Thursday, September 5, 2013

Some Ideas for Covering Student Groups

At critique yesterday, I made the observation that stories about campus groups just aren't very interesting unless the club or organization is actually in the middle of a news event.

Still, there is interest in college groups, and letting students know about opportunities to meet new people, be of service to the campus and become part of the university community all have value for readers.

But what's the best way to make the information interesting?

A great calendar - What groups want most is (free) publicity for their events. And one of the reasons students open the newspaper or navigate to the paper's website is to find out what's going on. A comprehensive, up-to-date calendar satisfies both. It's well worth the staff time to maintain if the calendar also becomes part of the day-to-day or week-to-week coverage plan for the paper. If there's not enough room in the newspaper for a big list, highlight a few events and invite readers to check out the full schedule online.

Spot-news photos - Good websites have fresh content daily, and using the event calendar to plan photos of club events is a great way to post something new every day. Photos of club members doing things is also an excellent way to get student faces in the paper. Caution: Lining up club members at an event for a group shot is NOT a photo of people doing things. Get them in action. And get names for those cutlines.

Profiles - A club or group probably isn't interesting in itself, but its members can be. Instead of writing about the Health at Every Size Club (the group in Wednesday's paper), focus instead on the person who started the club, his or her issues with weight and self-worth, and how their struggles led to founding the club. Or how about the student who learned taekkyeon while studying abroad in Korea and interested friends in starting a group?

Briefs - Not everything in the paper needs to be 12 inches of text. If a group wins an award for service to a local elementary school, takes first place in a campus recycling contest or sends representatives to Sacramento to testify before a legislative committee, turn those smaller events into 100-word briefs that you collect on a page of news briefs or in a consistent space for club news elsewhere in the paper or online. Invite the clubs to contribute news items.

Budget stories -
Groups are news when they ask for money from student fees or other campus revenue sources. Capsule summaries of how much they get, how much more they want, how they spend money and what they'd like to spend it on in the future are interesting to the people who pay fees and those who are competing for limited funds. This can be:
- presented as a typical list within a story
- broken out into a graph for comparison, or
- incorporated into an inforgraphic about the allocating the budget pie. 

Previous year-current year or previous year-request comparisons are especially informative.

DO YOU have other ideas for how to cover campus groups? Add it to this column by making a comment.

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