Archive for October, 2019


Linking pro/con articles online

October 23, 2019

As I routinely review California community college online student publications I have noticed that that those that those publications that like to include pro/con articles in their print editions make a serious mistake when they move those articles online.

pro/conWhen they pro-con articles are run in the print edition, they are run side by side, but there is no side by side when you move them online. They are separate articles and those readers who read one article do not necessarily read, or see, the other article. The effect of the pro/con is lost. It would be simple for those publications to add a link to each other, but publications most often do not. That is perhaps because online editors (or student reporters) are not thinking about their readers’ online experience, they are simply archiving their print stories.

It would be an easy step to take, but it requires developing an online mind-set.

In fact, many student publications miss out on helping their readers find related stories completely. If there is an on-going story the publication is covering each story over time is separate, but there is, or should be, a relationship.

And the linking should go both ways. When a new article is linked to an old article, the old article should get a link to the new one. With an online article you never know how the reader gets to the article. In fact, it is common for a Google search to drive a reader to an old article. The Cuesta College Cuestonian recently noted on its Facebook page that its most-read article (with nearly 1,200 views) is a five-year-old story about math requirements for graduation. Today’s newspaper staff may not know that the story even exists, other than because of analytics, but readers keep coming to it.

Now, it may be unrealistic to add links to all past stories where conditions have changed* –the reader has some responsibility is recognizing the publication date and employing some critical thinking– but if you have a current evolving story, it could be helpful to the reader to know what has happened before. Evolving stories should have a summary paragraph somewhere, but even summary paragraphs are weak on details.

One community college publication that does a good job with including links, either from its own publication or to other publications that perhaps serve as sources for the story, is the Santa Barbara City College Channels, which has been an online-only publication for years. At one time at least, the publication had a policy that all submitted stories should include a minimum of two links.

(The Channels also does one of the best jobs in the state in coving campus governance.)


*And we certainly don’t want to be be George Orwell’s Winston Smith, whose job is to rewrite old news stories so that they reflect today’s reality to have always been this way, in the book Nineteen Eighty Four, A Novel.


Sports game story leads

October 22, 2019

Which of the following is a better sports game story lead?

Sophomore quarterback (player’s name led the (team name) to a rout in their conference opener against (other college) with four touchdowns and 261 passing yards.


(Unnamed College) women’s soccer put together a solid team performance as they defeated the (other college) women’s soccer team 2-0.

Despite the obvious common noun-pronoun error (a team is an it, not a they while most team names are plural and can use the plural pronoun) in the second example,  both do the job, assuming that when the contests were played ran in the second paragraph. The first lead could be better with a score, but that, too, could be saved for the second paragraph.

Note: College names and the athlete’s name were redacted to avoid any embarrassments.

Both are examples of actual sports story leads that were run by community college student publications in this week (fourth week of October 2019).

While both do the job, the first lead arguably is better because 1) it avoids the all-too-easy formula that all sports leads could use of “Team One beat/lost to Team Two by a score of … , and 2) it what is unique about this sports contest.

That is not to say that a team effort is meaningless, or that the the team effort did not stand out, but putting people in leads often is more interesting than the alternative.

The same holds true for many news stories. Most campus news stories involve or impact people. Leads that tell readers that real people are involved, perhaps people they know or who are like themselves, often make for better stories.


Critical review leads

October 21, 2019

Which is the stronger critical review lead?

From Fox Searchlight Pictures and interestingly enough Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, comes “Jojo Rabbit” an anti hate satire, directed and written by Taika Waititi. The film stars the director himself, Roman Griffin Davis in his first professional film, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson. Other recognizable actors are Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson.


Listening to Frank Ocean’s new track ‘DHL’ feels like glancing at an orange-yellow sunset in the rearview mirror with a dark purple night sky in the road ahead of you. 

Both do the job. One might argue that the shorter lead is more effective. It is, but not because it is shorter.

I regularly review stories from California community college student publication websites and limited university student publication websites for my Online Elsewhere Facebook page and Online Elsewhere daily newsletter*. I’ve left off the names of the authors and schools because it is not my intent to embarrass the student of the JoJo Rabbit review.

Both leads above were from community college papers in the last week (fourth week of October 2019). Both reviews were well written, but the first one is better because it gets to an opinion in the lead. I call it the editorial opinion: the main point of the opinion piece.

A review is an opinion piece and opinion pieces should emphasize opinion high in the story. The JoJo review took six or seven paragraphs to get to the opinion. Yes, often some background is often necessary to bring the reader up to speed on the subject, but it is the opinion that counts.

When I was teaching I regularly lectured students on how to improve their opinion stories, especially critical review stories where some students believe a movie review is a linear explanation of the plot with a “this was a great movie,” or some other similar statement, at the end.

A critical review, just as with editorials, often need some plot or context, but the review should help readers know whether the movie/concert/album/performance/video game/book/etc. was good or bad and why. Sometimes the best reviews are for something you don’t like where student writers seem to have no shortage of opinion.

One of the best critical review leads I ever saw from one of my students read:

I’ve never wanted to do blow more than I did after seeing “Blow.”

From there you want to know why the author felt that way and are more likely to read the review.

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I’m interested in expanding the readership of my Online Elsewhere newsletter, so if you are interested in receiving the five-day-a-week e-mail newsletter contact me at The newsletter, which is still evolving, includes links to journalism education stories from around the country, California community college journalism program news, occasional teaching tips, and links to interesting stories published on community college student publication site the day(s) before. You can also access repostings of these links at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges website   (Look at the menu bar).
See a related post: Monitoring student publication websites

Newspaper Mystery Game

October 13, 2019

I have been giving a lot of thought recently to a project that has been pinging around in my head off and on for the last four years. I call it the Newspaper Mystery Game.

The idea is to build a program that helps college newspaper publications engage readers with their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, InstraGram, SnapChat, etc.) by solving a campus-based mystery. Each of the media sites, along with the print publication if one exists, would be used to direct readers to clues for solving the mystery. It would be up to the publications to promote the game to their readers, though I would probably also provide schools with publicity suggestions. I hope to localize the mystery by engaging augmented reality using campus landmarks. The storyline would be constructed such that there could be multiple outcomes to the mystery based on clue sets that would vary from campus to campus.

I would hope to make the game free to community college (and possibly other campus) publications, though I would have to find some way to offset costs for creating and maintaining the game on servers. I’ve already got a few ideas on that, including exporting the game to small community commercial newspapers if it works as hoped.

Thoughts lately are illustrated in this mind map about all the logistics that need to be worked out even before the storyline is constructed. (I love mind maps, as they represent the way I think.)

There is a lot in this project that I know can be done, but as yet I have not learned how to do. If someone reading this post is interested and would like to partner up, either as part of a think tank or to contribute skills that can help it along I’d be interested in hearing from you. (

It may take me a while to a while on my own to develop the skillsets to bring the project to fruition, if ever.