Show and Colbert Report — are among the most informed people in the country. We should all investigate and analyze the news as deeply as The Onion (although, we should not add the fictional elements in our stories.)

Active voice rules (sometimes)

October 24, 2007

Andy Bechtel, who writes about copy editing issues, discusses the age-old debate that pits active voice against passive voice. As always, he offers great examples and clear explanations.

Passive voice is scorned by those who say it removes the action from a sentence. Some even see bias in its use, and it can be a way to obscure who’s doing what. “Mistakes were made,” someone once said. But who made them?

I’ve added his blog to the roll on the right under Editor’s Desk. Check it out from time to time.


Go deeper, longer when developing feature leads

October 23, 2007

Slow down. Breathe. Okay, now you’re ready to tell us a story in a much more relaxed and confident manner, a story where we are drawn in right away (“Once upon a time..”) and one where conflict and tension abound (“he held the knife over the child’s head”).

In non-deadline stories, we should not rush to tell every major detail as we do in breaking news, or chatter like a small child who seeks to tell everything in one lengthy, breathless sentence. We can move more slowly in non-breaking news writing. We can introduce a character, a compelling plot line, or reveal conflict — the same elements you’ll find in any good story.

Consider the following story:

Martina Celerin started out as a scientist, not an artist.

The visiting artist gave a lecture at the Tarble Art Center Monday night that highlighted her work.

The Coles County Spinners and Weavers Guild sponsored the event.

This writer jumped into the story much too quickly. We get a very brief introducton before the writer abruptly leaps into the fact this person spoke at an event. You can slip that in later. (There’s also no need to cite an event’s sponsor.) At events, your job is to find a good story, trend or angle. News rarely breaks at these events, so approach these stories like features. Call experts ahead of time, and phone other sources right after these events. Do not just act as a stenographer, repeating whatever anybody says at these meetings and events. Check out the page on the right (Covering Meetings) for more tips and suggestions on turning event stories into news features.


Some questions to consider when planning the section

October 22, 2007

Here are some questions to consider when planning the daily section and when proposing stories for the week. These comments were taken from an editor on the Innovation in College Media site. Click here to read the full posting.

**What’s the most helpful or informative piece we had in the paper?
**What’s the most distinctive story aimed at our college audience?
**Something I learned from today’s paper.
**A lede that really works.
**A risk with design, photography or writing.
**A photograph that tells a story in itself.
**Eye-catching design in the newspaper.
**A headline that grabs readers into a story.
**Mistakes to learn from and avoid next time.
**Other special praise.

Bad Pedro, but good editorial

October 22, 2007

We did not unfairly attack the University Board for the Pedro fiasco this weekend; instead, we offered our commentary inside an editorial that folded his unimpressive performance inside a piece that also addressed all the fine things presented during the weekend. To have ripped into a single event would have been unfair; instead, we offered an editorial that had better perspective. Good job.

We need to think harder on some news decisions

October 22, 2007


We buried a major story in briefs this morning, the one where $1 million was donated to the university. That’s not chump change, folks. That’s a helluva endowment. This is a story worth at least the lead story on page 3. We received the press release Friday, meaning we could have spoken with key people through the weekend for a more fully developed story for this morning. The release had a pretty darned good angle (and a picture).

CHARLESTON – Harold and Lois Joseph’s decision to leave their estate to Eastern Illinois University was based primarily on their love for a woman who graduated from the institution more than a century ago.

Charleston resident Mary Coon Cottingham attended the opening of what was then Eastern Illinois State Normal School in 1899. A few years later, she began attending the teacher’s college, graduating in 1904.

Thirty-two years later, in 1936, Lois Cottingham – Mary’s daughter – also graduated from her mother’s alma mater.

Both women shared a fondness for writing. Although Lois was a math major, in training to teach, she worked on the staff of the student newspaper – the Eastern State News — where (according to the school’s yearbook) “her services (were) outstanding.”

We could have played off that angle or found another. Perhaps, that she was a DEN alum. (We also failed to cover Ted Gregory’s induction in to our journalism hall of fame, offering only a stand-alone picture and a short cutline.) We absolutely should have dug into the endowment story and given it the play it deserved.

Nice masthead

October 22, 2007

The masthead was nicely designed last night.