March 6, 2011

Projecting Progress

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Sun elections were Saturday, ushering in another year’s worth of editors and effecting another major upheaval in the constantly shifting landscape of a college paper. I do recognize the outgoing board’s work, but I’ll save the farewells for a farewell column.

This is my penultimate column, and hopefully the new board will begin actively looking for another public editor in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I want to examine some longer-term projects.

During the six-week “compet” that precedes the elections, candidates for editor in chief take on all the duties of the position, which includes working on macro-level ideas to improve The Sun’s overall quality and help account for the short institutional memory inherent in a college publication.

Most of these projects were individual ones, but I don’t think it’s necessary to get into who proposed what. Now that the new board is in place, I think the projects will stand or fall under the banner of The Sun as a whole. This year’s candidates had a handful of projects on the table. Now that the election has transpired, the new editors can assess who is in the best position to work on them.

Recruitment

During elections, many staffers, especially news editors, spoke of a demand for content that Sun staffers struggle to meet. Space in the newspaper, they indicated, is sometimes filled merely for the sake of having space to fill — something I have written on in the past. This is mostly the result of staffing shortages; there simply aren’t enough writers.

The plan before the paper now is to enhance its recruitment strategy. Rather than rely on a few recruitment sessions each semester (or only one) to seek new talent, editors will reach out to groups, classes and departments using Google forms. When I first heard this, I wondered why something like this was not already in place. If targeted properly and accompanied by appropriate follow-up, I think this could alleviate the staffing concerns.

Beats

While some news reporters tend to cover similar issues multiple times, The Sun has no formalized “beat” system. The news department wants to create one, with an eye toward allowing individual reporters to cover areas with greater facility, depth and nuance. Beat reporters become familiar with their topic and cover it better than someone with lesser knowledge would. A beat system has obvious advantages, provided The Sun has the staff to make it happen. Commitment concerns linger here, too. Professional reporters are paid to work a beat; The Sun needs to ensure similar diligence from its future beat writers.

Video and Multimedia

There has been some action toward reviving The Sun’s video department, which fell by the wayside a few years ago. Obviously this requires dedication from a group of staff (and probably new recruits). As I understand it, the video implementation (to date) has been similar to how it worked before. The editors should continue to tweak the system to avoid repeating previous failures.

Blogging

A companion initiative to an increased multimedia footprint is a broader array of blogs. Blogs are naturally open-ended, flexible and individualized. I’d certainly like to see The Sun strive to develop various niche blogs as part of its overall online presence — provided the blogs are adequately promoted.

Reader Feedback

In the past few weeks, The Sun has propagated a survey that asks readers to comment on the paper: their content preferences, supplemented by demographic information. This survey, combined with in-person “Daily Sun Dialogues,” opens up a new avenue for The Sun to adjust its coverage according to reader demand. Obviously, I favor anything that makes The Sun more accountable and receptive to its readers. While this column serves a similar function, readers who contact me tend to be on the extremes. This new work proactively solicits more middle-of-the-road feedback.

Ivy Collaboration

The Ivy League’s daily newspapers are some of the finest in the country. The new editors want to share journalistic practices with these newspapers, then adopt and adapt where necessary or helpful. This seems to me like a relatively low-cost exercise that can reap some tangible benefits. It’s no secret that publications use each other’s ideas frequently. This is a more above-board strategic method. At worst, The Sun learns nothing useful.

Sunshine Week

Next week is Sunshine Week, an annual, national project that encourages journalists and citizens to become more aware of open government and freedom of information laws. The week will be a springboard for a new Sun commitment to enterprise journalism. Sun puns aside, knowledge of freedom of information laws is the backbone of such journalism. If The Sun can solve its staffing issues, individual reporters could definitely devote more time to investigating. But even if The Sun continues to struggle with lean staffing, knowing these laws can bolster overall news coverage.

Naturally, these projects’ execution will be an ongoing exercise, continuing through the semester and beyond. If they all turn out as successful as envisioned, then the Sun will make great strides.

Rob Tricchinelli is a third-year student in the Law School and also holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. He can be reached at public-editor@cornellsun.com. The public editor column typically appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Rob Tricchinelli