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.

– – – – –

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 richcamron@gmail.com. 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. (richcamron@gmail.com).

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


Badges, we need badges

September 30, 2019



Many of today’s students –certainly not all– come to school with the mindset of “what is the minimum I have to do to pass this course.” I understand why, they have busy social lives and probably a full schedule, some even have part-time jobs that eat into their day. But school should not be a chore, it should be an opportunity to learn as much as you can.

Students would rise in the ranks from Intern, to Cub Reporter, to Byline Reporter, to Columnist, to Editor, to Publisher by earning points.

How do we motivate students to do that? Well, there are a lot of experiments going on, such as flipped classrooms, but they do not really address the question of motivation. I’ve long advocated the concept of gamification of teaching. That is not to say education should be a game, but we can use game elements to help motivate students.

In fact, one mass media survey course assignment I use when teaching is a group exercise where, as part of the assignment, the team of students develops a game to demonstrate what they have learned.

And even before I even knew the word gamification I created a game-like simulation to help teach news gathering and news writing skills (see CITYCOUNCIL). That project, first created in HyperCard for the Mac in 1989, has since been ported to a website. It takes students through the notes of “last night’s” city council meeting. Students can also call and interview sources for a story that they are to write. The story can follow one of up to 12 story lines, or be more complex and cover all the main actions from the meeting. (I used it as a major assignment that used  a multi-element lead where the student combined similar actions by theme; it was based on a city council meeting I actually covered while working for a newspaper.) While a bit dated, it is still used by journalism classes and political science classes for free.

The project dominating the creative half of my brain these days is a newspaper mystery game designed to promote the social media sites of student publications. I’ll write about it later.

Another idea I have thought about for a long time is to create an in-house gamification tool to motivate student publication students to do more than the minimum. It would take an idea from online games that is gaining popularity in STEM programs: competency badges.

It is also an idea I was first introduced to in my short stint in the Boy Scouts of American as a kid.

If I were to actually create the badge system for student publications I would probably develop at least four families of badges: one for writing and editing, one for photography, one for design, and one for multimedia development.

The badge system could be tied into grading for thew course, or be a separate entity within the course.

Much like the concept of levels in a digital game, badges allow users to get more powerful the more badges they earn for the experiences they have in the game. In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs, the idea is being developed to have students earn competency badges they can carry with them to the work world. An automotive repair student might earn, for instance, a badge in carburetor rebuilding by demonstrating the minimum level of skills in a course. By earning the badge, which verifies the student’s skill, an employer does not have to rely on a glorified resumé or exaggerated interview.

The same could be done in a beginning news writing course where the student could earn badges in interviewing, lead writing, AP Style, etc. My current idea is to create a badge system for student publication sites to encourage students to do more than just the minimum amount of work.

If I were to actually create the badge system for student publications I would probably develop at least four families of badges: one for writing and editing, one for photography, one for design, and one for multimedia development. Of course, there could be multiple families in any of these four areas. For instance, in writing and editing, you could develop sub families for news, sports, opinion, and features/arts/entertainment. In multimedia you could split design, audio/podcasting, and video/vodcasting.

Rather than competencies by tests or demonstrated skill, I think the motivation would come from getting students to trying more and more. For each story the student could earn points by completing a story that goes into print, goes online, is promoted through social media, re-shared, and for online views or Twitter reposting. I’d also look at other elements of a story for added points: Is there an illustration/photo with the story? Did the reporter actually interview someone for the story or merely aggregate news from other media sources (reward actually interviewing multiple sources)? Were there even any sources at all? Maybe true headline writing could be factored in –so many headlines today are merely descriptions and not true headlines.

The badge system could be tied into grading for thew course, or be a separate entity within the course.

Students would rise in the ranks from Intern, to Cub Reporter, to Byline Reporter, to Columnist, to Editor, to Publisher by earning points. Make the jump from Intern to Cub Reporter easier than from Columnist to Editor. The more stories they do, and the more skills they display in those stories, the higher they climb. By creating an in-house game, you encourage students to do more. As a colleague of mine once pointed out to me, quantity does not mean quality, but quantity leads to opportunity, and opportunity can lead to quality. Reward the students for displaying admirable journalistic qualities.

A lot of student publications today use WordPress as a backbone for the online site. That makes it logical to start such an idea by creating a WordPress plug-in. And since organizations like School Newspapers Online  host a lot of student newspapers, it would be a logical organization to develop such a tool.

The plugin would need to scan the site and somehow scan the story (say, for sources), or allow an instructor or editor to enter a value. It would probably also have to scan other media sites, which could be self-indentified in the site setup to do as much automated calculating as possible, and then develop reports and award badges at predefined stages. Some manual input might need to be available for print versions of a story or design. A visual badge of the student’s current level could be displayed by the story’s or photo’s byline.


Monitoring college student publication sites

September 24, 2019

I am perhaps as my happiest in life when I am a man of ideas. As a teacher I had many ideas for livening up my teaching –such as CITYCOUNCIL and my as yet unfulfilled Newspaper Mystery game.

A lot of those ideas started off small, with the intent of meeting a need in my classroom. But I often then realized that if they worked for me, they might work for others. So I have been bold in putting my ideas out there for anyone who wants to benefit from them, or even copy them and adjust them for their own classroom circumstances.

I also felt as an instructor that I wanted to learn from others’ ideas as well. During my 40-plus years of teaching community college journalism I made it a point to visit other programs and breaking out of the silo of my own program. Of the 113 California community colleges, about 55-65 have active journalism programs at any give time. And of those, I think I managed to visit nearly 40 newsrooms at one time or another. Early on I tried to pick up at least one idea from something I saw there.

And I have often felt that my students could learn from other students. That is why I started about five years ago monitoring the online student publications from other California community college programs. And eventually I started looking at the Facebook sites and Twitter feeds of those publications and then Instagram sites. And then I started looking at online student publications of selected California universities.

I would have added SnapChat sites to the list, but there is a special problem with doing that that I will outline below.

I both wanted to learn what other staffs were doing so that I could give my own students ideas for stories and wanted to see how the output of my own students compared to that of other programs.

By collecting story ideas and numbers of posts I could add a new dimension to my teaching. For instance, if my students wrote a boring version of, say, a student government meeting I was able to point them to innovative versions from another school. And if they posted 10 stories a week to their publication website when other programs of similar size were posting twice that, I could motivate them to try harder. In my weekly publication critiques I shared those numbers with students. (And I am pleased to say, that my students often fared well when compared to others. Hint to other instructors: I often found a way to include good numbers in my regular program reviews, even though they weren’t asked for.)

Numbers were a big part of my critiques. Numbers of stories, numbers of sources, percentage of news vs. opinion stories do not in and of themselves do not add up to quality, but as my colleague Walter Hammerwold once pointed out, high numbers add up to opportunities, and opportunities can lead to quality. My PDF critiques eventually included a By The Numbers breakdown for every issue. Besides, reporters need to learn to pay more attention to numbers — ever hear of data driven decisions?

Monitoring other sites also gave me a unique understanding of what is/was going on in student journalism across the state. For instance, as I write this post I know things like

  • The Santa Barbara and Peralta Community College districts are going through budget crises right now (other districts may be going through them, but few student publications are covering them);
  • IT: Chapter “ is the most reviewed movie currently and nobody seems to like it;
  • Few community college publications tweet stories, at least through their official sites, and when they do it is often to give blow-by-blow of football games and board of trustee meetings; and
  • El Camino College’s Union covers campus crime like no other publication in the state.

I monitor the sites daily because, like e-mail, the list of stories can back up quickly if you don’t stay on top of it. I see headlines for upwards of 100 stories a day from student publication sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram sites.

I wish I could explain how I choose student stories to share –I am asked from time to time. I haven’t figured it out yet. It is a more of a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.

I can do this because of RSS feeds automatically developed by those sites. I have gone through several RSS readers over the years to do this and move on when something is updated or not updated that causes them to fail. I’m currently running all the feeds through LuckNews on my Mac Notebook. I am exploring different readers for my iPad as I do more and more work on it.

In addition to monitoring the sites, I choose a few stories every day to repost on my Online Elsewhere Facebook page that anyone interested is encourage to follow. (I know students are migrating away from Facebook, but they should stay for this page.) And this school year I have started an Online Elsewhere email newsletter where I share links to stories about journalism education, links to three-to-five student stories, and links to new additions of complete issues of the print publications on issuu.com. I currently share it mostly with other community college instructors, but will be glad to share it with others if you contact me.

I’ve also started monitoring some other sites, such as the California Community College Athletic Association for news about college sports that students might like to have access to, the Student Press Law Center website and the Journalists Resource website for stories that can help community college journalism programs.

Because of RSS, I can do all of that by checking in for five minutes or less three or four times a day. Other journalism education stories come to me through e-mail from Google search alerts. (And tips from other instructors.)

I no longer collect post numbers. It is a bit more tedious and requires a regular schedule for checking in. (That was particularly challenging when I spent a month cruising the Adriatic sea and was several time zones away.) I had to collect the numbers and pop them into an elaborate Excel spreadsheet that I created. Besides, I don’t know if having numbers actually mattered to anyone but me so I could include them in my critiques.

I don’t include the popular SnapChat sites mostly because I haven’t figured out how to RSS the sites and if stories disappear quickly my information would be out of date almost instantly.

I’d like to run more news about community college journalism programs if other instructors (or student editors) will stare what is going on with their programs. (Notice the theme of sharing?)

I wish I could explain how I choose student stories to share –I am asked from time to time. I haven’t figured it out yet. It is a more of a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.

I know that:

  • Campus stories are more likely to be shared than off-campus stories where no one on the publication actually interviewed anyone (happens too often; I used to count sources in stories for my students — see the By the Numbers sheets).
  • Transportation stories of all kinds attract my attention.
  • …As do crime stories and campus governance stories.
  • …And new angles on student homelessness; everyone has a food bank by now and some schools have clothes closets.
  • Everyone has college fairs, transfer fairs, and job fairs these days and all the stories sound the same
  • Everyone is doing Guided Pathways, but I don’t see much unique in coverage.
  • I rarely run sports stories about games from any sport (they all sound the same after a while), but may choose unique features.
  • While I notice movie reviews, I rarely run them other than to point out trends.
  • Breaking news can be big, but when everyone is covering, say, the climate week strike, only the first few stories to get posted are likely to be chosen.
  • Opinion stories have to cover an interesting angle to get my attention.

Finding RSS feeds is relatively simple. Not all web services provide it to their clients, but if they do I can start with a simple URL and plug it into my reader to see if it can and a feed to capture. For services like Facebook I use the online program Fetch to find the feed. Facebook is funny; it depends on whether site was set up as a page or a group and if the name has been changed at some point. I just isn’t possible to get feeds from some sites.

It would be interesting to have access to reader engagement information for all of the sites I cover, but that would require individual permission from each site and would work only if the schools have set analytic collection. And then I would have to determine which analytics are most important.


What is a generally excellent publication?

September 2, 2019

When I was teaching I taught my newspaper staffs, news writing classes, and mass communications survey classes that the goal of a news publication should be to be generally excellent. Some publications will have star reporters, photographers, or designers that would add to the identity of a publication, but what the reader/consumer deserves is a publication that does a good job across the publication in storytelling. The challenge comes when you try to define what generally excellent means.

It is a topic still on my mind as I regularly monitor online publication sites of California community college publications and produce a newsletter focused on community college journalism education and maintain a Facebook site that reposts stories from student publications.

There are many definitions of what makes a generally excellent publication.

  • Is it the way it looks (design)? Is it the scope of stories it covers, and what does that mean? For instance, does it cover a wide range of topics or does it focus on its geographic community? Should it repackage news from larger organizations so readers who don’t read other newspapers get at least some international, national, and regional news? Or should it focus on hyperlocal news?
  • Is it how well written and edited those stories are?
  • Is it all text, or does it provide a visually convenient way for its readers to find and understand complex stories?
  • Is it investigative or does it focus on covering events? Does having a major catastrophe happen locally give some publications an edge?
  • How about its editorial leadership?
  • Does its frequency make a difference? After all, some student publications come out as often as weekly (daily for some universities) while other have cut print versions to few and far between, if at all, relying on a digital distribution. (As an instructor, I found it difficult to motivate students to think about the demands of an online publication when they did not have a print version demanding a specific timeline. For instance, an event story can go online the same or next day, but if the print version of the publication was a week away then students took much longer to complete event stories.
  • Does the number of news stories it covers matter? And how about its balance of content. Beginning student journalists are more fond of writing opinion stories that require little or no extra information gathering on their part or “news” stories that repackage news from other sources, neither of which requires them to actually get out and talk to sources.
  • What role does consistency play? Any staff can put full effort into one or two issues, but maintaining consistency of excellence is much more difficult, especially with staffs rotating in and out every five or four or five months.

The Journalism Association of Community College for nearly seven decades has honored outstanding student publications with a general excellence award. Probably in the early 1990s it started adopting a definition of general excellence along the lines of the Associated Collegiate Press association and looks at five categories of excellence:

  1. Coverage and Content
  2. Writing and Editing
  3. Range of Opinion Content
  4. Layout and Design, and
  5. Use of Photography, Art and Graphics

Over more recent years JACC has lowered the threshold of how many issues a school year a publication needs to publish to qualify and has effectively jettisoned any distinction between broadsheet and tabloid publications. It still “discriminates” between print publications and online publications and holds a separate contest for online publications and print publications and offers a separate contest for online publications using similar criteria as that listed above. And online general excellence is considered when adding up sweepstakes awards.

It has wisely abandoned a horse race view of general excellence whereby awards were limited in number and there was a distinction between first, second, third, etc. place and decided to set a standard and award all those who met the standard, knowing if the standard was low enough that everyone easily met it then it was time to tighten the standard to encourage growth.

And while it has opened up its individual and writing and photography contests up to online entries –despite online audiences having different habits than print audience– it has not yet taken on the next step of evaluating news organizations as integrated units.

I used to teach my students that news publications served (or ought to serve) multiple roles to their audiences, too.

I argued that news publications serve a political or watchdog role, an economic role, a sentry role portending future trends, the traditional historical or record-keeping role, an entertainment role, a social role, and a marketplace of ideas and leadership role, among others. (For example, one could argue that the role of a print newspaper is to provide fish wrapping material. My mother used to use the newspaper as a source for grocery coupons, but I would include that in my definition that encompasses the economic role.)

Also big with me was the scope of sources students used in writing their stories. Part of my grading criteria included whether students actually talked to multiple sources for each story, or did they rely on what I referred to as “bogus” or “indirect” sources, sources where they merely quoted other publications. I guess you could call them primary vs. secondary sources, but that allows for their “primary” sources to be people, such as their friends or family, who had no direct knowledge of the story.

I was so focused on use of sources that major part of my weekly critiques of student work included counting up the number of sources used in each story in the publication. Knowing that some articles, such as opinion pieces, often did not include direct sources, I then emphasized the average of sources per story throughout the publication. If it fell below 2.0 then we either had too many non-source stories (balance) or we weren’t reaching out to enough stories. And I also noted that since we considered students to be the largest portion of our audience and most stories impacted them, then there should be student sources in most stories.

As I mentioned above, I run a newsletter and maintain a Facebook site that routinely looks at online versions of news written by California community colleges. One of the disturbing trends I see is the number of repackaged stories and opinion stories included in those publications. Outside of sports stories, there are relatively few original news stories. (And when it gets to sports opinion and arts opinion, students seem to focus on professional sports and non-local arts stories.) Many of those display and disturbingly small number of direct sources.

Allowing student staffs to write repackaged stories does have value in giving them curation experience, and those stories MAY be of more interest to student readers. (An early editor who influenced my journalism education told me once that there were two types of stories readers should be exposed to: the ones they want to read and the ones they OUGHT to read.) But I wonder if we are training our students in the journalism tradition when we fail to push them into the uncomfortable role of actually talking to sources.

And I wonder if a publication that overly relies on opinion stories and non-original/second-hand stories is truly generally excellent.


Teaching tip: Break out of the silo

August 29, 2019

The office silo

A longtime soapbox issue for me is that too often we journalism faculty silo ourselves and our programs.

It is natural. Increasingly colleagues on our campuses –and especially the administrators that run our schools– fail to understand our roles in teaching journalism. Administrators see our programs merely as public relations outlets rather than legitimate attempts to teach our students to report what is actually going on and what truly is important to them. (Increased administrative control at Liberty University story is an example.)

And when we get into the news publication classroom we are there to guide our students into producing a product. It is easy to put blinders on and focus on the task. Being a journalism teacher can be a lonely, unsung career.

We need to break out of those silos so that we can become better teachers. Journalism organizations such as the Journalism Education Association, College Media Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Scholastic Press Association, Journalism Association of Community Colleges, California College Media Association intuitively know this and schedule conferences and conventions throughout the school year to bring like-minded colleagues together. These gathering typically are aimed at students, but they allow teachers to congregate, commiserate, and learn from each other.

But these gatherings are too few and are too far in between. More is needed. Not just for us, but for our students as well. And with tightening educational budgets, many schools are finding them too costly to attend on any kind of regular basis. As a young teacher I was excited when e-mail became a thing so that I could communicate with fellow journalism instructors at other colleges whenever I encountered a new situation. The Internet has brought us social media groups we can join for similar interactions.

Two other inexpensive ideas I tried work with during my teaching years were the Editor Exchange and Lunch Bunch.


One of the benefits of organizational conferences for students is that they get exposed to ideas and staffs from elsewhere. As good a teacher I believed I was, there is so much more students can gain. Mixing with students from other staffs will show them that the problems they face are not unique and the solutions they found are not universal.

But, again, conferences are too few and far between. And they usually come near the end of semesters. So I tried to work with area schools to set up field trips. I would take my editors –the whole staff was just too much– and have them meet with another newspaper staff for an afternoon. We teachers could leave the room and not worry about any specific agenda; the students could work that out among themselves quite easily. I found it helpful if the host school could supply pizza and sodas.

Then the next semester we would reverse it and the other school could send its editors over to meet with my staff. This was always harder as it is easier to host than to take an afternoon away from your college, especially if your students are producing a weekly publication. I often found that the home-and-home attempt fell apart when you invited the other school to join you … but not always. (And I always enjoyed seeing another school’s newsroom where I inevitably stole –er, I mean borrowed– an idea for mine. Not taking the effort was their loss.)

My students found these exchanges valuable and made new friends, some of whom they might run into when transferring to a university or working together on their first jobs. I actually tried to schedule more than one a semester with multiple schools. Finding a non-production day that worked for both schools was the tough part.


And if students could benefit from interaction with students from other schools, the same could be said for instructors. For instructors we set up what we called Lunch Bunch. Either monthly or every other month during the school year we’d schedule a lunch get together with instructors from as many nearby schools that made sense. Again, no agenda was needed. Just schedule a lunch at an area restaurant and those who can make it will. By holding it regularly you picked up some instructors who had to miss because of something extra scheduled that day. We became friends, shared what was going on in our programs, and commiserated. You no longer feel like you are alone. And, I believe, you become a better teacher.

– – – – – –

The whole idea is to break out of the silo of your program and your campus. I think you can take it further, by collaborating with other staffs to take on big stories that affect students on both campuses. But that turns out to be even harder to coordinate. The two ideas above only take a little time and initiative.