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September 24, 2008

Public Editor

Here are my comments on the 9/24/08 UMD Statesman.

--Chris Julin

I LIKE IT

The news section is impressive this week — six stories. As I read the paper I feel like the Statesman is plugged in and paying attention to what's going on. I feel like reading the paper is going to clue me in to events I missed this week at UMD.

I like the cover and the layout. The paper looks professional and it's eye-catching. The Student Life page is especially nice this week — photo, graphic, nice balance.

The call-out box with "Construction quick facts" is effective. It gives me a fast, digestible sense of the big projects on campus. (I wonder if the EnergyStar story could have benefited from a similar graphical element.)

I really liked the lead in Travis Dill's White Iron Band preview.

The outlaw country rockers of the White Iron Band stumble back into town to release their fourth album, "Devil's Sweet Revenge," Friday night at The Rex.
It's breezy and readable, yet packs lots of information in a little space. The choice of the word "stumble" tells me a couple of paragraph's worth about the band.

THINGS TO WORK ON

The news felt a bit on the reactive side. That is, the stories seem to be driven by staged events and announcements. The news will always include some of those, and that's fine. I wonder if there's a way to step away from such an emphasis on that style of reporting, though. Perhaps reporters (and editors) could try using an event as a jumping off point for a story instead of using it as the centerpiece of the story.

I think lead writing could be stronger. This issue has a bunch of topic leads. Something along the lines of: "On Tuesday, the chancellor held a news conference to announce a big new thing." You'll see what I mean if you look at the stories about Anfinson. architects, the health care panel, and the volleyball team.

Take the Anfinson story as an example. It might have started with Anfinson's assertion that alternative media reporters are not journalists. Or with his argument that youtube (and by extension, the Web) are killing our culture. That would pull me in as a reader.

I also want to read the most surprising and interesting developments in a story up top. Or at least have a good hint that they're coming. In the National Science Foundation grant story, for example, the fact that the grant is aimed at recruiting and retaining female scientists is a fascinating and crucial fact. I'd put it in my lead and my headline.

And finally, I'd watch out for question leads. They feel formulaic, and they get old really fast for most readers. Both stories on the A&E page start with questions.