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Best Newspaper (Private Colleges)


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3dball.gif (896 bytes) Best Newspaper (Private Colleges)
     The privates are more up for grabs this year, as several papers have made major improvements. But Florida Leader’s standout, for the second year in a row, remains Stetson University’s The Reporter. This weekly accomplishes more with its limited resources than any other campus paper in Florida.
     Editor Andy Dehnart and eight section editors manage a $45,000 annual budget, $25,000 of which comes from student-activity fees. Of the $20,000 the paper generates in additional advertising revenue, about $10,000 must be paid back to the university, Dehnart says. The paper is one of three collegiate broadsheets—the others being the University of Miami’s Hurricane and The Avion of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, both past "Best of Florida Schools" winners.
     Dehnart’s team has taken The Reporter farther and faster than any paper in recent memory. He attributes much of the paper’s progress to both soliciting and listening to reader feedback. "Probably the best example of this is the name change that our editorial section underwent this year," he says. "Faculty and staff said there was confusion over what sort of content was in the ‘Forum’ section. They thought it wasn’t obvious that ‘Forum’ indicated an arena for commentary. We promptly changed the name of the section to ‘Opinions.’"
     Last summer, The Reporter’s web site, http://reporter.stetson.edu, was named the number-one site nationally among non-daily campus papers in a Society for News Design competition. And Dehnart says Stetson’s paper continues to use its popular on-line version to complement the print parent. "Over the past few months, we’ve expanded the site to include content that we just can’t fit in our print edition, like award show nominees or references for stories, plus links to sports events," he says. "We’re experimenting with even more ways to interact with and provide for our audience."
     Dehnart has revamped The Reporter’s front page, featuring one major article with an accompanying photo, plus three other top stories that "jump" inside the paper. "Last year, ‘Shout’ was unquestionably our most popular feature," Dehnart says. "This year, it probably gets equal attention, although readers have told us a new feature—movie listings for area theaters—is also something they appreciate and look at every week.
     "The article we’re most proud of is ‘Doing Diversity,’" he says. "In addition to bringing together all the initiatives in one story and providing history, the report also contained frank remarks about our campus climate that were part of a confidential, external climate review obtained by The Reporter."
     Dehnart admits that his staff can’t accurately judge the impact of their work, as he says, "Change happens slowly administratively and many students are silent rather than vocal. However, articles we ran at the beginning of this academic year detailing changes in a number of campus systems—including an analog to digital phone changeover and malfunctioning air conditioning, probably had the most effect because they informed students of exactly what was going on," he says. "Until our report, many people were in the dark as to why the phones weren’t working and the buildings were hot."
     To maintain its current high level of professionalism, The Reporter’s challenge this spring will be to recruit and train committed editors and reporters who can step in when Dehnart and his team graduate-- no small task at a school of Stetson’s enrollment size (about 3,000 students).

At Lynn University in Boca Raton, The Pulse finally caught Florida Leader’s eye. Of all Florida campus papers, The Pulse has made the most progress since last year. Under new advisor Alyce Culpepper, Lynn’s paper has graduated from a poorly written, occasionally published tabloid replete with grammar errors and typos to a colorful and cleanly designed publication that "looks like a real paper," according to Natalie Smith, editor.
     As Culpepper says, past papers were advised by part-timers, only a few students wrote and edited, and just one issue was published during the fall 1997. "Now we have 30 students involved," she says. "From my very first class, these kids are learning how to write. We’ve made writing a very critical element." The proof: Culpepper points to a recent letter from Lynn President Donald Ross, who wrote: "The new look of The Pulse is appealing and professional and the articles are interesting and well-written."
     The Pulse’s $4,000 annual budget is completely funded by the school’s administration. "But we have applied to be allowed to sell advertising," Culpepper says. The Pulse distributes 1,500 copies monthly. "People are grabbing for copies when it comes out," she says. "That’s the most exciting time for the staff."

Papers at Florida Southern College, Jacksonville University, and Barry University also are worthy of special mention. In Lakeland, The Southern at Florida Southern sports an enhanced cover logo and full-color. Editor Nadia Gergis says the weekly recently made a direct impact on a disabled student’s life. "We ran a feature on how the financial aid cut the work-study of two students whose job it was to assist a disabled student," she says. "The head of psychological testing and disabled students is now personally paying for their services."
     At JU, students probably don’t even recognize The Navigator, thanks to the weekly’s improved design and strong focus on accuracy. Managing Editor Susan Strange says section editors schedule regular meetings with faculty members and administrators to facilitate open communication. "This has ensured the validity of our facts," she says. "They have been cooperative with us since we started this process. We are also trying to do regular profiles on faculty and administrative members who have made a difference in some way in the JU community."
     In Miami, Florida Leader can’t remember The Buccaneer ever looking better—and as a result of the paper’s design upgrade, Barry’s students are now on the lookout for each month’s edition. Editor in Chief Diana Marrero says her staff also is visible on campus. "Every month, we set up a table in Thompson Lobby, the highest traffic area in the school," she says. "We hand out free pizza or other treats, so that more students will pick up the paper. We also encourage them to speak to us about how we’re representing them."
     Marrero points to a fall article on violent incidents at Barry and other universities nationwide as The Buc’s proudest moment. "It was difficult to report, because it wasn’t a very favorable article, and many people wanted to keep quiet about it," she says. "It not only reported a recent incident but had depth in explaining why this occurs. Also, we included a sidebar that demonstrated how Barry’s crime incidents are low in comparison to other universities."

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Copyright 2006 Oxendine Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved

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