The Oracle, University of South Florida
The Oracle, a tabloid with a circulation of 15,000 a day, is in its second consecutive year reigning at the top of Florida Leader’s review of public university student newspapers but for very different reasons than last year. Even with a very young staff, Oracle Advisor Jay Lawrence says the paper has had a harder news edge than previous years. “They’re very energized, and they’re very aggressive as far as going after the news,” he says.
Editor in Chief Kevin Graham says that the most significant improvement this year is simply better reporting. “We have done more in-depth stories this year than ever before, which translates to more feedback,” Graham says. “Issues we raise within our pages have become topics of class discussion.” Nowhere is this more evident than in their coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When USF professor Sami Al-Arian was accused by Bill O’Reilly on national TV as working at a public university that is a “hotbed for terrorism,” The Oracle gained national attention for their day-after coverage. The ongoing story was featured on Dateline NBC.
Another excellent addition to the paper this year has been its use of the center spread in every issue to produce in-depth color, double-truck features on topics ranging from Kama Sutra and the increase in survival gear sales after 9/11, to musician and movie reviews. “Feedback on the website and letters to the editor have been very strong this year,” Lawrence says. “It’s been pretty provocative.”
Although Graham feels that the paper’s usual watchdog role of Student Government has been overshadowed by the events of 9/11, SG President Michael Griffin says that the relationship between the paper and the government is much stronger than it has been in the past. “The Oracle holds us accountable, and I strongly support that,” he says. Griffin also points out that the paper’s editorial section does a great job in providing a forum for the Senate to respond to articles in the paper.
With solid news and feature reporting under their belt, The Oracle editors should now turn toward improving the paper’s design—their only weakness. Although it’s firmly based in the fundamentals, the paper lacks flair and creativity when it comes to the smaller details. The front page is visually boring due to its repetitive design. Many of the interior pages are text heavy and could use icons or graphics to enhance the story’s packaging. Even the color center spread is hit or miss from one day to the next. Sometimes, the story is well laid out (the Oct. 17 “Preparing for the Worst” story, for example), but often modular design is ignored (the Oct. 18 “Off Limits” section) and the page suffers as a result. The paper could be vastly improved if they moved from the limiting tabloid format to a broadsheet.
With solid design, easily one of the best in Florida, and entertaining features and sports reporting, this twice-weekly broadsheet has done what many start-up newspapers have failed to do—create a niche for themselves in Gainesville (30,000 circulation). With a daily, especially one as well-known as the Independent Florida Alligator, and several monthly publications as competition, the GatorTimes has had an uphill battle from day one. “We’re trying to become more respectable in the journalism school’s eyes and in the community’s eyes,” says Nicole Pelaez, general manager. “We want to be a reliable source for news in the community.”
The paper was recently rewarded for its efforts when it received a third place “Best of Show” award at the national ACP/CMA conference in New Orleans for its coverage of 9/11. The issue, which was assembled in less than 15 hours, came out a day earlier than normal and featured 15 stories on the attacks, including eyewitness accounts of both the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, interviews with architecture, international affairs and psychology experts, infographics, photo stories, and numerous local angle news pieces.
The true strengths of the GatorTimes lie in its Lifestyles and A&E sections. With in-depth stories on a wide-range of topics, Lifestyles and A&E serve as UF’s primary source of feature and entertainment news. The Sports section is also very strong, focusing much of its attention on the human-interest side of sports. The only weakness in the paper comes in its News section—which wouldn’t be as noticeable if they weren’t competing against a news-oriented daily. The GatorTimes has struggled in the past in building a solid news department. Stories often were either regurgitated press releases or took too much of a feature slant in an attempt to keep them timely. However, the paper has made great strides in improving the news content over the past year. “Our content is consistently improving,” Pelaez says. “We’re getting better quality employees because our existing staff has tried to raise the bar. When people see how we’re improving they have more of a desire to become a part of it.”
Contact The GatorTimes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although the Alligator has been historically a juggernaut in the field of college media, the problem with the paper today is that it has forgotten that a newspaper needs to do more than just cover the news. In our age of instant digital news, a newspaper has to offer its audience something different than what can be obtained from an internet news wire—especially if the audience is college students. In-depth features, an attractive and eye-catching design, interesting photos (not just meaningless stand alones), and a well-balanced editorial page are all key elements to today’s newspaper. The Alligator fails in all of these aspects.
Although Detours, a weekly entertainment section, is in its seventh year of publication, the section is too narrowly focused. The editors seem more interested in entertaining themselves than the vast UF audience. The Alligator’s design hasn’t changed significantly in the last two decades or longer. It doesn’t look like a modern newspaper. The editorial page is notorious for its liberal slant, which by itself, isn’t a problem, but the paper doesn’t offer enough conservative viewpoints to balance out the page.
As a whole, the Alligator’s biggest flaw is that they seem content to remain the same year after year. In the modern newspaper business, if you’re not improving, you’re dying.
The most obvious and easily fixable problems with The Future are the long, horizontal ads they often run at the bottom of the page. The ads distract from the overall editorial content, especially when placed on a section front. Consistently poor photos, many of which are grainy and ill composed, also weaken the paper.
Every once in a while the paper does hit a home run with graphics. The Mike Kruczek feature in the Aug. 22 issue is one example of how a little pre-planning can spice up a story’s design. If it pays closer attention to details and builds off its successes, the paper at UCF should have a bright future.Contact The Future at email@example.com, or visit www.ucffuture.com.
The Spinnaker–University of
The Spinnaker’s greatest weakness is its boring
design, which looks more like a church newsletter than a student newspaper.
Although it sticks fairly close to modular design, the paper lacks
ingenuity. The teasers on the front page and the “Weekly Calendar” are
perfect examples of The Spinnaker’s absence of creativity. White
boxes with text aren’t good enough. Also, column width and photos are
consistently too small.
The Spinnaker–University of
The Spinnaker’s greatest weakness is its boring design, which looks more like a church newsletter than a student newspaper. Although it sticks fairly close to modular design, the paper lacks ingenuity. The teasers on the front page and the “Weekly Calendar” are perfect examples of The Spinnaker’s absence of creativity. White boxes with text aren’t good enough. Also, column width and photos are consistently too small.
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