Jerry Ceppos critiques the Spartan Daily

Jerry Ceppos, former news executive at Knight Ridder, is in the middle of a series of guest lectures and conversations in classes here at the SJSU School of Journalism & Mass Communications.

Today, Ceppos is in the Spartan Daily newsroom, taking over the usual critique.

  • Make sure the stories in your paper connect to local readers. Get those connections up high, and force your sources to connect to your readers.
  • No really, find a local angle on every story. If you’re covering a bicycle race, find the campus bike club and get their point of view.
  • User-submitted photos are a good idea.
  • More stories on the front page would be nice — it’s too easy for readers to scan three or four stories and toss the paper aside if they’re not into anything they see.

Okay, now we’re on to q & a… (all questions and answers are my paraphrasing, not the original unless you see quotes)

  • Will Knight Ridder survive? We’ll know within a month.
  • How will today’s j-school students be affected by the trend towards corporate ownership of newspapers? Conglomeration does help local papers stand up to local advertisers, and there’s capital to spend. But it’s still a problem — you want to work for newspeople, not businessmen.
  • Who gets hired? Folks who work anytime, anywhere. “If you’re half-hearted, don’t do it.” Be analytical, find the story, look for things that don’t make sense in your neighborhood. Know another language. Have an eye for news. Don’t ignore stories because you think everybody knows about them.
  • How can we show off our skills in an application? Use the clips that best show off your ability to analyze, think critically.
  • How much can we fight with our editors? “That’s how good things happen,” but good motives and politeness counts.
  • How should newspapers balance local and national coverage? Local content is better, but you can tie national/international stories into your local readers. Relevance counts more than location.
  • What should your internship application packet look like? Different in content, not in appearance. Are you an electronic engineer or accountant who can also write? Be sure to point that out.
  • Electronic portfolios? Stick with a hard copy, but printouts from online are fine.
  • Should we advertise ourselves as writers who can copy edit or copy editors who can write? You might be more useful/attractive as an editor. Don’t say you’d rather move into reporting after awhile — every copy editor wants to do that.
  • How to handle lawsuit stories? Use your Freedom of Information Act access and get everything you can.
  • How much to play up your specialty? Make it clear you’re also a reporter who can cover hard news, but point out the skills that most reporters don’t have. Break a hot story? Say so in the letter.

You’ve got at least three more chances to catch Ceppos, including a public lecture at King Library on March 13th. Check The JMC Journal for dates and times.

Blog templates, online newspaper layout, server issues

Jeff Jarvis laments the lack of creativity in blog templates.

It sounds like he’s looking for a front page with different categories, or a taste of different pages on the front page. I certainly like the idea – I know not everyone reading what I write about the JMC department or the Daily is necessarily interested in what I think of the OPML editor or Gmail, and they certainly aren’t interested in pictures of my cat. No wait, everyone likes that.

Anyway, Jarvis cites SF State’s student newspaper as a good use of blog software, apparently Movable Type, to put together a front page with lots of options.

Actually, I’ve looked at this site a number of times in trying to come up with ideas for the Spartan Daily site redesign (the second one, already finished).

I love the idea of doing something more like SFSU, more like the NYT online, more like, well, the Web.

But we’re locked into certain models by our hosting provider. They give us hosting and archives and we give them two or three national ad spots on our page. To really carve up our front page to look like something more our own and less like a default template, we’d need more time to dig deeper into the code, and no one has that right now.
Notice that the SFSU newspaper site is hosted at SFSU. At San Jose State, we’re pushing for a webserver to call our own, but there’s a few layers of bureaucracy and university politics to get through there. We have been allowed to set up a couple sites on a server within the domain, and we’re over the bureacratic/technical/political problems there, except for the fact that a blackout last week knocked our server’s default date back to 1970, meaning that all our content dated 2005 and 2006 will display again in about 35 years… E-mails to support have gone unanswered, [UPDATE: I find it disturbing that I get answers to support email on Sundays, but whatever. I’m hearing that the admin-types are going to find us room on a real server instead of whatever Mac OSX box we’re running on now.] and we don’t have admin access to the server to fix it ourselves. (Yes, we could set the dates on our posts to 1969, but there’s gotta be a more proper solution for this problem)
So do we really want our newspaper on a local server?

Sure, but only if we’ve got full access to it. And plus there are issues about how “independent” the Daily is. We use university electricity, right? I figure web hosting should be treated the same way, but the network security folks aren’t so sure.

Okay, end of rant.

Anyway, Jarvis is right about blogs needing some more template-creativity. I’m trying to fit in a redesign of this blog somewhere in between…well, everything else I have to do (not a little). I like to believe that categories and/or tag clouds can help readers find what they’re looking for without needing a four-column front page full of tiny little headlines and story summaries.