Reflections On A 50-Year High School Class Reunion

9 Apr

By Dennis Cripe
Class of 1965

I was glad when Sandy De Vault asked me to contribute to a Memory Book for our Class of 1965. What an honor — and a challenge. Memories, after all, can be a tricky business. But as I reflected on those life-shaping first years and what life in a small town and school meant to me as an adult, I discovered five themes, or truths. I’d like to share them with you tonight.


Buzz Geisel (right) and I loved monster movies. We saw “The Blob” and “The Fly” multiple times downtown. (Click photo for full image)

(1) Old friendships can shape us for a lifetime.

I wish I could transport myself back in time so I could hang out again with my buddy, Buzz Geisel. When a mangy dog followed Buzz and me home from school one day, we decided to write a book about this flea-bitten hound. We called our fledgling efforts, “Sass,” based on the dog’s attitude, I suppose. I wrote the text and Buzz handled the art and cover. Another time we used a tape recorder to “broadcast” our own radio show complete with sound effects. We were always doing crazy stuff like that. It wasn’t possible to be bored when Buzz was around. He wasn’t afraid to be different. 


That’s Ron Swadley (right) and me performing as “Nip and Tuck” at our senior prom. The Nip and Tuck routine was created for a speech class but we got one more chance to perform when the band was late. (Click photo for full image)

While Buzz encouraged my creative side, my friendship with Ron Swadley built my self confidence. Who else but Ron could have convinced me to put on a Beatles wig and perform as “Nip and Tuck” at our senior prom? We had put together the slapstick routine originally for Mrs. Crowder’s speech class. Ron also helped me make a “statement” with my senior cords. After having the yellow cords “pegged,” I took them to Ron’s house where we spent the afternoon drawing and painting the yellow corduroys with Dennis The Menace etched on the front. I’ve kept my cords all these years and even dared to wear them to our 25th reunion. That’s not bragging so much as it’s trust in one large safety pin to keep the dream alive.


That’s me on the left with my good buddies, Gary Claypool and Ron Swadley during our eighth-grade graduation. (Click photo for full image)

And on those days when I felt a little down, I knew my good friend, Gary Claypool, would add some sunshine to my day. Nobody could tell a better story (not always suitable for mixed company) and it still makes me smile to think of him. Mostly, I admired Gary’s ability to see the humor in most any situation. That’s a good way to live life — including my own.

Yep, that’s me somewhere around 1990 just before my 25th reunion.

It turns out that these guys were more than classmates as we grew up and shared our lives in our small town. We were soul mates though we would never have admitted to such a thing. Williamsport was our town and it was the foundation for what we were becoming as adults.

Actually, the town for me was more like an extended back yard that gave me plenty of space to play basketball after school on the dirt court in Dave Tate’s side yard. My extended town also gave me room to race Dave Bonebrake up and down Fall’s Street on my little Honda 50. And summer wasn’t complete until I shagged a few fly balls off the bat of Mike Armstrong at the park before racing to the swimming pool to cool off.

Me and my beloved Honda 50.

Me and my beloved Honda 50. (Click for full image)

In so many ways, my classmates were more like brothers and sisters. That meant we did what siblings do — we fought and argued sometimes — but we pulled together when it mattered most. We took pride in our small town and the small town took pride in us especially on Friday nights as frenzied basketball fans crammed themselves into the steaming gymnasium to support their beloved Bombers.

Perhaps those hard court battles taught us to dream big because it didn’t matter how many bake sales or car washes or candy sales it took, we were determined to make that senior trip to New York. Seniors. Together. One last time.  I’ll always remember these “first friends” because of what they taught me about life and about myself. These are the kinds of friendships that endure and shape us for a lifetime.

Judy Snyder

Bob Tanner, Dennis Cripe, Betty Williams, Judy Snyder, Tanya Van Hyfte and Shirley High at our 49th class reunion. (Click to see full image)

(2) Life is short.

I was impressed (though not surprised) to see Judy Snyder and Don Andrews at our 49th reunion last year. Judy was our wonderful fourth grade teacher who made learning fun. Don, of course, was our basketball coach and so much more. A few years earlier, I spoke to Mary Jane Kenworthy, our second-grade teacher, who told me she seldom missed a reunion. She passed away in 2006 but not before seeing many of her students grow into adulthood.

I’ve often thought that it was teachers like these who planted the seed of a teaching career in my own life. Our teachers cared about us. In fact, Don and Diane Andrews even agreed to be class escorts on our senior trip. Think about it. A week trapped in a bus to New York and back with 25 hormone-driven teens. That’s dedication. So many of our teachers saw through our swagger and bluster, our shallowness and immaturity, and yet they loved us often in spite of ourselves. Their presence at our high school reunions and in our lives proves they still do.


My dad moderates this “toddler melt down” between Mike Simpson and me on Gregory Street. (Click for full image)

There are three members of our class who died much too soon. As toddlers, Mike Simpson and I were neighbors on Gregory Street. I still have a photo taken by my mom of Mike and me, standing nose to nose in his side yard across the street from my house. We’re both in diapers and neither of us looks happy. I’m not sure what the dispute was but I always laugh when I see that old black and white photo.

Melinda (Hurley) Worl and I shared the honor of handing out diplomas to graduating seniors when we were in first or second grade. Melinda was soft spoken and kind. She always seemed to be smiling.

And I’ll never forget the scrapbook Jim Seifert brought to our 45th reunion at Swadley’s home just five years ago. His book was overflowing with clippings, photos and even frayed pieces of basketball nets that represented sectional championships from many years before. The book was a testament to the loyalty and love that Jim felt for his Bomber team and for his school. Mike, Melinda and Jim may be separated from us tonight. But they’ll always be part of our story — and that story lives on.

(3) There’s a lot to be said for stability.

My mom in July, 2014.

My mom in July, 2014.

My mom passed away last November. She was 92. Had she lived, she would have been my date at our reunion dinner on this very night (June 20). It would have been her 75th reunion. In the months leading up to our milestone reunions, I got to thinking about how our two classes — the class of 1965 and the class of 1940 — were similar. Mom’s generation lived through WW II, the Korean War and the Great Depression. Tom Brokaw called hers the “Greatest Generation.” Likewise, our generation survived Vietnam, and the Cold War. We were the Baby Boomers who, like my mom’s generation, believed in serving and in giving back. Both generations are characterized by their patriotism and loyalty. Both generations worked hard and wanted to make a difference.

But in addition to these historical links between our two classes, my mom added a love for small town life that many of us still share today. She moved into her little house on Gregory Street in 1948 and never left. She told me once that she never felt cheated or dissatisfied with her quiet life. In fact, she said she felt sorry for “folks trapped in the big city.” I loved coming back home to visit my mom because I alway knew what to expect. Things never seemed to change. While my own career was marked by one change after another, coming home slowed me down and reminded me of the firm foundation under my feet. My life was built on the stable ground of small town life. And I’ve always been thankful for that. (See “Days With My Mother,” a tribute to my mother’s life.)


It took years of candy sales, car washes and help from mom and dad, but our class was able to take one of the last “senior trips” offered at WHS. (Click photo for full image)

(4) To our class, we’ll always look like we did a half-century ago.

So here we stand, 50 years removed from the yearbook photo version of ourselves. Author Thomas Wolfe is famous for reminding us that “we can never go home again.” Indeed, we are not the same people today. Who wants to be frozen in time wearing the same red and black letter jacket with those crotch-busting senior cords? Thankfully, we’ve all moved on. But I still think we can go home again in another sense. At 50-year reunions, we tend to see our classmates and friends with our hearts, not just our eyes. A casual observer may scoff as we reminisce about times and places that no longer exist. But they exist for us during this special weekend. Indeed, for the class of ’65, time is suspended whenever we get together.

Class of '65 Low Rez

It took 50 years to get this photo of the Class of ’65. Taken June 20, 2015 at the Beef House in Covington. There were 28 students in the class. (Click photo for full image)

(Click photo for full image)

After all, wasn’t it just yesterday that we were singing along with that new “Meet The Beatles” album? Wasn’t it just last week that we were buzzing the Dog ‘n Suds root beer stand on U.S. 41 after the Friday night basketball game? And can’t you still taste that 35-cent half-beef manhattan we ordered for lunch at Rolan’s on Monroe Street? For us, at least for one weekend — our special time of reunion and reflection — everyone is a teenager again.


My name tag from our 25th class reunion in 1990.

(5) By now, we are beyond showing off. We no longer have anything to prove so we can relax and be ourselves.

At that 20th or 30th or 40th reunion, it might have been important to be seen in the best possible light. A few reunions ago we might have been tempted to drive up to the front door of the Beef House in a Mercedes (even if it was rented) or spend lots of time talking to classmates about our successes. But as we’ve matured and gained a fuller perspective of what matters in life, we realize that the peer pressure that made us do some crazy things in the past no longer is important. The most important thing is to be ourselves and to be comfortable with who we are.

So, lastly, here’s why I will never forget my town, my high school years, or the people who made it special:


Williamsport: It’s Where My Story Begins. (Click for full image)

•This is the place where we played, made our mistakes, and grew up.

•This is our spiritual home.

•This is the place where we felt safe.

•This is the ground where the seeds of later life were sowed.

•These were the people who were the anvils upon which we forged who we were and what we would become.

•This is Williamsport. It’s where “our” story began — and it’s where it continues tonight.


Writing Editorials That Grab Attention And Spark Readers To Become Part Of The Solution

4 Nov

Editors assigned to write their newspaper’s next editorial should first think about the last argument they actually won.

Maybe, young scribe, it was the time you convinced your dad that you really did need the new iPhone. Or the time you persuaded your mom to extend curfew so you could attend a concert. I imagine you were at your best during those times, mixing passion with a some cold, hard facts. If you made your point quickly and stayed focused, chances are you won your argument, or at least a measure of respect.

Now you are ready to write that editorial.

Being a father of two sons AND a journalism teacher, it surprises me that writers at school seem to forget the persuasive techniques that often work at home. Begin with the problem. And it doesn’t matter if the problem is the cost of the Homecoming dance or whether you’re responsible enough to drive to school. You have your point of view. You’ve done your research. Now, you must convince someone else — a parent, teacher, sibling or reader — that your argument deserves consideration. 

Yet too many editorial writers seem convinced that the best way to win a argument in print is to “filibuster” the subject; that is, discuss it to death without regard to form or function. Returning to my opening premise: How many arguments have you won lately by ranting about it day after day? Emotional appeals may win sympathy, but it takes a rational approach to win converts. 

The tendency toward long editorials — even when topics are timely and relevant — reminded me of the toughest class I ever took as a journalism undergraduate. Okay, that was a long time ago but I still think the story is relevant.

My professor was notorious for an “Opinion Writing” course he taught because he would not accept any editorial longer than 300 words. That’s only about eight tightly-written paragraphs. To succeed in this class, I would need to check my ego at the door and realize that nobody really cared about my magic prose or convoluted opinions. If I could learn to state my case succinctly and powerfully, I would pass the course. If not, well, there were other majors.

Fortunately, this class taught me a valuable lesson about all good writing. The best writers have a clear sense of what they want to say and they communicate their ideas in a compelling, non-threatening way. There’s beauty (and power) in simplicity. Clean, persuasive writing can move readers toward some form of action or behavior if certain key elements are present.

EPSON MFP imageWhich brings us back to the editorial as a reasoned argument designed to convince the reader to act or think in a certain way. There are four elements I would like to explore (See graphic left).

To see these four elements at work, let’s look at a recent editorial piece from the Crown Point Inklings staff who decided to take a stand with regard to a change in the traditional Homecoming dance.

The first requirement of strong, persuasive writing is to clearly state the problem at hand: A new Homecoming dance format adopted by the Crown Point administration attempted to be more inclusive by creating a more informal, less expensive event. However, the post-Homecoming dance still cost student $40 and conflicted with the timing of the game. Students also had to take the SAT the next morning (See first graph of editorial below left). It didn’t help that administrators did not include students in their decision-making process.

Crown Point EditorialFair-minded staffs understand that the best way to disarm opponents is to acknowledge the other side. I would add that if the editorial is taking a stand against an administrative policy or idea, it’s critical that the editorial writer be a good reporter first and fully report the administration’s position. In this second requirement of successful editorial writing, The Inkling staff tries hard to understand the reasoning behind the change in the Homecoming dance. (See second paragraph).

The third requirement of the successful editorial is critical because it should reflect logical  arguments for a better solution. Good reporting is the key here. The Inkling staff does this with a third paragraph that points out the pros and cons of the informal dance approach. Clearly, the staff has done its homework and persuades on the basis of facts.

The fourth requirement may take one or more paragraphs to issue a call to action. That means the staff (or editorial board) has thought about the problem and found a solution that should satisfy the student body (and administration, hopefully). Again, the Inkling staff writes another long final paragraph to clarify the situation and offer a call to action.

The final sentence of the fourth paragraph should be a separate paragraph simply to distinguish it. Good editorial often use a final sentence or two to wrap up the argument and restate its position.

Okay, let’s review. For editorials to be effective, they must be tightly written — 300 to 350 words usually.

• The first graph or two of the editorial should “hook” the reader by stating the problem but also hinting at how the staff feels about the issue at hand.

• The next graph or two should reflect sensitivity to others involved in the problem. Be fair.  Acknowledge alternative points of view.

• Use one, two or three graphs to stress the staff’s side of the argument. Here’s where good reporting comes in. Use direct quotes from key sources to strengthen your argument. Be logical. Fight for what you think is right. And back it up with facts.

• Write one more paragraph telling readers what you think they should do (or maybe how they should view a situation). This is your “marching orders.” Editorials without a call to action tend to lack authority and fail to persuade.

• It’s okay to end the editorial with the call to action; however, the editorial writer might want to add one more sentence or two to wrap up and clarify the staff’s position. Sometimes, this final sentence can be combined with the above graph or isolated into a separate graph for emphasis.

I’ve included a few additional examples of editorials that satisfy the four basic elements of strong editorial writing. See if you can identify each of the four elements in the samples below. Also ask these “test” questions about these sample editorials:

• Is the problem stated clearly and do these editorials show how readers are affected?
• Do these editorials take a clearcut stand and include “marching orders”?
• Is the reasoning sound? Is there evidence of good reporting?
• Do these editorial also acknowledge the other side?
• Do these editorial open with power and close with purpose?

♦Providing expanded AVID Program For LC Students

Page 8.indd

♦New Blocking Software Does More Harm
Than Good At Munster

Munster Editorial

♦Restrictions, iPads Lack Productive Reinforcement At Huntington North

Huntington N. Ed. Page

 And one last point. Good editorial writing is also good leadership. It’s not about always being “right.” Instead, it’s about starting a meaningful conversation about issue in the school community that matter. When newspapers staffs lead editorially, students have a voice. And when those voices are passionate and fair minded, the school is a better place.

No Fault In These Stars As 2014 News Staffs Shine Bright. Here Are 10 Reasons Why

19 Jun

hoosierstarArtBlog There are at least 10 good reasons why some newspaper staffs shine a bit brighter in IHSPA’s 2014 Hoosier Star Critique and Competition. The good news is that none of these characteristics have anything to do with big budgets or special resources. Simply, good news staffs approach and frame content differently. Let’s break it down. (Note: Hoosier Star winners will be announced at the convention in October. The samples used in this blog were drawn from 21 newspaper finalists.)

• Content With A “You” Turn — Content is at the heart of any effective student publication but Hoosier Star newspapers place a strong emphasis on local news coverage often followed with related editorials. Unfortunately, many publications settle for general feature and “entertainment” topics often at the expense of news from classrooms, clubs, sports or other academic/curriculum issues at home. Both the Cub Reporter (Lawrence Central) and North Star (Lawrence North) allocate 25-30 percent of their space to school news and to the people “behind” the news.

Bangladash> The Cub Reporter (click leftmixes news and student/faculty-driven features well when it profiled a student who, at 17, traveled to Bangladesh to marry a man she hadn’t seen in 14 years. The staff also feature a science teacher who made it to the base camp of Mt. Everest and also pose good questions for the new superintendent of Lawrence schools. This is good news reporting augmented by “behind the scenes” local feature writing.

> The North Star staff provides depth coverage of the school’s “Hispanic Heritage” at Lawrence North. The North Star staff also capture an interesting view of LNHS after hours through a photo essay.

• Layering — Layering a story is nothing more than finding visual ways to support the text of the story. Layering is significant when the visual aspects contribute uniquely to the story either by localizing the news angle or adding personal context. No staff does this better than the Carmel HiLite staff who seems to ask of every story: “Why should readers care?” Editors then go about finding ways to make readers care.

Carmel Crons Teaser> A story (click left) about the protein bar, Crons, offered in the Carmel cafeteria is told through sophomore Scott Levine as he passes through the lunch line. Editors arrange for a photo of Levine making his way through the line and a caption details why Levine values the Crons bar. A nearby graphic compares the nutritional value of Crons with other food items like pizza or a calzone. The story — the blueprint for the page — is descriptive and the visual layers add meaning to the story. As a reader, the layering allows me to browse the many points of entry and helped me to care.

Munster Backbreaking Thumb>Student lug around heavy backpacks all the time. But perceptive Munster Crier editors (click left) did their research about how this extra weight — sometimes 30 pounds worth — affects a student’s health. Titled “Backbreaking,” Crier designers layer the story with a descriptive lead and follow with a creative “reality check” info box along with a survey. The layering should make it easy for students to find various “points of entry” into the story design.

• Eye For Personal Context — Whether in a news, feature, entertainment, opinion or editorial piece, personal context matters. The best staffs seek the student angle first; they tell stories through people closest to the story, and they interview with an eye on good story telling techniques.

Munster Mourning Glory Thumb> When a popular student died of cystic fibrosis at Munster High School, (click left)Crier reporter interview six close friends of the girl along with the girl’s mother. Aptly titled “Mourning Glory,” timely photos show the Munster student body’s emotional response to the death and an info-graphic reflects ways to “give back.” This is a great story package that hinges first on one student before transitioning to a larger story.

> The Paolite staff (Paoli High School) does a nice job with their story about Hunter Rohl and his battle with leukemia. But sourcing for this story did not just rest with Hunter. Paolite editors include a sidebar story with teacher Pam Minton who plans to “buzz cut” her hair as a way to raise money for cancer research. Moreover, on Page 8 of this same issue, editors focus on a local Relay For Life event that feature key sources who raise funds for cancer research. Good planning.

• Eye For The Anecdote — Effective story telling often comprises a series of “little stories” told within the larger one. Reporters who are sensitive to the anecdote encourage sources to tell their own stories. The anecdote often is the best way to frame a lead before transitioning into the larger story. Roy Peter Clark, a writing coach with the Pointer Institute for Media Studies, calls the well-placed anecdote a “gold coin” in the story. These “moments” often surprise and delight readers which helps sustain the story’s momentum. (See Clark’s “50 Writing Tools” here.)

Huntington N. Bullying Thumb> The Huntington North Campus wrote a story about bullying, (click left) a popular topic in 2014. But instead of using anonymous sources or relying mostly on material from the Internet, Campus reporters find students who have experienced bullying and allow them to tell their stories in their own way.

> When a Huntington North student totaled her car on the way to school on a foggy morning, a Campus reporter recreates the situation with an effective descriptive lead followed by a timely staff editorial. The key here is the focus on the single student anecdote first before transitioning to additional coverage. When using a Page 1 story as the basis for an editorial in the same issue, I’d like to see more staffs use a tagline in the news story that says, (See related editorial, Page __). Make the relationship between a news story and editorial clear.

Samm I Am Teaser>Rachael Samm is an excellent column writer for the Southport Journal because she’s a good reporter first. Her column about cancer was heartfelt because of the death of her own mother to this disease. In her “Samm I Am” column, Rachael uses her own experience to segue into the larger focus of the column about the courageous battle of a fellow student who fought the same kind of colon cancer that killed her mother. A cutout image of both Samm and her friend, Mackenzie Eakle, creates a very effective point of entry into this informative opinion piece.

>The Munster High School Crier staff use the anecdotal lead effectively in its excellent story about school theft titled, “Without A Trace.” The package includes an effective cutout along with timely into-graphics and a well-written headline/summary combination. The reporter lets theft victims tell their own stories.

• Content That Drives Design — Hoosier Star publications have impact because they use every aspect of the story design to keep readers focused on what’s important. Good content design is more than the physical aspects of dominance, balance and contrast. It’s about following a coherent plan that begins with the written lead and follows through to every visual aspect of the design. Design driven by content means there is communication among editors that gives the story a sense of focus and continuity.

ExSpikeTations Thumb> The sports editor of the Crown Point Inklings begins his sports story with a key moment about a girls basketball star (a narrative approach): It’s 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night when Hannah Albrecht realizes she’s good enough to create her own legacy. The idea of a “legacy” guides the headline and caption writer as well. The headline proclaims, “EX-SPIKE-TATIONS,” and the story’s focus dictates the architecture of the design right down to the cutline (which readers see second after the photo cutouts).

> At nearby Munster H.S., Crier staffers recognize the contributions of athletic trainers. Using the story angle of “More than Water Girls,” editors and writers create a very readable page design that keeps readers glued to personal stories which in turn informs the story design.

> Given the sheer emotional appeal of the four-column photo of Huntington North H.S. junior Paige Vanover recovering from brain surgery, I can’t imagine readers at Huntington North High School ignoring this story. Note the powerful content of the photo which in turn drives the headline, cutline and story here.

Samual Pickett Thumb> Carmel HiLite editors seem a bit peeved at the suggestion in a TIME magazine article that millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000 — might be a bit lazy. Told through the experiences of senior Samual Pickett, reporter Michelle Dai details the hard-working nature of Carmel millennials. Designers follow the story’s lead with a clarifying timeline and layer other graphics that stay true to Dai’s story approach. Again, content and story angle come first. And story designers wisely expand on the story angle.

• Packaging That Makes Sense — Readers like to sense that stories and design are integrated and are not disconnected pieces. In order to focus, reporters need a sense of why the story matters. And the more personalized the lead, the better the “blueprint” is for the story package. As a judge, I appreciate leads that contain names. Once I see a name, I look for a photo of that person. Why? Because the real lead of any story package is the photo. If the CVI clearly shows a student, readers are ready to “connect the dots” between the written and visual aspects of the story. The natural follow up to the lead is a headline that bridges the emotional gap between the photo and story. As a reader, I now have a collaboration of both text and visuals. That’s my definition of a focused package. Here are some samples from editors who seem to agree.

Overcoming Obstacles Thumb>In the sixth issue (click left) of the Southport Journal, a story titled “Overcoming Obstacles” makes it easy for readers to enter the page through the dominant photo (CVI) of Frances Egeler and her mom, Julie. The reporter wisely begins the lead with a description of Frances’ struggle as a homeless student who finds a way  to earn a scholarship to college. A graphic adds context to this story and two additional sidebars provide more testimonies to the overarching idea of “overcoming obstacles.” The reporter wisely allows sources to tell their own stories. The design/headline writing/caption writing and lead integrate naturally around the “obstacles” theme.

> A sports story about the struggles of Malyka Abramson’s quest to become a top cross country runner is packaged and profiled nicely by the Avon Echo staff. Similarly, the North Star features Ethan Hoeft, a runner for Lawrence North who turns an injury into a motivator (and a story focus) to meet his goals.

Carmel Religion Thumb> In another package that makes sense, a Carmel HiLite story about a trend of fewer Jewish Americans identifying with their religion is told through the experience of junior Courtney Glait who closely aligned herself with her Jewish culture and traditions. An effective cutout photo of Courtney reading the Torah provides the CVI for the two-page spread. A well-constructed graphic of current Pew Research numbers showing how Americans self identify along with two more graphics add important layers of timely information to the story angle.

>The Crier staff frame their story about money management through a working student. Munster senior Mario Hernandez bags groceries to earn extra cash. The story design includes a personalized lead, grabber headline, appropriate photo/captions and a nice graphic. This package gets all the elements right.

>Packages do not need to be complicated to be effective. Often, less is more. Check out the interesting package created by the Southport Journal staff featuring Emily Hart, a seamstress so talented she made her own prom dress.

• Editorials that Matter — It’s fine to write about Common Core or bullying or terrorism. What’s not so fine is to ignore the reporting and research that these larger topics require to connect to readers. Common Core is only meaningful if editorial writers understand how it might affect their own school’s curriculum. Bullying should include national stats; however, nobody cares unless the editorial writer can find a local victim of bullying to anchor the editorial.

Call To Action Thumb> Inklings editors explore the implications of Common Core through a “Pro/Con” approach that works. Further, when new courses were introduced to the curriculum at Crown point, editorial writers caution against abandoning more traditional courses; however, editors decide that it’s also good to push boundaries with new course offerings while respecting the role of non-weighted courses. This effort to balance the editorial lead to a well-reasoned “Call To Action.”

> The Huntington North Campus recognize that issuing iPads to students can create more problems than they solve. Campus editors decide that no iPads are better than iPads used irresponsibly. Reader may disagree, but the reasoning is sound and the staffs position clear.

> The Cub Reporter staff make good use of its “30-Second Editorial” that features shorter topics of interest to the editorial board.

>Carmel HiLite editors questione the point system used to determine the “Distinguished Graduate” selection. This is a well-researched and reasoned editorial with a possible solution based on the use of a new Principal’s Advisory Committee to determine future candidates. I also like the related “Speak Up” opinion poll because it adds important student sources to the debate.

• Opinion Columns / Entertainment / Arts Coverage With Readers Involved — Even Hoosier Star publications too often forget to bring their readers along with them as they opine about everything from new video games, movies, books or restaurants. Keep in mind that your readers are consumers too and have valid opinions about these products or businesses. Opinion writers listen up! If you like a book, by all means review it. But also talk to others who have read the book, seen the movies, eaten at the restaurant, tried the new app or game, etc. and add them to your review. In fact, a pie chart, opinion poll or other info-graphic could reflect the feeling of a cross-section of consumers. By including readers, staffs would add credibility and balance to reviews that too often eat up lots of real estate without much real reporting.

Brain Surgery Thumb

Huntington North Campus uses a powerful photo, headline and cutline.

• Photography Matters — Too often, staffs would rather work up a piece of art or illustration rather than go after a meaningful photo. Despite the proliferation of digital photography and cheaper, more powerful cameras (including iPhones), photography continues to be the Achilles Heal of most publications. Keep in mind that readers are “hot wired” for photos — good photos that capture emotion or key moments of a game, spring musical, blood drive, physics experiment, etc. Strong images begin when photographers are involved in the story-planning process. Once a reporter can articulate a story angle, photographers can then create images that support the writer’s approach. This “dynamic” is fundamental to good story telling, photography and packaging. Munster Decisive Moment Pix Thumb

>Ultimately, good photography is about timing and finding the “extraordinary in the ordinary.” Henri Cartier-Bresson believed that every photo has a fleeting “decisive moment” when the photo tells the story best. Consider the photo (click left) from the Munster Crier sports staff. The timing of this image is excellent because readers naturally are interested in what the soccer coach might be saying to freshman Rachel Kalbfeel. The photographer, Cesar Camacho, captures a decisive moment in this soccer game. In effect, Cesar provides the “visual lead” for the story. Because of the strong visual, it makes sense to write a lead that expands on the relationship between Kalbfeel and her coach. To get the details right, I’d suggest showing Kalbfeel the photo and then record her comments about the special moment. That way, the “decisive moment” is not wasted and readers are able to enter the story through the photo, then to a story-telling cutline that feeds the headline(s) and, finally, the lead.

Decisive Moment #1

Note how the cutline continues to build on the emotional aspects of the photo.

> Here is a sampling of photos from a photojournalist, Jim Richardson, who returned to high school for a photo essay and ended up spending three years at Rossville High School near Topeka, Kansas. Richardson’s beautiful essay became a book titled High School U.S.A. Yes, I realize these photos were taken in 1979. That’s the point. Good photography is timeless. All the more reason to train students how to capture and write about these “decisive moments.” Note not only the photography but the cutline writing as well in Richardson’s work below. Then, imagine the story packages that could flow from these images and moments as described by the subjects themselves.

Decisive Moment #1

Decisive Moment #2

Decisive Moment #3

Decisive Moment #4

Decisive Moment #5

• Show Me, Don’t Tell Me — It’s a comment straight out of Journalism 101 to say that the best staffs think visually — even (or especially) during the writing process. Descriptive or narrative leads often recreate locations or key moments so the reader can be transported there. Writers “show” their stories when they get out of the way of their sources and allow them space to “talk.” Reporters who paraphrase 90 percent of the story or who rely on the same old sources quoted in the same tired way are “telling” not showing. And readers know the difference.

Carmel Civil Rightsp1 thumb> Anchored by an outstanding photo (CVI), Carmel HiLite editors tackle the difficult subject of race (click left) in a story told through freshman,Tamia Golden. Study the well-crafted narrative lead for this story and note how the headline and cutline helps capture the emotional feel of the story. Then, check out the highly visual “show and tell” on the “jump” page where many sources discuss the progress and difficulties of race relations today.

> It’s all about photography and text that plays heavily on personal anecdotes and quality quotes in this “show me” piece by the Floyd Central Bagpiper staff.

>  The Lawrence Central Cub Reporter staff examines an interesting topic: binge TV watching. Note how reporter Jordan Williams sets up this story with her narrative lead. Also note the number of sources Williams uses to develop this story idea. This is a well-reported multi-source story. Could it have used at least one photo of, say, Sarah Neville watching Breaking Bad? Or an info-graphic breaking down how any hours teens watch TV? Yes on both counts. But I like how Williams uses direct quotes to “show” rather than “tell” this story.


Adding Sound To Reporting Touches Hearts, Tickles Imagination

2 Apr

Audio works when it touches our hearts, tickles our imagination, intrigues our minds, says Carl and Eileen Ganter in their definitive essay titled, “Sound In The Story.”

Sound In Story Image

Sound In The Story

“Even before you learned how to fine-tune your photo exposures, you were developing your eye. Do that with audio. Do that with both ears, and everything in between,” Ganter says

A great way to begin developing that “sense of sound” is to enter the “Color Contest” sponsored by American Student Radio and This American Life’s Ira Glass. 

The theme of this national audio storytelling contest is “color” and students have until June 1, 2014 to create their audio package. You can find out more about the contest at the IHSPA’s website; however, let’s explore some things here that could not only enhance your chances in the contest but also could add an exciting new dimension to your school’s news website. Here are four keys to successful reporting with sound.

(1) Consider the Story Arc: Think of the audio story as a sequence of events occurring over three chapters or time frames. Chapters 1 and 3 are the first and last 15 or 20 seconds of the story. Chapter 2 makes up the middle which builds steadily and logically toward a suitable ending. Each chapter contributes something special to the story and all three work together to attract interest, build suspense or leave the listener with a sense of satisfaction.

Mindy McAdams, a multimedia professor at the University of Florida, breaks down the Story Arc this way.

  • Have a great opening. McAdams says that the storyteller needs a strong sense of what makes a particular story special. Once you sense this unique quality, “grab the (listener) at the very beginning with something unusual, unexpected, emotional, or otherwise “sticky.” In short, make the listener curious in those opening seconds of your audio story. 
  • Dive below the surface, and stay there. If you are curious enough to keep asking questions, McAdams says, then you will find the real story, the interesting story. Put the pen down. Forget about the technical aspects of recording an interview for a few moments and truly listen. Because if you listen well, says McAdams, you will follow up with sincere questions and these questions will reveal what’s good and what’s special about your audio story.
  • Construct a story arc, and don’t ruin it with a weak ending. McAdams suggests that a good story should build quickly to a climax — a high point — about 70 to 90-seconds into the audio piece. This is roughly three quarters of the way through a 2-minute story. Then, bring the story to a conclusion with an observation or anecdote that either makes the listener think or feel good.
  • A good ending is not redundant of what went before. McAdams points out that the ending should be “completely in tune” with the very idea of storytelling — at the end, says McAdams, “I should have a feeling of satisfaction, or wonder, or regret. I should care.”

McAdams uses a segment from “The Annoying Orange” to demonstrate the Story Arc. Even though this is a video, just shut your eyes and listen. You will quickly be drawn in by the opening. The middle of the story arc establishes the story line and at about the 1:12 second mark, you will sense the climax of the story. At 1:24, you will hear the resolution and at 1:28, the end.

(2) Make My Day: Every story is different. When you approach each one, Carl Ganter reminds reporters, “don’t jump to conclusions.” Once you’ve collected the audio from your sources, observe it, analyze it, listen to it carefully and finally, feel it. Let the story unfold naturally, keeping the story arc in mind. Be open. Chances are, Ganter says, the story isn’t what you thought it was. “Chances are, it’s more — and better.”

(3) Don’t Tell Me, Show Me: This is a much-used phrase in Reporting 101 class. But it’s of particular importance as you create a “virtual reality” for your listener. Make your experience as first-hand as possible by allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions. Let your sources communicate their own stories in their own words. Why narrate that “she was happy” when you can show it with her laughter?

(4) Paint a picture with sounds as well as with words: Include what you hear on location. In the video world, natural sounds are called “B” roll and might include a simple rooster crow to indicate a place, a time or a mood. The “show me” state-of-mind requires that reporters be keenly observant with all your senses. I’ve included a helpful link here that provides more tips for getting good natural sound.

Here’s a great example of how natural sound (B-Roll) can mix with the narrative (A-Roll) to create a multi-dimensional story. It’s called, “Riding Out The Storm.” (Close your eyes and listen carefully to the mix down).

In addition to the video above, here are four videos from NPR’s Ira Glass who produces and hosts This American Life. Glass will determine the winner of “color” audio contest.

Ira Glass on Storytelling 1 (5:23)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 2 (4:02)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 3 (5:19)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 4 (2:46)

If you are planning to submit your own “color” story for the American Student Radio contest, I would suggest you check out ASR’s Resource Page. There are lots of helpful tutorials about recording sound with the iPhone and using Adobe Audition to edit your final MP3 or WAV audio file. I’ve also added a blog here that describes the 10 best iPhone apps for recording audio. I’ve had good luck with a free app called Rev Voice Recorder. I also like “iTalk” by Griffin Technology.

If you are more comfortable using Audacity as an audio editing program, I’ve included some tutorials for that program as well.

Audacity_Guide 1
• Audacity Guide 2

Further, I would suggest you take a few minutes to check out for even more tips and ideas about interviewing and recording a professional story.

One more point. You already know that pictures and words can leave a false impression especially if images or quotes are used out of context. Audio can be a powerful tool for story telling or it can leave a false impression (usually unintentional but that’s no excuse). 

I always began the audio section of my multimedia classes with a review of “Truth In Audio.” Probably not a bad idea to review these goals from time to time just to keep them fresh in your mind. 

Let me end with this final cool quote from “Sound In The Story” (Poynter Institute for Media Studies):

“When photography, video and audio are crafted to work well together, it’s possible to suspend and defy time. You can escape the rules of the universe if you can enter the mind and heart of another human being.”

Planning Great Coverage For 2014? It’s All In The Script

4 Nov

Effective story packaging boils down to a simple matter of “show and tell.” The package falls apart, however, if those responsible for the “show” part fail to communicate with the “tell” part of the equation.

That thought occurred to me as I read a story by Indianapolis Star reporter Mark Ambrogi about Avon High School’s overtime state soccer championship in Class 2A last Saturday afternoon.

Soccer Package Cropped

INSERT #1: A story package that focuses key elements on a critical moment.

Ambrogi, the reporter and Doug McSchooler, the photographer stuck to the script and the result was a beautifully simple and effective story package that capitalized on a single moment. (See Insert #1).

I refer to Ambrogi (or any good reporter) as a script writer because any anecdotal lead will create in the reader’s mind a highly visual “mini story” containing a beginning, a middle and an end. Some might call this a narrative approach.

As you can see from the first insert, McSchooler uses Ambrogi’s lead as a script for his most telling photo – a very happy Cassiday Blacha jumping and smiling with her teammates following the crucial goal. Indeed, this package captures two sides of the Avon victory. The facts of the game and the emotion and drama surrounding those facts.

The headline captures the excitement this way:

“‘It was awesome,’ says Avon’s Blacka after winning goal in OT.”

Notice how the verb, “awesome,” confirms what readers feel as they see happy faces in the photo.

It’s a package that uses a photo, caption, headline and lead as the building blocks for a single focus. And I offer it here as a rule of thumb for high school staffs who are seeking ways to make their coverage more memorable.

Consider then the approach used by Munster High School’s Carrie Boelt to capture some great “show” and “tell” in her yearbook story about the girls track team.

Keep in mind that Munster is a perennial champion in girls track, having won the previous 13 conference titles. Carrie could have settled for a news-oriented “summary” lead with lots of quotes from the coach. Or, she could write a real story.

As Carrie began to interview members of the track team, she discovered a particular moment that defined this group of girls. Each member of the team seemed to recall the same “turning point” moment with vivid detail and emotion.

Team members told Carrie how awful they felt as they sat on the grassy infield at Hobart High School convinced that they – a 10-1 regular season team – had blown the conference championship. The girls had just lost the 4 x 4 competition in the last event of the meet with Hobart. And now the girls waited for the painful final results to be tallied and announced.

Win CS Static

INSERT#2: The Munster yearbook staff works together to create highly focused story packages.

Boelt was in the best position to know how those moments felt because not only was she a member of the Paragon yearbook staff at Munster, she also was the captain of the girls track team.

As it turned out, the track team DID win its 14th conference championship by the slimmest of margins followed by a lot of angst and tears from those athletes on the field.

That field – that moment – was the ideal place to begin the story of the 2012 Munster girls track team and Carrie Boelt didn’t miss the opportunity to lay out the script for both the writing and photography involved (See Insert #2).

I’ve judged a lot of student publications over the years and my most recent evaluations of yearbook sports spreads for the 2013 Harvey competition convinces me anew that the best story tellers see the inherent drama in life. Every story assignment is an opportunity to uncover something interesting, something that words and pictures can recreate if only a script can be found to show the way.

Let’s revisit Carrie’s story package and examine it a little closer to see just how the building blocks of design – dominant photo, caption, headline and story lead – work together as one single focus.

Carrie’s lead becomes the script for the rest of the design:

“Waiting for the final results to be announced, the Girls Track team sits in the Hobart field with faces streaming with tears, believing they are about to lose Conference for the first time in 14 years.”

As a writer, Carrie understands what Tim Harrower explains in his highly regarded “Newspaper Designer’s Handbook”: Words should transport the reader emotionally from Point A and Point B. But the package is not complete until the photographer, headline writer and caption writer add critical visual components to the package.

Carrie Boelt

INSERT #3: Story packaging begins when the writer finds a story angle. This angle becomes the script for photos and headlines.

If you study Carrie’s track spread more closely, (See Insert # 3) you’ll notice the largest photos works in tandem with the lead. The photo shows Mykaela Burton consoling Emily Johnson (when the team is sure it is going to lose the conference title).

The key to this successful package is the headline that provides a “bridge” from words to pictures.

“In track, it’s CRAZY TO WIN by such a small amount” declares this highly visual headline.

Notice how the photo of the girls consoling each other is confirmed by this headline. This sort of coordination of photo-to-headline-to caption-to-story doesn’t happen accidentally. This is a staff that asks: What’s the best way to tell this story? Once they answer this central question, they have their script, their blueprint for the rest of the design.

Just to be sure the girls track spread was not the exception, I checked a Paragon spread covering “spirit week.” Here’s how the design guided me through the package.

• I am drawn into the spread by the “visual lead,” a large photo of a girl in a “poofy dress and tiara” sitting on the ground and laughing.  (See Insert #4).

• Next, I’m attracted to this spot color headline (confirming the way the photo makes me feel):

Win CS Static

INSERT #4: Notice how the reference to “crazy laugh attack” confirms the emotions in the photo. Headlines must form a bridge between photos and text.

“Sometimes I got crazy laugh attacks, so I was dubbed the princess of laughter.” Perfect. The headline captures the mood of the girl in the dominant photo and provides a bridge to the written story.

• Because the photographer captures an interesting moment, I’m inclined to read the caption that provides the girl’s name. Further, I find out she is part of Princess Day during Spirit Week.

• The lead continues to build on a single focus or angle:

“A pack of princesses dressed in bright pink tutus, sparkling tiaras and feather boas job down Columbia Avenue…It is Princess Day, the final day of the team’s spirit week for Conference, and they are just beginning their run.”

This is another strong example of a writer finding an interesting anecdote to anchor the story and following the team’s ability to follow the script with a related headline, photo and caption to complete the package.

Student staffs that make these connections confirm a critical piece of research done some years ago by eye-track researchers at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Their study confirms what good newspaper and yearbook staffs already know .

• Photos attract attention first, and the largest photo becomes, in effect, the “lead” for the printed page.

• Eyes follow a common pattern of navigation. Most readers enter the page through the largest photo and seek confirmation of the photo through the headline. Teasers and cutline come next, followed finally by the story lead.

• Poynter researchers also point out that the human brain relates words with adjacent images and it strives the see relationships between the two. When the relationship is not clear – as when a photo and headline seem to ignore or contradict each other – readers often leave the page frustrated.

Chesterton Golf

The writers and photographers are communicating pretty well though the photo of Kelly Grassel would be stronger as the dominant.

So, what are we to make of this research in terms of what it means for day-to-day coverage? As you review the spread on the left, asks yourself these questions?

• Effective story telling begins with the writer. Has the writer found an interesting person, circumstance (anecdote) or moment to serve as a lead angle?

• Has the photographer used the lead as a script to guide photo coverage? In short, is there a connection between the first three paragraphs of the story and the largest photo on the page?

• Is the dominant photo located near the story design?

• Does the headline provide a bridge, particularly the verb, between the photo and lead. For instance the headline above the photo of the girl wearing the “poofy dress and laughing says: “Sometimes I got crazy laugh attacks, so I was dubbed the princess of laughter.”

• Can the caption stand alone as a “mini” story, not only capturing the mood of the photo but the basic “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where.”

Publications writers and photographers who work together to find answers to these questions soon will learn they hold the keys to unlocking the lifeblood of their schools.

Thomas Wolfe may believe you can never go home again. But with publications working together to find the best way to tell stories, you can capture those things that make home special.

5 Tips For Better Flash Photography

26 Aug
Petey Slide2

The sun provides background “rim” lighting on Peyton while the camera’s flash in Program Mode provides the additional fill light on the subject. (Panasonic LX5)

It was the classic lighting dilemma: My granddaughter was about to emerge from the bottom of a curly slide at a local park. I wanted to capture her expression as she made it to the bottom of the slide but there was a problem. The bright sun would be behind her and Peyton’s face — the crucial part of the image — would be in shadow.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly easy solution for situations where backgrounds are brighter than the subject. High school photographers face this situation too when subjects are photographed against brighter classroom windows or the light outside is bright and full of contrast. What to do? Engage your camera’s flash unit. In the case of my granddaughter, I set my camera on Program Mode, got down low and allowed the flash to stop Peyton’s motion and freeze her expression. And the sun shining on her hair from behind provided separation and a natural “rim” light around her head. Without the fill flash, the camera would have adjusted for the bright sun and the subject would have been badly underexposed.

When I’m photographing people outside in bright, contrasty light, I try to keep these five tips in mind.

1. Use your flash when photographing people in bright, contrasty situations. It may seem counterintuitive to use flash in bright light but think about it. People just don’t look good when sunlight creates heavy shadows around noses and eye sockets look more like raccoons. The addition of “fill” flash coming in from the front will even out this contrasty light and give faces a more natural look. This tip works as long as you have your camera set in Program Mode. In this mode, the camera will figure out the environment and adjust the amount of light (TTL) so you — Mr. Photographer — can concentrate on making a great image. One last minor adjustment I make is to dial down the flash compensation by a half to a full f-stop just to keep the light from overwhelming the subject. You want fill flash to look subtle and natural. If your subject looks overly bright or washed out, dial down your flash compensation a bit more and shoot again.

2. Remember that Flash Exposure Compensation affects the light on the subject. Exposure Compensation affects the background. Smaller compact cameras may offer these controls within the menu; however, most DSLR cameras have a separate button for both of these compensation adjustments (look for the small +/- on the button). This step requires a little practice, but by setting your camera in Program Mode first, you will gain much more control over your foreground and background. Keep in mind that dialing your flash compensation button up or down makes your subject lighter or darker. By dialing your regular exposure compensation button up or down, you control how light or dark your environment or background will be. Again, it’s best to draw down your flash compensation exposure to a negative half or even a full stop depending on how close you are to the subject.

3. Carry a white business card and a rubber band. This method works best inside on those occasions when you are using bounce flash and need a “catch” light in the subject’s eyes. Simply stretch the rubber band around the head of the flash and attach the white card on the front so it extends out like a fin. The card will redirect a portion of the light and kick it back into the subject’s eyes. Yes, the majority of the light will bounce off the ceiling or walls as you angle your flash head upward to “bounce” the light. But often this technique alone leaves the subject’s eyes black and lifeless. The business card is a cheap and easy solution that will add a nice dimension to your bounce flash photography.


The light behind my subject was changing quickly so I used the “magic settings” as a starting point. That included an ISO of 400, a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second and an f-stop of f-8. The slow shutter allowed me to capture the background light and the f-stop controlled the light falling on Charlotte.

4. Use these magic settings as starting points. If your situation calls for shooting portraits or you need to see lots of background detail on inside shots, you can use these settings as a starting point. For now, don’t be concerned about flash or photo compensation.  First, set your camera on the Manual Mode. Second, set your ISO at 400 or 800. Third, set your shutter speed at 1/15th or 1/30th of a second. Fourth, set your f-stop at 5.6. These settings will produce excellent quality while providing good “depth of field” (lots of background detail). The slower shutter speed will capture more ambient light for background detail. The f-stop in manual exposure mode will help control the amount of light on the subject. You can make adjustments as needed. Just keep in mind that the shutter speed will affect the environment behind the subject. Adjustments made to the f-stop or flash exposure compensation will affect the light on the foreground or subject.

5. Remove your flash to achieve “studio” type lighting. Some situations require flash to be “off camera.” When you do this, adjust your camera and flash to the wireless ETTL or “commander” mode in your camera. Then, hold your flash in your left hand at a good angle to your subject while holding the camera and shooting with your right hand. This technique is particularly effective if you have some soft window light or a white wall reflecting light on your subject from one side. With this soft, reflected light illuminating one side of the subject, the external flash can serve as an effective main light. You’ve also duplicated a mini studio lighting setup. It’s likely you will need to make some exposure adjustments. But begin in Manual Mode with the “magic settings” above and practice how to operate your flash wirelessly. I guarantee that your photos will look a lot different than flash photos taken from your camera’s fixed hot shoe. Again, try to position your subject (or position yourself) so soft light falls on one side of your subject. Then, angle your flash in your left hand so that the main light illuminates the shadow side.

These techniques along with the purchase of a decent external flash can improve photo quality and give photographers a new measure of control over both the subject and the background. And that means improved photography in your newspaper or yearbook.

Additional Resources:
•The Digital Photo School (Controlling flash in harsh light)

•Avoiding Flash Blowout

READ previous blog about why Hoosier Star newspapers succeed


Best Hoosier Star Newspapers Tell Stories Visually, Verbally

28 Jul


(Note: Bold italicized references with an asterisk in this post indicate that a related sample image is available. Click on these images to see a larger version).

It was a daunting task: find the very best newspapers in the state from a pool of 24 outstanding publications.

In the many hours that would follow, 14 publications would emerge as potential Hoosier Stars in the 2013 competition. And six newspapers ultimately would prevail. These six will be recognized as Hoosier Stars on Oct. 18 at IHSPA’s fall convention.

Because the competition was so strong among these 24 finalists, I thought it would be helpful to spend some time discussing what these news staffs do best. Though my comments and samples below draw from the full group of finalists, there are some themes or “best practices” that put a special “shine” on the six Hoosier Stars and eight runners-up this year.

First of all, the best Hoosier newspapers are sensitive to the visual side of good story tellings. Second, these staffs see relationships between the story lead, the related photos, headlines and cutlines. These elements all works together as one, clearly focused package. Third, the best staffs know the difference between writing a “report,” and writing a real “story.” Fourth, these exceptional staffs place an emphasis on photography and graphics. And, finally, the “shine” on these stars comes from being effective leaders in their schools. Let’s break it down further and look at some examples.

If I were to give a simple point of fundamental advice, I would tell news staff to allow content to dictate the nature of the story design. This approach requires the staff to think in terms of “packages” and not single stories. To assist in this process, I would advise staff members to ask three questions of any assignment:

• Why should my best friend care about this story idea?
• Whose face do I see when I think of my story?
• Can I write a lead that provides a blueprint for the rest of the story design?

Southport Sample 1 Final

Richmond Hills Blast

Once a writer can articulate why readers should care about the story, the next step is to visualize the story in terms of a person who best represents the story idea. My heart went out to Southport freshman Nicole Smithers whose house was destroyed in the *Richmond Hills blast. And I was saddened further to learn that Carmel senior Brett Finbloom, who died of alcohol poisoning, might have been saved had friends known about a new medical amnesty law. These are tragic stories but they resonated with me because the writer immediately put a face on the story so I could understand the impact. Reporters did not hesitate to begin with personal stories — anecdotes about Nicole at Southport and Brett at Carmel — and these smaller anecdotes gave readers like me an opportunity to identify — even empathize — with the story.

Anecdotal leads also provide an easy blueprint for related display type, photos or graphics. Here are additional examples.

Huntington N. Sample 2 Final

Alex Stanley Unifies Town

Consider Huntington North math teacher Matt Stephenson who waited for hours at a store to buy Legos for his classroom collection. And then there’s senior *Alex Stanley who paints fire hydrants to beautify her town as part of a peer tutoring class. “I am making my community more beautiful and bringing art into society,” Alex explained to a Campus reporter.

As you will see in the samples below, publications that “show,” rather than “tell” offer impatient readers a great alternative. Indeed, these newspapers are “stars” because they engage readers and make their schools better places because readers can empathize with other students like themselves.


Studies show that photos, graphics and illustrations are read at a much higher rate than text. That doesn’t mean text is unimportant. In fact, the best newspapers do a great job of writing detailed captions, newsy headlines, pulled quotes, etc. Editors of these publications understand that visuals are central to the reading experience. That suggests that reporters, photographers and page designers are working together or perhaps there are special journalism students today capable of visualizing their stories as both a visual and a verbal assignment.

Packaging begins when reporters understand their story angle and can express it to the visual staff. The lead, literally, is the last thing readers see on the page; however, if visuals are packaged correctly, leads will be enhanced and readers will move through the story design as basic “needs” are met.

Plainfield Sample 3 Final

Teen Mom

The Quaker Shaker staff of Plainfield High School and The Triangle staff of Columbus North understand the special dynamic of words and pictures (photos, infographics, sidebars, etc.) working together as a unit. When the Quaker Shaker staff interviewed a *teen mom in its November/December issue, editors immediately began polling PHS students about whether shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” portrayed teen parents accurately. The results became a very effective info-graphic along with a sidebar with “5 tips” from a counselor about potential pregnancy. Good packaging of words and pictures to tell the story in a personal way.

Columbus Double Truck 4 a-b Final

Eating Habits

The Triangle turned a concern about the *eating habits of Columbus North students into a double truck spread that combined a multiple source story with a graphic based on 104 student interviews about how they felt about their own body image. This is a great example of how the visual aspects of story telling mesh with the traditional text to both inform and entertain readers.

Carmel Double Truck 5 A=B Final

Medical Amnesty Law

I mentioned above the Carmel HiLite’s coverage of the *medical amnesty law (Lifeline law, Sept. 19 issue) that passed through the Indiana legislature to little fanfare last fall. Carmel reporters detail the law but they begin with a clear focus on Finbloom. In short, reporter Claudia Huang puts a face on the story first. Then, she writes a 40-inch feature story about the law and its local implications. My guess is that many publications would have run this text-heavy story with one info-graphic, photos or illustration along with a few pulled quotes to break up the mass of gray type on the page. But not HiLite editors. Inside jump pages feature a series of excellent graphics to anchor the page and to help tell the story visually. The visual and verbal aspects of the story work together well.


Floyd Central 6A-B DoubleTruck Final

Noelle Wilcox

As I studied finalist publications, I often had to read into the third or fourth paragraphs of stories to find the news. Or, a photo would identify one student while featuring someone else in the lead. Visual perception research shows that the human brain relates words with adjacent images; it strives to see relationships between the two. When that relationship is not clear — as when a photo and headline seem to contradict or ignore each other — readers turn the page. There’s clarity and focus in The Floyd Central Bagpiper (Nov. 2 Issue) when editors feature the abstract art of *Noelle Wilcox.

Munster Sample 7 Final

Energy Drinks

There’s clarity and focus in the Nov. 1 issue of the Munster Crier when editors examine the effects of *energy drinks on students. And there’s clarity and focus in the Carmel HiLite when editors explore the new definition of “family” (Nov. 16 Issue). Note the tiered headline structure used by the HiLite to set up the story about the “new” *family:

Main Headline: The New American Family

Secondary Head: After decades of increasing diversity in American households, students are more accepting of a definition beyond the nuclear family

Lead: While most students will stay home or go to a relative’s house with their families, junior Shelby Spitz said this holiday her family plans to celebrate not only in Carmel, but all over the Midwest during the short four-day break.

Carmel 8 a-b Doubletruck Final

The New American Family Cover

Carmel Sample 8c Final

New American Family / Page 2

Because engaging readers is a several-step process, Carmel readers are attracted first to the double-truck color photo-illustration which, in effect, IS the lead of the story about the new American family. Ideally, the graphic should have included at least a mug shot of Shelby Spitz but editors still are on the right track. Given the fact there is such a strong “point of entry” on HiLite pages, the reader naturally “scans” the visual parts of the story first. Such scanning builds interest in reading the story.

Scanners logically move next to the large main headline where they quickly assess if there’s a logical connection between the dominant artwork and display headline. Once confirmed, the scanner moves quickly on to the the secondary headline. This is the “hook,” or place where scanners become readers. The lead then sustains the reading process assuming, of course, the lead tells the story in a compelling way. Judge for yourself if these elements in the HiLite above satisfy by working together as a well-focused package.


Mindy McAdams, a journalism professor from the University of Florida, claims that adherence to the “5Ws and H” result in reports, not stories. Her contention is that reporters must work beyond the basic facts of a given story to find what’s fresh, interesting and engaging to others. If professional reporters often settle for “reports,” it’s no surprise that there’s a dearth of true story telling in the scholastic press. I base that observation on the following leads from some of Indiana’s best newspapers:

• In 2003 the Presidents Council on Service and Civic Participation was created to reward citizens for helping others. (The news here is that a senior received this award. Why not feature the senior by name and tell what he did to warrant this award?)

• Orchestra students performed their fall concert on Tuesday, October 9 at 7 p.m. (Writer could have featured the upcoming winter concert and tied in coverage of the fall concert later in the story. Or, seek out an interesting anecdote from within the orchestra.)

• From October 29 through November 9, teachers competed against each other in a fight for the top. (This is a good story idea about collecting canned goods for the less fortunate; however, the news lies in the fact that the groups fell 12,000 cans short of their goal of 20,000. And who is the “face” of this story? The person who collected the most cans probably.)

• Goodwill is considered a thrift store for its abundance of clothes, books, shoes, toys, furniture and kitchen utensils. (Avoid beginning a lead with obvious information. Remember, you only have seven words to make an impression. Instead, feature a student…or students…who buy name-brand clothes there and save lots of money.)

• Being a healthy weight is a big topic of discussion worldwide. Teen obesity is up and rising in the news. (This lead on an otherwise excellent two-page spread about diet “buries” the real news which is a school nurse who believes student diets suffer from the school’s proximity too many fast-food outlets. Why not say so in the lead or “show” the reader by featuring a student who eats two or three meals a day at the local McDonald’s)?

• According to the American Meteorological Society Online, a meteorologist is defined as a person who uses scientific principles…to forecast…Any lead that begins with a date, direct quote, question or general statement kills readership because such approaches wastes the time of impatient readers. Get to the point of the story…in seven words.

• Injuries seem to happen in every sport. No matter what sport, injuries are prone to happen. (Readers already know that injuries happen. Why state the obvious? Instead, interview an athlete about the moment he or she felt the twinge of pain that led to a serious sports injury. I’m sure that moment is seared into any athlete’s mind. Dig for the “story within the story” and then lead with this material.)

As I mentioned at the top of this blog post, lead writers need to ask a single question of every lead and story they write: Why should the reader care? How well reporters answer this question determines how interesting the lead will. Same goes for photos, cutlines and headlines within the story package.

In a well reported feature story about a physics teacher who ran the Chicago Marathon, this Hoosier Star newspaper finalist had a great photo of the teacher running in the marathon along with an excellent headline titled, “Born To Run.” At first glance, the photo, headline and cutline work together in harmony. Then there’s this lead:

Running 26.2 miles is considered to be an impressive and difficult achievement. 

Of course it is. But this isn’t much of a revelation to impatient readers who expect text “to transport the reader emotionally from Point A to Point B,” notes  Tim Harrower in his excellent book, The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook. Instead, why not frame the story around an anecdotal lead (details taken from quotes in the middle of the story) for this rewrite:

For 10 years Jerome Flewelling watched the Chicago Marathon from the sidelines. He knew training for the marathon would take him away from his family. But all that changed this year when he finished the 26.2 mile course in just under three hours.

Given this “story within the story,” the photo takes on a new, more personal dimension and the scanner has a reason to invest some time in the story.

Columbus Sample 9 Final

The Woman In Black

Consider this lead in the Sept. 5 issue of The Triangle about a senior who decided to direct his own play as part of a senior project. Titled “*The Woman In Black,” Hannah Brown writes:

Skimming through Auditorium director John Johnson’s bookshelf during his resource last May, senior Chris Cox came across the script for the play, “The Woman in Black.” “It was just sticking out funny and I looked at it and I was like, ‘I guess I’ll just pick this one today,’ Cox said.

Once a writer finds an anecdote (story within a story) like this one, it’s easy for editors to plan supporting graphics and other story-telling elements. As a sidebar, The Triangle interviewed the lead actor of the play in a Q and A format. Even the black background in the page design reflects the story angle. In fact, the lead provide a blueprint for the entire story package.

Let me mention another strong example of writing with an eye on the visual.

Micheala Sosby* (see story below) wanted to write a story about teacher and student “infatuations” with celebrities at Chesterton High School. Instead of wasting lead potential by writing something like “Many high school students have crushes on various celebrities,” Micheala looked for an anecdote. She found one with an English teacher who told her his story. Consider Macheala’s lead:

English teacher Bill Caulton was not expecting much more than a home-style country breakfast as he took his seat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Elizabethtown, Ky one morning. He certainly did not expect that seat to be the chair country pop sensation Taylor Swift had lounged in just moments before.

“The waitress told me that Taylor Swift was sitting in my exact seat 10 minutes earlier,” Caulton said. “That’s when my crush (on her) was born.”

Makeala continues developing this “story within a story” with this transition a few paragraphs later.

Just across the hall from Caulton’s classroom, Erik Kroeger competes for Swift’s love with a poster of the singer displayed above his locker. “She’s unattainable, and I’ll never get her, Kroeger said, “but she’s beautiful.

Makeala finishes the anecdote with Caulton challenging Kroeger to a “sing-off” to see who should “get a date with her.”


Chesterton High School

Makeala Sosby and Hannah Brown understand that good journalism first and foremost is good story telling. But such stories take extra work and a sensitivity to the drama that lies within any story. Some reporters might ignore that moment at a Cracker Barrel restaurant or trivialize a student who finds inspiration in an old script “just sticking out funny” from the pile in an office. But these anecdotes become gold in the hands of perceptive writers such as Makeala and Hannah.

Finally, I’m not suggesting that all stories need anecdotal leads. A newspaper also provides a “record” of the year and by definition some record keeping involves events that are old. What to do?

•Choose the specific over the general.
•Seek out fresh angles to old story.
•Think in terms of the NOW.

What should readers know now (the day of publication) about an event that ended a week or two ago? By thinking in the present tense, creative reporters ought to be able to find fresh angles, assuming they are willing to do a little digging.


If there’s an Achilles Heel in most student newspapers, it’s photography. Far too many otherwise strong publications settle for static photos of students lined up against a wall staring blankly at the photographer. Sports, in particular, run the same action photos of players taking jump shots or running backs sweeping toward the sidelines. And too often, these images lack contrast or are “plugged” with over-inked halftones. These problem are not new; however, given the higher resolution of smart phones and compact cameras, I think photography could be improved if the entire staff felt a responsibility for capturing strong images.

Even publications that use photography effectively such as the Carmel HiLite, Lawrence Central Cub Reporter, and the Floyd Central Bagpiper, struggle at times with consistently-strong images. But these same publications understand that readers are “hot wired” for photos and that good images need as much space on pages as good stories. Here’s what makes images work:

•Photos need a point of view (or angles) just like text. Successful photographers “zoom with their feet.” That means they get close to their subjects (six feet or less when possible) and emphasize high or low angles. Photos are boring when shot at eye level.

•Good photographers always have their cameras with them and they shoot “human interest” photos even when they are not on assignment. This means varying camera position in order to create a combination of horizontals and verticals. It also means developing a keen eye for expression and “decisive moments” when a photo is at peak interest.

•Good photographers take part in story planning. Once a reporter knows the approach he or she is taking with a story, it becomes the photographer’s responsibility to find ways to express the story angle photographically. Photos should be part of the “story package” whenever possible and it’s ideal when the photo and lead feature the same subject.

•Photos should never stand alone. If the photo is good enough to be reproduced in the paper, it’s deserving of a full cutline. This includes (especially) cover photos.

Photos do not have to be generated by staff photographers. Increasingly, I’ve noticed student publications giving credit to non-staff members for some very nice images. Most students carry iPhones or Android phones capable of producing images of at least five megapixels. This should translate into excellent 5 x 7 inch images. If a staff photographer can’t make an assignment or isn’t available, find other students to document key events. Consider providing “basic training” for these unofficial photographers.

•Serious photographers study photography in professional media and push themselves to understand the fundamentals of photo composition.

• Bookmark photo blogs and web sites dedicated to training. I’d start with sites such as  or I’d also recommend the Digital Photography school, too, but there are many others. Be sure to shoot photos every day and require everyone on the staff to shoot daily candids. Here’s 11 great tips for doing so.

•Meet with your printer each semester (or back shop manager) to explore ways to achieve better photo reproduction. I suspect student newspapers who are commercially printed get the “third shift” on the press. This means student newspapers often are printed in the middle of the night by someone who may not be taking the time to burn plates and balance the press. Insist on better quality.


It’s not surprising that a number of Hoosier Star newspaper finalists give multiple pages to “opinion” pages. Students love to write personal columns. But it’s the collective staff “editorial” that often raises a publication above the din of personal opinion pieces and on a good day, helps shape the direction and culture of the school community.

Unlike other opinion writing, the structure of the staff editorial is different. As I reviewed successful editorials, it’s clear that staffs must:

• State the problem or situation clearly;

• Present the staff’s best arguments,

• Initiate a specific call to action.

Lawrence C. Sample 11 Final

The 30-Second Editorial

Technically, an effective editorial could be written in three paragraphs. That’s one reason I like Lawrence Central’s “*30-second editorials” in each issue of the Cub Reporter. And that brings me to my first criticism of the editorial writing among too many good newspapers: Editorials are too long. Waaay too long.

I would guess that most editorial I reviewed required at least eight to 10 paragraphs to finally reach a conclusion. Many cover most of a page. Often, it takes these writers a couple of paragraphs to hint that a problem exists. The “argument” section oten are rants about an issue without any supporting evidence or original reporting. And the conclusion often end up moralizing about how students should stop being bullies, be filled with more school spirit, or be smarter voters.

One newspaper spent 16 column inches of space to tell readers not to use the apocalypse (end of Mayan calendar which was a popular feature story last year) to skip school.

First, editorial writers must understand they can’t legislate behavior. However, editorial writers can help solve legitimate problems in their schools by offering rationale arguments for a specific course of action. Case in point.

When Crown Point High School proposed a switch to a *modified block schedule, the Inklings editorial writer clearly stated the change (problem) as necessary for the school to keep up with changes in the curriculum. The “arguments” section of the editorial provides some evidence that a modified block is a “progressive change.” The “call to action” is that students should be involved in the planning for whatever changes occur with the new block.

Crown Point Sample 12 Final

Modified Block Schedule Editorial

Readers aren’t asked to change their behaviors or attitudes. Instead, they are challenged to become part of teams that will create a new schedule effecting every student in the school. That’s a reasonable “call to action.” Incidentally, the Inklings staff tied the editorial to a well researched story about block scheduling on Page 1. Many other Hoosier Star newspapers consistently tied their editorials to reporting in the same issue. That’s a great practice because it frees the editorial writer to be brief and on point.

I would like to propose a couple of additional suggestions for more effective editorial writing.

Select a writer to represent the editorial board’s collective opinion.

• Require that the writer debate the editorial’s main points before the group of key editors.• Require that the writer state the problem (reason for writing) in 30 words or less (also a good practice for reporters).

  • • Require that the writer present at least three strong arguments for the board’s position (usually resulting in the realization that more reporting is needed).
    • Require that the writer articulate a “call to action” in 30 words or less.

If an editorial writer can verbalize these five requirements, the writing process should be more concise and effective.

Editorial writers who can present arguments quickly and urge readers to join others in a solution (or call to action) not only learn an important “life skill,” but also fill an important leadership role in the school community.

Carmel Sample 13 Final

Carmel Related Editorial

I’d like to finish this section with one more look at the Carmel High School student who lost his life to alcohol poisoning last fall because students at the party failed to call 911 in time for fear of self incrimination. The HiLite covered the story on its feature pages and *wrote an editorial. Here’s the way this editorial might have handled the five-step process I’ve suggested above:

The Problem in 30 words or less: Brett Finbloom died of alcohol poisoning because friends did not call 911 in time to save his life despite a new law in Indiana that grants legal immunity to those who call for help.

Best Arguments: (1) The new law that preceded Brett’s death by one month was not publicized by the state so most students knew nothing about it. (2) A website about the “Lifeline Law” is not accessible to the intended audience. (3) According to Department of Health web site, 24 Hoosiers under the legal drinking age have died since 2004. These deaths are preventable.

Call To Action: While the Lifeline Law is a great start, Indiana government must take responsibility for educating youth about the new law. Youth also must be more aware of laws that could effect their own lives and the lives of others.

If editorial writers think they need 16 inches to write an effective editorial, consider writing two eight-inch editorials instead. More readers will be attracted to the shorter editorials and the school will be better served by a publication that taps its own unique power to move readers toward action.

Returning to the original question that began this blog, what makes Hoosier Star newspaper staffs successful? In my view, these staffs know that the presentation is part of the message. Individuals produce fragments of information, and teams produce packages that mean something to readers. Somewhere in the process, these staffs ask, “What’s the best way to tell the story.”

Reid Ashe, former publisher of the Wichita Eagle, says it the best, I think. “Raw information is cheap, understanding is valuable, and something to act on is precious.”