Final project

Your final project, which will be the key determinant of your course grade, will consist of a well-researched report and class presentation.

Your written report should be posted here, in the Responses:Project category, no later than 9 p.m. Dec. 3, the Thursday after Thanksgiving break. Each class member should then review and post insightful comments (which also will be graded) on all of the reports no later than 11 a.m., two hours before class begins Friday, Dec. 4. At that time, each student will make an approximate half-hour presentation and lead a discussion of his or her report. Attendance that day will be mandatory.

The report should be a comprehensive examination of the challenges faced by two other news organizations that are not particularly familiar to you. One should be a campus newspaper at a campus of similar size and stature to the University of Illinois and the other should be a professional newspaper with a circulation similar to that of the Daily Illini.

You should plan to interview more than one editor, more than one line-level staff member and more than one audience member for each of the newspapers after first obtaining several weeks worth of issues, both in print and online, and evaluating their content. Your evaluation of their content should lead you to specific questions you will ask of the human sources. In addition, you should ask the sources about any challenges they have faced similar to those we have discussed at the Daily Illini.

Topics may include your specific areas of responsibility at the DI but should not be limited to those areas. Broader questions about overall missions and challenges should be included. Pay particular attention to lessons, both positive and negative, that can be learned from the other publications. Don’t limit yourself to their internal operations but include evaluations of how well they serve their communities, which is why you also will be talking to typical readers as well as editors and staffers.

To give you more time to prepare your report and presentation, we will not meet as a class Friday, Nov. 20. You will be graded on the depth of your research, the value of insights you have been able to glean, and the quality of how you engage the instructor and your classmates with both your written presentation and whatever you present orally and visually in class, sharing your screen with others.

There is no formula for how to do this or magic number of words, interviews, or topics covered. Be thorough and especially insightful. Don’t be predictable, boring or formulaic. Make it clear you have learned something and prove that you know how to gather and evaluate original, unexpected information and insights useful to your own news organization as a whole as well as to you individually within that organization.

Do the same in the comments you post about your classmates’ reports.

Want to win $10,000 for the DI?

Saturday is the deadline for entering this year’s Student Innovation Competition, sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Perhaps we should take this week to think about ways to increase audience engagement for a special class of extremely challenged news organizations — student media. If we can collaborate to come up with some interesting ideas, perhaps we could write up a plan we could submit by Saturday in hope of becoming a finalist and earning a grant to help implement the plan at the IMC.

Below is the official announcement of the contest. Before class Friday, see what inventive ideas you might have to offer to include in a proposal to the contest judges. Post your ideas and comment on others’ ideas in the Responses:Engagement category.

Here the submission link.

Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2021 Student Innovation Competition

News organizations are struggling nationwide for many reasons. Whether it’s that subscriptions have dropped, trust is low or corporations are buying them and chopping them down to their bones – no one problem is the cause of current struggles, nor will one solution be the saving grace. One unfortunate result of the challenging environment: newsrooms are finding it harder to stay connected to their audiences and communities. We want to help news organizations find new methods of engaging with their readers and viewers. Research regularly shows that news organizations are critical to the vitality of the communities they serve and critical to all aspects of democracy. So, this year’s challenge is a two parter:


Research a local news organization and come up with a new way for them to engage with their community. The outlet can be any type – TV, radio, newspaper, non-profit, weekly, online only, monthly, etc. And your engagement idea can be anything! Be creative and think outside the usual avenues for that outlet, brainstorm with them to see what they’d be interested in trying with you.

Create a plan on how you would work with them to implement your idea over a three-month period. You will need to detail the necessary steps, milestones and how you plan to measure success at the end of your three months. Submit this idea below by October 31, 2020.

If you need help finding a news organization to pair with please email Director of Innovation, Kat Duncan  before September 10th and she will help you reach out to possible partners. 

Our selection committee will pick finalists from the submissions based on the strength of planning, potential for success and creative out of the box thinking. Those ideas will then move to the next phase.


If selected as a finalist, you will have 3 months to implement your idea with the news outlet before creating a google presentation detailing the idea, the implementation and results. Your team will present on Zoom in front of a panel of judges and the public on February 26th, 2021.  


First place: $10,000

Second place: $2,500

Third place: $1,000


Part 1 ideas must be submitted through the form below by October 31, 2020 to be considered. Late ideas will not be considered, no matter how amazing they are.

If your team is chosen as a finalist you will be notified by November 13, 2020 giving you ample time to implement your idea before presenting. 


  • A team can be an individual or up to 4 people. 
  • At least one person on each team must be a journalism or communication student. 
  • Presentations must be in English. 
  • The competition is open to all U.S. undergraduate and graduate college students. All team members will need to verify their enrollment status if chosen as a finalist. 
  • If you are here on a student visa, please note that your winnings will probably have to be distributed as a scholarship. We will require you to plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements with your university or college for us to transfer your potential winnings. 


Projects will be judged on four main criteria:

  1. Idea: Did the team look at the history, audience and abilities of the news organization they partnered with to create a new, innovative idea to help them connect with their community? 
  2. Implementation: Was the pilot implementation successfully launched? What was learned from the results? What would next steps be for the idea?
  3. Engagement: Did the project actually help the news organization engage with people in their community and how well? 
  4. Reach: Is this idea something that could be implemented at other news organizations and be successful in aiding them too? 

This year’s judges

Julia Chan

Adriana Lacy

Forrest Milburn
Miami Herald

Hannah Wise
NY Times

Two assignments for Oct. 23

Please write up two separate, persuasive proposals for how you and your fellow DI staff members might better:

  • Differentiate material intended for print vs. online vs. social media.
  • Train new staff members.

Try not to just parrot what the instructor said during class discussion Oct. 16. Free free to offer solutions other than those he provided. But in any case, make sure you document the reason how you believe the procedure you outline would improve current situations and write it enthusiastically and persuasively enough that it might get others in the newsroom to enthusiastically support your plan.

Post each of your two proposals separately in the Responses category.

In class this week, we’ll also be discussing these photographs:

And we’ll refer to these breakdowns:


  • Similar material is available from multiple sources.
  • Stenographically merely recites what various sources say.
  • Deals with an expected topic.
  • An “eat your vegetables” story urging readers to participate in some action or become involved with some cause.
  • Short and to-the-point, with few wasted words.
  • Whoever posts it first and in the simplest, easiest to consume way earns the traffic.
  • Informal, conversational tone, possibly with an attitude.
  • Any event of interest to local audience, even if it’s not local.
  • Invite immediate comments, reactions and news tips.


  • Information is available only from this news organization.
  • Includes original investigation, data, inquiry or visualization.
  • Surprises the readers.
  • Doesn’t preach so much as informs of consequences and lets readers choose whether to care.
  • Multiple entry points add breadth to depth.
  • Reportage is comprehensive and reflective rather than instantaneous.
  • Professional polish visually and in writing.
  • All local, all the time; avoid items with just minimal local angles.
  • Don’t discourage interaction but make sure it’s thoughtful.

Analyzing an issue

We’re going to do another critique of the DI for this week’s class, but this time we’re going to do it with some key questions to answer, and we’re going to apply those questions to both the Monday issue and the Thursday issue. So critique both, and make sure you answer these questions when you post your comments in the Critique category of this site:

Metrics confirm that readers are most likely to appreciate stories that are somehow unexpected.

Are these four stories the ones that are most likely to somehow surprise readers? Or were they selected more because of the topics they represent?

Content selection by topic rather than development is a strategy based in advertising and marketing, not journalism, and generally does not encourage the type of habitual readership a news organization requires to be successful.

After analyzing what content was selected for Page 1, analyze how it was presented. Visual elements should not merely illustrate what something looks like; they should not say only what something is about. They should actually tell a new and surprising development of the story.

Readers are attracted by the visual vividness of an image — essentially, by how much it contrasts from the other items on the page. But this is a very fleeting attraction. The next thing they look for is information, and they seek it for the visual itself, any cutline or caption it may have, and the headline it is associated with. If those items fail to give them a reason to continue examining the package, they will go on to the next module on the page, without ever even reading the lead of the story. How effective do you think the DI’s Page 1 images were in conveying actual information?

All of journalism is about making choices — one thing is more important, another is less important. We should be hierarchically ranking everything and providing a clear indication of what to look at first, then second, then third. This is done not by position on the page as much as it is by differentiation in size of the modules containing that information and the headlines and visuals that are parts of those modules. The more equal in size headlines, modules and visuals are, the less effective they become.

Think “hen and chicks.” Each page should have one hen and a flock of chicks surrounding it.

Does each front page have each of the two primary focal points it needs to have?

The first is the lead story, usually with smaller art or no art. The story should disclose something unexpected and should have the largest, boldest headline on the page, typically somewhere in the upper right quadrant but typically not stretching all the way across the top of the page.

The second is the centerpiece package. It will have the page’s dominant visual — a single picture at least twice the size of any other photo on the page. Except in very rare cases, this will not also be the lead story. At least half of the visual must be in the top portion of the page, and there can be no module on the page — including everything that goes with this visual — that is larger than the visual itself.

The centerpiece may have story text going with it but it not required to so so. It is selected not for the value of the text but rather for the value of the image itself. An old file photo can never be a dominant visual.

All other positions on the page are considered secondary. One, which may or may not exist on any given page, is called the stripper or overplay. This treatment, stretching across the top of the page but not with the largest headline, typically is reserved for stories considered “good reads” — more interesting, perhaps, than the lead story or the centerpiece but not especially urgent and without a picture sufficient to be considered as the page’s dominant visual. Pages container strippers/overplays only when the news of the day suggests they would be appropriate. Unlike the lead and centerpiece, they are not required.

After checking out the front page, look at the inside pages. Are there stories or visuals on those pages that might have been more engaging than what was on the front page?

One thing to consider is whether content slotted to fit within a specific silo really deserved more prominent play. Whenever any organization creates separate subunits like individual sections of the paper, those in charge of those sections tend to become territorial. They want their material for their pages, even if it might be as good as if not better than what is on the front page. Are their hidden gems that might increase the paper’s “talk factor” that readers might not be finding because all they see on Page 1 are the “dull but important” stories?

Sometimes, stories that don’t make Page 1 fail to do so because of correctable weaknesses with the writing or the approach taken. Are there any stories, written too routinely as a stenographic announcement without a more engaging, human-focused lead, that might have had a chance to be elevated from inside sections to Page 1?

One thing worth noting throughout the paper is the absolute lack of standalone art, which is a staple of almost every news publication. Standalone art are feature photos that don’t have story text going with them. Everything necessary is told within the cutline. Standalone photos are a great way to “brighten” a paper and include interesting, if not terribly serious, feature content. They also allow “obligatory” coverage of events and the like to be created without having to occupy a reporter’s time covering the entire event and trying to find something newsworthy within it.

What missed opportunities for standalone feature photos do you see in the Monday and Thursday DIs? Think in terms of events you know were happening, oddball things you might have seen around campus, or various projects and activities that could use a minor update that would readers could get at least some modest engagement out of.

Let’s also look at infographics that appeared in the paper. Are they quickly and easily understood? Do they have a clear and significant main point? Are the statistics presented accurately and in a manner that doesn’t deceive, confuse or “spin” the topic needlessly. All graphics are important to evaluate, but I’m particularly interested in this one:

Finally, a technical point. If you’re going to do a blockout of a mugshot of a ballot box (left), why not finished the job (as done for you at right)?