No one likes their local newspaper. You know, the paper that seems to write so little about things you know so much about?
But just because the newspaper doesn’t report exactly what you think it should, from your perspective, doesn’t mean it’s not good.
At a time when people trust the news less than ever before, journalists must attempt to find a balance between reporting what they know is in the public interest and what they understand has important implications.
In other words, journalists can’t just report what’s entertaining. They must report information in a way that is credible, starting at the collegiate level.
I’m not sure where or when I inherited Tom’s handout on building a credible college newspaper, but I have distributed it every academic year (if not every semester).
I added a few of my own words of wisdom in italics. I hope the practical advice will serve you and your staff well.
12 Steps to Building a Credible College Newspaper:
1. Report significant news on Page 1
Don’t bury the stuff that you know is the reason people are picking up the paper.
2. Cover your campus first
Think locally, but don’t do this at the expensive of off-campus news. Instead, think of ways to relate big issues to the campus.
A university campus is the ideal place to localize news. Think about it. Where do journalists typically go when they’re looking for an expert source on an issue? A college campus. You are surrounded by experts. Use their knowledge to localize local, state and national issues.
3. Break news
Be the first to know information and give it to your reader.
If anyone else scoops you with news about your campus, you’ve failed. You live it, work it, eat it, breathe it. It’s your community. No one should know it better than you.
4. Think ahead
Advance great news stories when possible. This will entice your reader to pick up later issues and is a form of marketing for yourself.
Give people information they need to become involved in the campus community and in university decision making. Think of every story as possibly having three versions: the advance, the happening and the follow. Consider using social media tools, like Twitter and Facebook, to cover campus events in real time.
5. Talk to people
Find the best sources and use more than one source. This also means not using student quotes as an afterthought. Students are the first reader, so they should be steeped in every story.
You spend your entire life being taught not to talk to strangers. As a student journalist, it’s your job to talk to strangers. No one wants to read about you and all of your best friends. When you need a source, walk into the cafeteria. Talk to the first person who looks like he/she won’t bite.
6. Be indispensable to your readers
Give them news that they can’t get anywhere else that they want and need to function properly.
7. Be useful by being consumer friendly
Readers shouldn’t have to seek out your publication. Put it where you know it where you know they will be and will be willing to read it.
As the media adviser, I try to assist in this process. Our paper publishes on Wednesdays. I pick up a stack and carry them to my first class Wednesday morning. I encourage every student on the media staff to do the same.
8. Invite reader involvement
Encourage students to respond to writing and praise them for doing so.
This has perhaps never been as important as it is now with social media tools and online commenting. Never let a reader comment go unanswered. They are seeking you out for information. If they’re giving you praise, say “thank you.” If they’re scolding you, address their concerns or simply thank them for reading. Never leave someone hanging when they’re trying to engage your pub staff.
9. Be inclusive in coverage and staffing
This means diversifying coverage and staff positions.
10. Take a stand
Lead on your editorial page by being a risk-taker, but remember that your risks must be steeped in truth, fairness and accuracy.
11. Report more than briefs
Try enterprise, multidimensional reporting. This means understanding that the college newspaper is real and a place to display award-winning journalism.
12. Value good photojournalism
Remember that readers want to see pictures of themselves and their friends. Work diligently to have a great photo or photos to go with every story.
This also applies to design. Take advantage of your ability to try new and different things while you’re still learning. Sometimes it will work. Sometimes it won’t. It’s worth the risk.
I hope you find these tips as useful as I have during the years. Most importantly, remember that collegiate journalists are capable of doing amazing work. In fact, it’s expected.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What would you add to this great list of tips for building a credible college newspaper? Is there something you would remove? Does any one tip resonate with you?