Kill the news article! (Or … How to save news writing)

We need to abolish the news “article.”

Maybe all of us in journalism should. But I’m pretty positive we in student media should. Why?

  • The biggest writing problem I see in college media, up to and including the elite publications, is that we try to force basic facts into a false “article” narrative. The writer, especially a new writer who of course is assigned a less-than-inspirational set of facts to assemble, battles bravely. He inserts transitions. He throws in quotes because, well, you’ve got to have quotes. It’s too long, and it’s boring. But we told him to write an “article.”
  • Our biggest design problem (except at a very few outstanding programs) is that those “articles” are accompanied by photos and graphics dreamed up after the fact — or at least separately from the reporting process — to “illustrate” the boring text. We all want to smartly integrate design elements and text, but how often do we accomplish that goal? Is it acceptable to fail at this?

Update, April 11: Bill Neville at the University of Alabama-Birmingham points out that the Poynter Institute’s “Eyetracking The News” study found that readers remember more information from a collection of facts arranged in “alternative,” more graphically appealing forms rather than in a traditional news story. So it’s not just about enticing them. It’s also about how much we help them.

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Why You Need Time Management: Spend Your Time On What Matters

 I’m rather defiant about my self-diagnosed attention deficit. I like to hop around from topic to topic — except when I like to drill  like a laser for hours on something important and ignore absolutely everything else. I suspect a lot of college media leaders are like that. I suspect that, like me, they need some time management tools so their joyful work style doesn’t overlook important tasks or deadlines or otherwise blow up in their faces.

I’ve never been able to find a book that I thought applied directly to the time management challenges of a college student working as a media leader. So when I decided to cover this topic at our in-house “Leadership Academy,” I resorted to writing a brief guide based on my own attention-challenged experience. I call it:

“@adviserdavid’s Guide to Setting Priorities and Managing Your Time … or, When You’re Up to Your Ass In Alligators, It’s Hard To Remember That Your Job Is To Drain The Swamp.”

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We can moan about news rack pickups, or we can do something about it

How would you like to add 700 students to your next issue’s readership?

How big a story would you have to splash on your cover with bold, exciting art and type?  How long would it take to build an editorial operation that could pull that off every issue?

News flash: I handed out 700 papers last Thursday.

Personally.

As an experiment, I spent about three hours repeating “Have a paper” to students walking between classes, waiting to get on a shuttle bus or on the way to lunch. Our administrative assistant found a good spot at lunchtime and handed out 350 in less than an hour. Our combined 1,050 papers would boost even our best rack pickup numbers by 25 percent.

So I know what I’m going to do about the ever-declining number of students who will look at a newspaper rack.  I’m hiring (at modest stipends) student “street teams” who will cheerfully hand out papers, engage students and post observations to social media.

Can’t afford the hiring? Maybe your staff will pitch in. My staff has, but not the hours at a time I think it will take to do this right.  They are too busy with classes and their demanding student media jobs to be street team members. If volunteers aren’t the answer and you can’t afford hiring, ask yourself: Can you afford to watch your readership continue to drop?

Of course this isn’t the whole answer. The paper still needs to interest the student who allows me to slip it between two fingers she extends from her coffee cup. Erica Perel’s great advice about your above the fold rating still applies. But if the paper interests that reader, I think she’ll be happy to accept it from a street team member whenever it’s offered.

A year from now, I think I’ll be spending considerably less money stocking racks. Racks that don’t post big numbers will be phased out. Time and money will be diverted to student-to-student distribution.

And if some business wants to buy a sponsorship on the street team T-shirts … OK, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Accountability to whom? #collegemedia leadership thoughts

The student leaders at my new college media home could teach seminars on collaboration and accountability. In the absence of a full-time adviser for almost a year, the five department heads who form the executive board of Georgia Southern University Student Media ran a twice-a-week newspaper and four once-a-semester magazines, produced digital extras, recruited and trained new staff — and met twice a week (at 8 a.m.!) to make sure it all got done without inter-departmental warfare. They squarely and calmly settled disagreements and called each other on unmet commitments.

It’s because they are so good at this that I can afford to think mostly about another question as I prepare to train future leaders of our program. Yes, it’s absolutely critical that college media leaders be accountable to each other. To whom else do we owe accountability?

I’m thinking about framing this as internal vs. external accountability. Here’s my first pass at defining those external constituents:

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Native advertising: A new road to revenue or a slippery slope? This week’s debate in tweets and links

This week’s day-long Federal Trade Commission discussion of native advertising set off another round of debate, so it’s a good time of another installment of tweets (many with links!) about the direction of advertising and the precious dollars it brings to news media, including college media. (Earlier installments: worries about mobile and some hopeful signs. )

Why does this matter for college media? As I reported in the earlier post on increasing digital revenue, Ryan Frank of the Emerald Media Group at the University of Oregon sums up the feeling about native advertising:  ”Most people hate it. But banner ads aren’t working … we’ve got to do something.”

On to the tweets (only half a dozen) …

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NOLA Notes: Figuring out how to make digital dollars in college media

We’re in the home stretch of my posts drawn from my (obviously) voluminous notes from the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.  After’s today’s post, I plan one more on new revenue streams outside of print and digital advertising.

When newspapers started confronting the new realities of advertising, their chiefs lamented they were trading “print dollars for digital dimes.” Then commodity ad rates online plummeted, and people started talking about “digital pennies.”

But we know we’ve got to turn those pennies into dollars (exactly when is a question for another day).

I hope my headline doesn’t over-promise. No one has figured this out. But some smart college media people are “figuring,” and I’m passing along some of their thoughts in notes form.  Some of these points appeared in earlier “NOLA Notes” posts but bear repeating in this context.

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NOLA Notes: The audience loves entertainment; is that scary or exciting?

Another in a series of posts drawn from notes taken at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

When the talk at the “Reinventing College Media” workshop in New Orleans turned to how much college students love entertainment news, The Daily Utah Chronicle General Manager Jake Sorensen said what I was thinking: “This is scary.”

Scary because most advisers and student editors live and breathe “hard” news. Hand over our front page to concert previews? Never!

But I was much less frightened after the day-long workshop. So here’s a brief summary and some thoughts of my own:

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NOLA Notes: Winning the local digital audience when news isn’t breaking

Another in a series of posts drawn from my notes at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

We’ve established that breaking local news is critical to your success as a digital news outlet on campus. But news isn’t “breaking” all the time (unless you’re an annoying click-baiter). So you need to do a lot more to be part of the daily digital diet of your prospective audience. This post is full of suggestions from several leaders in digital-first campus media.

First, two quotes to encourage any journalist worried about whether “social” is taking over “news.”

“Quality matters.” — Erica Perel, newsroom adviser, Daily Tar Heel (serving the University of North Carolina).

“So do what the college press always has done. We were hyperlocal before the term was invented.” — Omar Sofradzija, editorial adviser, The State News (serving Michigan State University).

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#collegemedia Thanksgiving turnabout: Do we deserve our audience’s thanks?

This Thanksgiving, why should our college media audience be thankful for us?

Permit me to offer three reasons — and to encourage you to think about how well you’re earning each category of appreciation from the members of your audience.

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NOLA Notes: Tips for “owning” local breaking news online

Another in a series of posts drawn from notes taken at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

“Meaningful, local, breaking news works. … Once you break it, you own the story. People keep coming back to you.” The words came from Ryan Frank, president of the Emerald Media Group (serving the University of Oregon), and I heard no disagreement from any of the digital-savvy college media folks in New Orleans.

This means jumping onto big news in a big hurry, but it also means re-thinking coverage of scheduled events, like SGA meetings and sports. If you’re looking for big-picture thinking on a digital-first structure, this earlier post is for you. These are some examples and tips:

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