Category Archives: Design

Engaging the audience: a progress report

Dear Student Media staff:

This will be a long message, so flag it to read later when you have a few minutes.

TL;DR? There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Student Media. While we’re all striving to do better in so many areas, it’s important to recognize where we’re making strong progress in engaging our audience.

Now, please indulge a little narrative of how I came to write this message.

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“How do I report all these facts if I can’t write a long article?” Here’s how

You can learn a lot about design from the Focus page in the Orange County Register. But that’s not what struck me when I saw this page in Focus editor Charles Apple’s Twitter feed.

OCR Focus 5-23-2014

What I see here is great ammunition for my campaign to kill the news “article.” So this post is for my fellow revolutionaries. (I know you’re out there, plotting quietly.)

Print this Focus page, share it and hold it in reserve for the day (the first day you ban “articles,” I suspect) a reporter comes to you and says, “What do you mean I can’t write a long text article? I know it’s not a compelling narrative, but I’ve got a lot of facts here that people need to know!”

Facts? This page has got ’em. Details on each of five major campaigns in World War II. A map of internment camps. Statistics on medals. Good reporting has been done, which underscores a point my advising pal Erica Perel from The Daily Tar Heel tweeted after my first broadside against the boring article: Read the rest of this entry

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. Read the rest of this entry

NOLA Notes: What’s your above-the-fold rating?

One in a series of post from the zillions of words of notes I pounded into my laptop at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

Erica Perel showed us a front page from The Daily Tar Heel, the excellent (and Pacemaker-winning) student newspaper serving the University of North Carolina.

Perel, the DTH’s newsroom adviser, described that particular edition as a “really good daily paper.” Above the fold were a good centerpiece feature with a photo of a giant pig, a football story and a strong news lead. So where did it rank on the DTH’s 1-to-5 “above the fold” rating?

She gave it a “3.” The reason why it’s not a “4” or “5” is important.

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