The Filak Furlough trip to the University of Central Missouri really needed a two-parter, in part because there were really two phases to this: The “dude-at-podium” part that we talked about on Monday and the more relaxed part, where I got to hang out with the staff of The Muleskinner.
I have always loved student media, even when student media didn’t really seem to love me. To understand why would take too long to explain, but I believe in the idea that you really can make a significant difference in the lives of many people if you are a student journalist. I also believe that there’s no better place to learn your craft than in a student newsroom that reeks of old pizza, sweaty anxiety and deadline fever.
Let’s get going…
University of Central Missouri – Warrensburg, MO
THE TOPIC: Newspaper critique and editorial leadership discussion.
THE BASICS: One of the most important things I wanted the students (and you all) to know is that any critique I do is meant to look at things from a different perspective and help people get better. Yes, there might be some criticism in there, but it’s not about the workers. It’s about the work. As I said in the critique, “I have said to someone before, ‘That’s a terrible lead.’ but I’ve never said, “That’s a terrible lead and your haircut is even worse.'” The first one, albeit harsh, is about the work. The second one is a mean personal attack and I won’t ever go there.
So here we go…
A lot of what I talk about in critiques is based on critical thinking, particularly in terms of what people choose to cover and what they don’t choose to cover. In addition, I push a bit on the idea of how much space is dedicated to what kinds of things.
For example, we were talking about front page of the paper:
What I saw immediately was this amazing, locally drawn illustration that relates to the start of UCM’s welcome week. It was near the bottom of the page, while a photo of a ribbon-cutting on an aviation center that happened three weeks earlier was about the same size and near the top of the page. I asked why they went this route.
The answers were good in some cases: It’s a big project ($5.1 million), the area is really plugged into aviation and it made UCM the only university in the state to have its own public-use airport. These were all smart reasons for putting this story out front and getting it some major attention. On the down side, the image is well shot, but relatively common for a ribbon cutting and its also really old news. This is one of those moments where you might think, “How can I get the newsy stuff in the right spot while highlighting some very cool things that are unique to my publication?”
The suggestion I had was to push the illustration up near the top and package it as a centerpiece across the 4 or 4.5 columns of space available there, adding a little more information layering about the first week of school. Then you can run the airport thing down a 2 or 1.5 column rail that keeps the headline above the fold (kind of like what you have with the story in pink) and then strip the research story across the bottom, with the headline spanning all six columns and having the graphic breakout box in the last 1.5 columns of space next to the text.
If the airport story was really so important as to demand more attention, you could flip the whole concept a bit: Make a couple phone calls to airport folk to find out how things are going and give the story a quick refresh. Then, strip the airport story across the top, with a headline across all six columns, put the text below it across four columns and run the art in a two-column set up in the strip. Then centerpiece the illustration and run the research thing like you have it, but just lower on the page. Either way, you get more emphasis on one thing on the page that can really draw people’s attention: The local artwork.
We also talked about the arts page, which features reviews of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” My question was, again, why this and why now? The students mentioned that these were pretty big movies and they had people who like writing movie reviews. I agreed that they were big, but they were big three or four months earlier. Also, people could get this kind of thing anywhere, whereas readers could only get info about UCM from the Muleskinner. When it came to the paper, they got like one, 8-page edition per month to cover the entirety of the school, so is it a great idea to give away 1/8th of that space in this way?
This isn’t to say there wasn’t great content in this paper, as there clearly was. I loved the photos of the basketball team, the artwork out front, the features related to their sports fans and more. Even the BarbiHeimer page had a great local illustration on it. This isn’t about the idea of something being good or bad, but rather a question of asking why we’re doing what we’re doing. If you have good reasons for doing something, great. Do it. If you don’t, reconsider.
We also talked about life on staff and how people tend to burn out over time. The EIC was particularly stressed and I can understand why. The head editor has to deal with all the content, the people, the readers, the budget stuff, the administrators and more. This kind of “face of the franchise” stuff is precisely why I never wanted to be a chair, a dean or a chancellor. Well, that and I’d have to dress differently…
Rather than cover all that here, I’m providing some links to a few pieces we did back in the day about stress, burnout and college media.
- Part I: Taking a beating
- Part II: Why journalism students and student journalists get hit hard
- Part III: Definitions and measurements of how burnt you really are
- Part IV: Hints and tips for slowing the burn
In Part III, I have a link to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which allows you to test yourself for burnout in three key categories. If you want to do that and then want a copy of the decoder sheet, just hit me up via the contact page.
BEST QUESTION OF THE DAY: (This one came from the social media director Mingzhu Zhu, who was nice enough to share some photos of the events and make the promotional piece I put up on the previous post. She is a heck of a great media kid and any place out there would be lucky to have her after graduation.) I noticed that you’re only really on Twitter/X and LinkedIn for social media. Why are you using only those two platforms?
BEST ANSWER I HAD AT THE TIME: I’m really only on those platforms (plus Facebook) because that’s where my audience is and that’s where I can spend the most time effectively.
Knowing your audience and what they use is a key component of being effective on social media. I know I have a lot of current and former students on LinkedIn, who still read my stuff and like to learn from it. I know that I have both a broad reach on my regular Facebook profile and access to teacher-specific groups like Teachapalooza on Facebook.
Twitter/X is becoming more of a wildcard, and I’ve started to shift over to BlueSky now (same handle: @DoctorOfPaper), but the idea is that I still have solid connections there, and using that platform is a good way to share headlines and links. I’m able to track blog traffic to see where people come from and who shows up a lot. That helps me keep my focus on specific targets.
Also, these platforms rely heavily on text-based sharing, which is kind of my bread and butter. I’m not on Instagram that much because my images tend to suck and most of what we do here isn’t visual. I’m also not on TikTok, as it’s more video driven and meant for entertainment in a lot of ways, so it’s not something that fits my niche. Same thing with YouTube: I’m not doing vlogging.
Finally, I believe in making sure that I’m keeping an active presence on whatever social media channels I use. At a certain point, picking out too many channels will lead to a weaker overall social media presence across all of them. Even more, I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing five people across four platforms. There’s a law of diminishing returns when you start pouring tons of time into the social media landscape, so a more targeted approach that yields richer returns is what I feel is best for me and the folks who pay attention to me.
SPECIAL THANKS: I wanted to really thank the staff of The Muleskinner for making me feel like a part of the family. I do miss a lot of the best of student media and these folks really do represent the best of us:
ONE LAST THING: I have been working on the bats for people and have been making relatively steady progress. I not only managed to get the bat for UCM done before I got there, I managed to apply my extremely limited art skills and get a relatively decent recreation of their mule mascot:
I’m also waiting for mail supplies for the folks that got done earlier. We’re getting there…
More on the tour soon.
Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)