How can we make our paper better?
July 28, 2006 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find resources for college newspaper editors and/or writers...

I've recently been added to the editorial staff at my college's newspaper. While we've won awards in the past, I (and other new staff members) aren't altogether thrilled with the quality of the newspaper. I've been looking for some online resources to inspire design, content, and overall quality. I was wondering if anyone knoew of any websites where I could look, or had any personal expirence/insight that could help. Anything about newspaper design would be helpful, but things geared towards colleges (bonus: small colleges!) would be best. Thanks!
posted by nuclear_soup to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication has aton of links that may be interesting for you to scour through. From those, I found the Society for News Design. Otherwise just make some mockups and play around with different ideas using Pagemaker or whatever other program you use for layout. It always helps to just go to the library and look at the newspaper collection there for ideas.
posted by JJ86 at 8:38 AM on July 28, 2006

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association offers some great workshops for college papers. If you aren't already a member of CSPA or another scholastic press association (there are several) you should consider joining one. In addition to offering classes, they also publish guides and will critique your publication and offer suggestions for improvement.
posted by chickletworks at 8:58 AM on July 28, 2006

Are y'all members of the ACP. If not, become one. Get on their listserv. Go to the fall conference and attend workshops. Pick up a copy of every student newspaper you can find (trust me, everyone will bring some from their school).
posted by radioamy at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2006

I was editor of my small college's (around 3000 students) weekly newspaper for two years. It was a ton of fun. Here are the highlights that I remember:

April Fools edition: Whenever the mood strikes you, write an Onion-style parody piece and stow it away in your "April Fools" folder. When the big day comes, you'll be ready.

Editorials: We ran a sort of "Point/Counterpoint" where two writers from opposite ends of the political spectrum addressed an issue.

Fake Advice Column: Sometimes the questions were real, sometimes made up, but the advice was always over top. Sort of modeled after Ed Anger (RIP).

Other staples were movie reviews and "man on the street" questions. We also used some budget money to run Calvin and Hobbes and a crossword puzzle.

Muckraking-type stories can be rewarding to work on too. Just because it's a small college doesn't mean there's nothing worth digging into. For example, at my college the administration moved the Student Senate's staff from a nice office to an unfinished basement in some run-down house. The student senate president called me and I went over and took a great picture of him sitting and frowning at a 50s era desk under a bare lightbulb. I ran the picture on the front page and what do you know, they were back in their nice office the next week. We also ran a series on how the campus security was trying to cover up some serious crimes that were being committed on campus.

Good luck with it, and have fun.
posted by Otis at 9:23 AM on July 28, 2006

Duff Wilson's Reporter's Desktop is full of great reporting tools and links.
posted by jeffmshaw at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2006

I worked on my small college's paper (~1700 undergrads) for a couple of years, and it seems my experience was similar to that of Otis.

One thing that our paper had a surplus of was photographers (and often a dearth of writers). We would often run a one- or two-page photo spread from a big campus event if something had happened; if you need to fill space, this is a great way to do it (though I mostly resented the large amount of space we would often devote to pictures, sometimes it's nice (especially when it's a recap of a whole week's worth of events, from a "student fair" or something) and requires little, if any, writing).

One thing you might want to consider is the style of the paper, and what you want it to be; are you trying to seem very professional and "just the facts" like the NY Times, or do you want to be more tabloid-like (something like the NY Post, for example)? This can determine the paper size and page one layout for the paper, even if it doesn't determine the quality of the content therein.

The long version, because it may not be clear what I mean: the Times is very news-oriented, in my view; their page one is headlines and a couple of column-inches of the story. This is the type of layout that we chose for our school paper, but we found that sometimes it's hard to find enough actual news stories to put on the front page.

The Post, at a glance, is more like a magazine. Page one is more like a cover, with a photo from the lead story taking up most of the page, with a headline for it. The way the paper is sized, there's no need for an actual fold like with the Times.

We didn't make much of use of it, but U-Wire is like (or is) a wire service geared toward college papers. If you find that your stories have a relevance beyond the college, you could put it on U-Wire and other schools might pick it up and run it. You could do the same and run stories (or editorials, or photos, etc.) from other schools.

If you want more pro-quality stories, the Associated Press offers (or, offered a few years ago, at least) a discounted rate for college papers. You wouldn't get access to everything, but it would be an easy way to drop in state/regional/national news that your reporters can't cover firsthand. Unfortunately, I couldn't convince my EIC to seek funding for it, but from the trial period I saw, it would probably have been a good asset.

One thing that might be worthwhile is contacting editors at papers for other nearby schools and exchanging ideas. We only did something like this one, when then Senator Corzine held a press conference specifically for college newspapers. Nothing really came of it in our case, but we weren't really trying very hard.
posted by Godbert at 10:27 AM on July 28, 2006

Take lots of calculated risks, since you have a guaranteed audience. It'll be your last chance to do so if you want to continue in journalism.

If you're looking at the whole package, I'd suggest going to
the American Copy Editors Society board for editing/headlines and check out their forums

for daily front pages (second for newspagedesigner).

To see what your peers from around the countrty are doing design-wise and content-wise, go to college front page (not as deep as newseum, but it'll do).

Poynter is always reliable, too.

Maybe the first thing you can do is to assess what is missing or lacking in your paper and how it serves the student body. Talk to the guys at your daily metro newspaper and ask them to critique it, because they've been in your position before. Ask them for advice and see if you can get some of them to give brief seminars regarding specific topics for your newsroom. Don't be intimidated because they've "made it" in the journalism world. You'll be surprised at the response.

I'm glad you're coming in with an open mind for improvement. Lots of luck!
posted by i8ny3x at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2006

I wrote for the biggest U.S. college paper for one semester and ran the school humor magazine for a year. The number one piece of advice I'd give is that nothing motivates student journalists more than feedback (even the hate mail). Agressively seek feedback from your readers, and publish it to your staff. If you run a website, find a way to get the article hit counts.
posted by gsteff at 11:28 AM on July 28, 2006

I was an editor for our school paper for some time. It's not an online resource, but this book was invaluable. The most important educational tool for us, however, was looking at real papers on a weekly basis and critiquing them together.

And if you're looking for advice, never underestimate the graphic design of the paper--i.e. ads, charts, banners etc. This can often make or break the look of the paper!

Good luck!
posted by bristolcat at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2006

Oooh. another good forum for design is It's got very active and lively discussions on most issues affecting layout/design and content.
posted by i8ny3x at 3:10 PM on July 28, 2006

Dow Jones Newspaper Fund.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:58 PM on July 29, 2006

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