By Hannah Silvers
NEW YORK CITY — This morning was our newspaper critique, which I attended with our March 9 and Feb. 24 editions in hand. The advisor paired with me started off our session by silently going through each edition, examining every story’s headline, lede, graphics, etc., instead of giving them a cursory look-through like I thought she would.
It was a little nerve-wracking, but then she started with the complements and didn’t stop. Everything from the design to the breadth of subjects addressed to editorial judgment to the strength of the writing itself got nice comments from her.
I’ll break down some of the highlights here, then get into the opportunities for growth we talked about:
- DESIGN — She picked up the Feb. 24 edition as soon as she saw it and told me how much she loved the front page (the “Going local” story). Changing the flag and having so much color above the fold, she said, went a long way in making it attention-grabbing. Go Steph! She also loved the design of the Phoenix Focus, our Extras page on page 2, the teasers at the bottom of the front page, the cut-ins and the blue box behind Campus Voices. She commended our selective use of color in graphics (especially in maps and graphs), and she of course loved the “cover” page for sports in the March 9 edition.
- NEWS — I asked her specifically about the breadth of topics covered in news and whether she thought we were missing any pieces or spending too much time on others. She said she was impressed that we were able to cover so many things close to campus and that she liked that we kept the more national stuff like the Cheat Sheet and briefs shorter.
- OPINIONS — She was a fan of how we did our endorsements and loved the variety of people who contribute columns. The diversity of topics was also impressive to her, and she said she wanted to read all of them when she got to check out our website. The blue box separating Campus Voices in the March 9 edition also stood out to her.
- STYLE — The info boxes immediately popped out to her. She loved that you could immediately tell which articles were previews of events. She also said the big engaging photos were a good move, especially for dance concerts and stuff like that. She liked putting the headlines on those photos to make them more engaging. Also, I think she’d write an Elon Eats for you (apparently she was a food and wine columnist for years).
- SPORTS — She couldn’t get enough of the Phoenix Focus page, design-wise and content-wise. She also said we were really smart for running game recaps online instead of in the paper and using the space for features and preview stuff, which we already knew but was nice to hear confirmed. She also commended the photography in sports.
Most of these areas for growth we talked about were things I asked her, and most of them are ideas I/Tommy/other people have mentioned that I wanted to get her opinion on. Here are some of the highlights (I’m leaving out most of the specific critiques of these editions to save space and focus on the more overall comments. If you want specific feedback on these editions, hit me up and I can share with you what she said):
- I didn’t think about this before she said it, but she commented on the difference on the front page story between the two editions. On the Feb. 24 cover, we started the story itself in the far left column, while on the March 9 cover, we put the text-heavy part of the graphic to the left and started the story more to the right. She said it’s pretty much always a good idea — unless there’s a compelling design or content reason not to — to start stories as far to the left as possible because we read English left to right. She said to be sure the reader reads the headline and the deck first, then they can use that to help them understand the graphics, not the other way around.
- Neither of these editions had back page ads, so we had Top Photos on the back for both. She said while she liked the photos, she didn’t think it was a good idea to put them on the back because there’s no reference to anything on the inside and therefore doesn’t get people to open the paper. We talked about a lot of different options for the back cover, from starting the sports section on the back (with either a full-page photo and teasers or with content) to Phoenix Focus to a full page of photo teasers for stories on the inside to another big story like another front cover … I could go on and on. She said it would be cool if you could flip the paper over, fold it the opposite way as normal, and use the top of the back page as another point of entry/front page (Her paper does this, and apparently it makes the papers a lot more interactive and cooler to look at on newsstands). The back page, the way she explained it, should encourage people to open the paper, not just look at it by itself. We could move Top Photos inside, to the middle or to page 3. I think that’s a daring idea we can talk about and see if we think it would work for us.
- We talked a little about how to make the first page of each section, not just News (front page is the cover, obviously) pop as the introduction to the section. She said we could include a little teaser bar at the top of the page to lay out what’s in the section that week, or we could incorporate a half-page engaging photo or graphic to illustrate the main story from the section that week. We could also make the header on the first page of the section more prominent/different to really distinguish it. We can chat about these ideas and others to see if we want to give it a try.
- When we talked about the balance of types of articles in News, I told her how we cover events online throughout the week and then pull some of them for print. She said what we could do to not make the content as repetitive is to put a condensed brief form of the online event coverage into an ICYMI sidebar with photos and a “Go to our website to check out the full event coverage” button on it. I like this idea, so we can talk about if we think it’s right for us.
Overall, she said she was very impressed with how professional and thorough The Pendulum is. It was a very complimentary critique that I think shows we’re doing the right thing! From here, she said, we just experiment and try not to settle into what works now. She encouraged us to push some boundaries and use our time, money and creativity resources to make it an even more engaging and inventive paper.
Thanks to everyone’s hard work for making the newspaper critique a #GTinNYC! IF you want to talk about any of these points, let me know!