November 7, 2010

Digging Through the Reader Mailbag

Print More

A handful of readers have contacted me over the past few weeks about things they have observed in the paper. I’d like to give voice to their concerns and address them.

Photo Selection

One reader alerted me to some inconsistencies and interesting decisions involving photos. One example is the men’s hockey package from the back page on Nov. 1. An in-game photo accompanies the RIT recap, but a stock photo accompanies the New Hampshire recap.

The photo with the UNH story showed Cornell goalie Andy Iles in a USA Hockey jersey; Iles was the netminder for the National Development Team Program’s Under-18 team. So the photo was obviously not from the UNH game, even though the photo caption mentions Iles’s performance in the game. The disconnect raises questions: Were there no photos taken at the game? Why would a live athletic event not feature a photo from that event?

That kind of packaging almost seems like running a photo for the sake of running a photo. It’s true that readers get weary whenever a page has a big sea of text, but certain stock photos are not markedly better.

I don’t want to single out the sports section for this. The main photo on the front page, above the fold, from Nov. 2 was very curious to me and the reader. In the photo, three people are standing and conversing. The caption begins, “A student speaks with a visiting professor before her talk …”

Basically, the photo contains three unidentified people doing something tangentially related to a vaguely described occurrence. The reader wasn’t sure why that merited front-page consideration. I’m not sure, either. (Maybe the day before was just a slow news day: On Page 3 of the same issue, there is a standalone photo of two students studying.)

For one, there’s no news peg in the caption. Standalone photos can certainly be used liberally if they are newsy; the other standalone on that front page, for example, definitely is. And secondly, the “visiting professor” and the “student” are unidentified. Naturally, it’s a good policy to identify people in photos whenever possible.

Enough ‘Discussion’ Already

It seems Cornellians have a lot to discuss. I have written on headlines before, but the word “discuss” has been particularly prevalent in The Sun lately.

Oct. 25, Page 6: “Issue of Pol. Prisoners Promotes Discussion.” Oct. 28, Front Page: “Rabbi Discusses Significance of Hillel.” Oct. 29, Page 3: “Panel Discusses Future of Sustainability.” Nov. 5, Front Page: “CALS Holds Forum To Discuss Dept. of Education Closure.”

And, most significantly, the lead story on the front page from Oct. 21: “Students Discuss Diversity Concerns With AAP Admins.” Not only that, but the photo kicker is “Concerned discussion,” and both the lead of the story and the caption sentence use “discuss” as the main descriptive verb.

“Discuss” is not a good headline verb. Not only is it inherently a boring word, it is nondescript. If The Sun is writing a story about a meeting, talk or discussion, it’s probably because the issues covered at the event are interesting enough to merit coverage. The issues should be highlighted in the headline, not the mere fact that they were “discussed.”

Education Coverage

A reader had some nice things to say about The Sun’s coverage of the Department of Education’s closure. I agree. The Sun has been very thorough in its reporting as this issue has come to the forefront of student life at Cornell.

Typical of her work, Dani Neuharth-Keusch ’12 wrote a pithy, informative piece breaking the news. And Jeff Stein ’13 wrote two especially solid follow-up pieces that incorporated a broad range of student voices. That kind of source diversity adds real depth to a story, and when you have a story of great import to the student body, it’s a must.

The departmental cutback has elicited many opinions and I hope The Sun’s coverage on the issue continues to be strong.

As always, I encourage reader feedback on how The Sun does its job. I am happy to talk to readers about coverage, and I respond to all e-mails I get. My role as a reader’s representative is most effective when I have active participation by readers in what I write.

Original Author: Rob Tricchinelli