The Sunflower at Wichita State: A testament to how journalism should work

The Sunflower at Wichita State is continuing to update readers about the funding situation it finds itself in.

Today’s editorial is a blistering example of how to lay out the facts and drive home a point: Behind closed doors, the people responsible for an equitable distribution of student money are lining their own pockets while cutting things they personally dislike. Here’s the best line of the piece, for my money:

It’s interesting how that works. The very organizations entrusted to equitably distribute student fees decided their own organizations deserved more money than those who had no say in the matter and weren’t even allowed to witness the deliberations. The only organization with a platform to question that decision was recommended a massive, intentionally-destructive cut.

Can you say self serving?

The Sunflower staff members, however, know that fire and fury alone isn’t going to get the job done. Overall, the paper is also providing readers with great examples of how to do journalism right, even when you become the story.

Here are a couple great things the staffers have done that serve as good examples for other writers:

Stick to the facts and let them do the work for you: I often have to tell students that they need to just let the facts speak for themselves, because the more they inject opinion or hyperbole in a piece, the less I want to hear what they have to say. This often happens at the end of some beginning-writing stories where students will write “summary paragraphs” like this one for their news stories:

In sum, it is important that people donate blood, as it’s not only lifesaving but it’s the right thing to do.

I often refer to these closings as “One To Grow On” closings, calling back to the 1980s PSAs where “stars” of the day would “guide” young people away from making bad decisions during a role-playing exercise. At the end, the “star” would make the case about how good it was that the kid did what he/she was told, ending with “And THAT’S one to grow on!” Seriously, it got really annoying:

(That’s right kids! Tootie from “Facts of Life” wants you to avoid smoking!)

It’s the same thing in sports where people decide to slather on the adjectives and adverbs to try to make something sound incredible. Often, if you just tell me a fact or two, particularly if you place them properly in the story, I’ll get the message.

This brings us to our ongoing look at The Sunflower at Wichita State and the attempt of the student government to slash it’s budget. Rather than grouse about everything happening, the staff members of the paper have been writing just what happened and letting the readers figure out if this is a hatchet job or not.

In one case, they literally just lay out each statement the SGA made as a part of the fee cuts and then fact check each statement.

However, my favorite use of facts to just drive home the point is this use of two simple statements that run back to back in an update of their situation:

Funding for other programs would have increased with the proposed budget, like Student Affairs, which was recommended an increase of $118,811.

Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall is the chair of the Student Fees Committee.

Just read those two sentences over again and let them sink in. No build up. No superfluous writing. Just….


Open records are your friend: Of all of the strange things that have emerged in this story, the strangest might have been a 1977 memo from the Kansas attorney general that gives some cover to the SGA for closing its meetings. (Feel free to click here to see how that all unfolded, as well as a great example of how polyester made a mockery of us all…)

OK, if we can’t go to the meetings, The Sunflower staff figured, let’s see what they’re going to talk about instead and share it with the readers.

The staff used the open records law to get the whole binder of funding requests the committee would be reviewing and posted the whole thing online. In looking at the budget for student affairs, the staff discovered that while the committee would cut The Sunflower budget by about $50,000, the Office of Student Affairs would see an increase of more than $118,000:


(The thick black line separates the 2017-18 actual budget from the 2018-19 request. Each column moving back from there is the actual funding for each previous school year.)

Not only is the division seeking to have its budget increase by a six-figure sum this year, this would be on top of a nearly half-million-dollar increase from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Collectively, the SA’s office, whose vice president (Teri Hall) sits on the fee board, will see almost $600,000 more in its coffers over a two-year period if the budget goes through as it stands. In addition, the specific line item attached to Hall’s office accounts for approximately $32,000 of this year’s increase.

As we’ve noted before, documents are amazing tools.

Keep telling stories that matter: It would be easy for the staff of The Sunflower to get buried in this story. Heck, I know I am and so are a lot of you if this freakish spike in blog traffic is any indication. Consider this “global” interest:


That’s right. We’re killing it in Somalia and Bahrain…

The point is, the staffers know they aren’t the only game in town and that other things that matter are happening. The Automotive Engineers got hit hard by budget cuts, the oldest literary journal in the state might die as a result of budget cuts, the 11th-ranked men’s basketball team lost the conference title by a single point and the team celebrated senior night as well. That’s just a taste of the great stuff the paper has produced, all while being the center of attention for a reason they’d just as soon get past.

At the end of the day, this paper is a testament to how journalism should work.





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