Inside Scoop - Week 4: One month later

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper.

It's been a month and I'm tired. Three newspapers again this week: Tuesday ("the shut it down issue"), Wednesday ("the 9/11 issue") and Thursday ("the Frog Dorm issue").

Tuesday: out at 1:31a.m.

We had late breaking news that there was a potential security flaw in the self-checkout machines used at various campus dining stores. It took a while for us to figure out exactly what the exploit was, reproduce it and report it to the correct people.

But since I spent a decent amount of time doing that, I wasn't doing the normal stuff that I do (helping with headlines, cutlines, reviewing pages). Some people ended up waiting on me, at which point I realized how much of a SPOF I had become. For some things, it's important that I'm the person who makes the decision, but for a lot of the production night questions and what not, there's no need for people to be blocked on me, especially when I'm doing other (also important) stuff.

Wednesday: out at 12:59p.m.

Goal accomplished: we got out before 1a.m. (just barely). The main thing that held us back was lack of planning around the 9/11 story and art for the front page. I had some photos of the memorials from when aismallard and I went around to Ground Zero, one of which we were able to use.

The story was a bit messy/unorganized, but that was mostly because we (editors) didn't give good story direction, and we opened it up a bit too late to give good feedback so the author could change it. So we had to do that ourselves.

We also started doing opinion pages and content as ragged right to distinguish it from the rest of the paper. So far it's gotten a good critical reception from our advisors, but we still have some implementation issues, notably consistency.

Thursday: out at 12:45a.m.

All of the English pages were done by 12:25a.m., it just took the Spanish page a bit longer.

The front story about frogs in the dorms was really fun to read and edit, but I think we missed the better story angle. Instead of talking about the individual impacts, we should have first talked about the social and community aspects of "The Frog Dorm," which we left towards the end of the story. Our goal was to do this weekly, but I'm not really sure how if it's possible to top this one.

We didn't have good photos for the university scholar series, but I went to the event and watched one of my reporters on how they reported. That was probably one of the most valuable things to see, since I know exactly how to help him (and hopefully others) going forward.

Also, putting the meme of the week right below an editorial about lacking mental health resources and suicide was pretty dumb from a layout perspective. Oops.

The Spanish page turned out nicely, hopefully it happens on a regular basis. And finishes earlier.


Inside Scoop - Week 3: Ready to Repeat

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper.

Ready to repeat cover

It was a short week, but we put out some goodish newspapers: Wednesday ("the Taco Bell issue") and Thursday ("the women's soccer issue").

Wednesday: out at 1:12a.m.

Taco Bell is back in the Student Union, and honestly, for some students, it's going to be the biggest news story of the semester. We received some feedback that we should have featured some more serious/hard news issues (the CSU legal aid story on the right column for example) rather than Taco Bell. I think we did a decent job of balancing the coverage to ensure we weren't just advertising Taco Bell, a decent amount of the story discussed people saying they preferred the previous Mexican restaurant, describing it as more authentic.

We also brought back the crime blotter, which should be a regular feature going forwards. Aside from being a good space filler, it's also given us some interesting leads on other stories to look into.

Thursday: out at 1:23a.m.

One of the projects that we had discussed doing over the summer was a special sports preview, inspired by other college publications like the Daily Orange. We picked women's soccer early on because they've been on fire lately, and won the Mountain West championship last year. I'm going to write a separate post about the process we went through to put it together, but to keep it short, I'm rather pleased with how it came out, given the constraints and challenges we faced. And we're not the only ones who think that!

But because much of my attention that night was focused on finishing the soccer special, I don't think the rest of the paper was as high quality as it could have been. Some of our stories were off target, and didn't match the original pitch or even the headline. One thing I noticed last semester is that our Opinion "counterpoints" features need to be written for each other to have a good debate. These two were written independently, and totally ignore each other. That's not a problem with any of the writers, but how we're pushing the packaging.


Inside Scoop - Week 2: Long nights

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper. Yes, I'm late this week :(

We put out three papers this week: Tuesday ("the pride issue"), Wednesday ("the football team wants to win issue"), and Thursday ("the parking issue").

Tuesday: out at 1:30a.m.

We mostly tried too hard on this issue. We tried to do a cutout on the front page plus a text-wrap illustration, both of which required redesigning the front page later in the evening. Those would might have worked later on in the semester, but hurt us time wise. Also, there's not a single picture of a student on the front page.

I wrote a review of Taylor Swift's Lover that I was rather proud of. Just took me until like 3a.m. to get over my writer's block.

I also helped shoot the women's soccer game the previous Thursday. At the time I was pretty demotivated that our photos did not turn out that well, but they weren't that bad. Some were pretty good.

More importantly, I got to school at 6:30a.m. to deliver the newspaper to the various newsstands around campus. We hadn't hired our carriers yet, so some of us were still filling in on delivery duty. This gave me a decent amount of insight on how people actually consume our newspaper. We usually put teasers for some of the inside content on the bottom of the page, but then they're not visible in our newsstands. So now we're trying just keeping them above the fold.

Wednesday: out at 1:13a.m.

Starting to get a bit faster, but the quality was definitely a bit lower. We messed up on a lot of small design things, like text being too close to lines, jumps being misaligned with columns, and the front page cutline having two people labeled as "(right)".

I don't think we did a great job with the front-page textbook story, mostly because we didn't talk to any professors. It's something we could/should continue to look into, but the importance to students will die down a bit because they're no longer actively purchasing them.

Also, we spelled a name wrong, and that really sucks.

Thursday: out at 1:51a.m.

Yeah, we cut it a little too close to the 2a.m. print deadline. The last four pages to be finished (1, 2, 4-5) were definitely rushed and had some major issues. Mostly it was a lack of planning, and leaving a lot of the design and layout elements until the last minute. We had some paper sketches and dummies, but we really should have thrown stuff into InDesign a lot earlier.

Even though we were doing a doubletruck/spread, the 4 different elements (campus voices, ParkStash story, ALPRs, and infographic) just seem like they were thrown onto the page with no consideration for creating a coherent design. The news packaging was good, but the layout didn't really represent that.

We really killed it in the Opinion section. A fantastic editorial cartoon that overshadowed the editorial, a column about pending abortion care legislation, perspective on gaming and violence, and some memes.

The "Spartan meme of the week" replaces the former "Spartunes" feature, really as an attempt to boost reader engagement. Spartunes involved editors picking a song that fit some theme, and then putting them all in a shared Spotify playlist. The main problem was that the only interesting part about Spartunes was which editor picked which song - and it's only interesting if you know the editors themselves. And given that most people don't, it's not very interesting.

In comparison, people seem to enjoy the memes of the week, and we've already had at least one student submit memes for consideration. That's more reader engagement than Spartunes can claim.

I also delivered the newspaper again today morning. It was fun, and I hope to never do it again. I'm just not a morning person.


Inside Scoop - Week 1: Welcome Back

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper.

It's been a minute, but school started on Wednesday, and we had to put out another issue (10MB PDF). It turned out pretty nicely I think. We started working on it a few weeks beforehand, assigning stories, and then beginning to meet up and layout the pages starting a week beforehand (at least for the people who were already in town).

It was a true collaborative effort, with basically everyone on the editorial board contributing to the paper in one way or another, something I was really proud of. All the stories were written by editors, which was nice from the editing point of view (since they were well written to begin with), but it caused a few problems from the layout/production side, since the editors also had to focus on editing their own stories rather than just focusing on the pages.

For the first issue, we tried to make a "Welcome Guide" of sorts, partially to attract new students as readers. I don't think it really worked for the latter part, but we have a lot of work to do in that area. We're working on moving newsstands around to be in more convenient locations for readers to pick up, as well as looking into doing some focus testing to see what students are looking for.

The other main issue we've been dealing with is the rollout of our new website on https://sjsunews.com/. The architecture is bizzare to say the least - it's an AngularJS frontend calling out to a Drupal backend, where we enter content. I'm not really sure why that architecture was picked versus just creating a Drupal skin, but I also entered the process pretty late. I usually don't disclose to people my software background, to avoid all of the "oh can you help with this computer issue" type questions or get the responsibility of the website thrust upon me, but in this case I wish I had earlier. ¯\(ツ)

There are a decent amount of features missing but those are being worked on, I hope. Functionally, it's a pretty big regression from our other outdated website, but the design is nice when everything is finally rolled out.

As a sidenote, I also figured out why the old website was so slow to post articles - it used to take 10-15 minutes to show up. The old website was effectively a static site generator, and one of the sidebar items was "Recent articles". So whenever a new article is published, it would have to update every single generated page...which was over 30,000 of them. Yeah, not surprised that it took 10 minutes to publish a story.

All of the editors this semester are going to be writing a column or blog or some regular feature thing. So this is going to be mine - an inside look at the production of the Spartan Daily.


Inside Scoop - Week 0 (and corrections)

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper.

We put out three newspapers this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

This week the new editorial staff (led by me) took over production of the paper, with assistance from the outgoing editors, and on Thursday, we were supposed to do it all by ourselves (mostly).

On Monday night we finished at 1:00am exactly, Tuesday night was around 12:45am, and Wednesday night around 1:30am. The last one isn't a regression, since we had 2 extra pages, plus a doubletruck (a two-page spread) and a late story waiting on the San Jose Sharks game to end.

That said, we should be aiming to get out before or around midnight, regardless of the number of pages and content.

Tuesday

The leading story on Tuesday was about how the new recreation center on campus prohibits photography (including selfies), and most students don't know about that. We only found out about it when trying to take photos for another story (see: Wednesday) and weren't allowed to. At around 5pm Monday afternoon we switched out the main story on the front page in favor of this one that was yet to be written. This definitely didn't help with our production time, but in my opinion, made for a better paper.

We spent too much time figuring out which stories had been edited, and by whom. We didn't yet have the communication channels set up and expectations clear, causing a lot of confusion and unnecessary micromanagement. I think we rectified most of this for the next issue.

As a chaos monkey test, in the template pages we were given, the date was spelled "Tuessday" to see if any of us would run spell check or catch it by eye. We failed. Thankfully the printer caught it when reviewing the pages to make sure they were transmitted OK, and we were able to fix it before print.

The biggest issue in this paper was that none of the photos taken in it were by Spartan Daily photographers. While there's no technical problem per se, it still makes me feel bad.

Wednesday

Things really started clicking on Tuesday afternoon. Most of our stories went through edits pretty early, and pages were laid out quickly...except for news. We didn't get the hand scanner photos until late in the afternoon, leading to uncertainty about which stories we'd be running, and where on the page they'd be going. We also got a great campus image that had us push the story that was supposed to go in that space to the next day.

Thanks to El Espartano Noticias, the Spanish language journalism club, page 3 is entirely in Spanish, and features stories aimed at Spanish-speaking students. This is our second Spanish page this semester, and I'm hopefully that we can increase the frequency next semester.

Thursday

I'm pretty proud of this paper. We pulled off a pretty decent doubletruck spotlighting Graduation as our final scheduled issue. It's not perfect, but I think it gives us a good idea of the amount of work that goes into doing these kinds of spotlight packages. With proper planning, I am confident we can do them once a week.

Due to some last minute changes, we ended up running two medical media literacy stories that should've been packaged together since the basic premise of both is the same (debunked rumors about an outbreak of a disease).

The back page with the Sharks Game 7 win turned out really nice since we were able to have one reporter focus on writing the story and another shooting photos.

On corrections

One thing I'm doing very differently than predecessors is running more corrections. I've taken a more liberal stance when it comes to printing corrections, that as long as it is factually wrong, we'll correct it. We already have two corrections lined up for the first print issue next semester.

Some people view corrections as something that looks bad, since we messed up. I think running corrections underscores our commitment to getting the facts right, to the point where we're happy to admit that we're wrong so we can put out the correct information. In my view, corrections make a paper look good.


Inside Scoop - Training with 20 pages

Inside Scoop is a weekly column about the operation of the Spartan Daily, San Jose State's student newspaper.

This past week myself and the fall 2019 editorial board shadowed the current editors, getting a feel for what our jobs will be like. This mostly went according to plan, with nearly all of the new editors getting hands on experience with pitching stories, editing content, and laying out pages.

This all culminated with a 20-page special edition about "Home" (25MB pdf). Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were pretty crazy, by the end I had edited every page except two, and one of those I skipped because it only had stories I had written on it.

20 pages was pretty ambitious, and I wonder whether we would have put out a better product with only 16 pages, cutting some stories. In any case, the volume of editing required was pretty beneficial for me.

This coming week we're going to be taking over production of the newspaper. People keep asking me whether I'm excited or overwhelmed, and the answer is simply neither. It just feels like the next thing to do. Also I'm pretty tired.

In other news, The New York Times published the winning essay for the Modern Love college essay contest. It's amazing, and I teared up while reading it.

I plan on keeping my own entry to myself for now, though I'm glad I wrote and submitted it. Thanks to my friends who proofread and gave me advice on it beforehand.

Three Spartan Daily issues left - nearly ready to finish out the semester!