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News stories need more focus, depth

THANK YOU to those who sent in comments and questions in response to last week's column. Most queries focused either on the news or the on-line edition of The Cavalier Daily. Since the online edition is being refurbished this week, I'll review the Web site and content in the next few weeks. The staff is adding a number of interesting and useful new features so I hope you'll check it out and let me know what you think. This week I look at some concerns readers and I had with news and photos, and two of my favorite writing examples from last week.

Writing In-depth News

As I have mentioned before, The Cavalier Daily does a great job of covering a variety of news topics in both the front page and Focus sections, however, the staff does not take sufficient advantage of this feature. Many news articles lack sufficient depth. Others that suggest a good follow-up angle in other sections aren't followed up.

Tuesday's story on Madison House's possible reduction in funds assumed readers have more knowledge than the paper can rightfully expect. Nowhere in the article is the purpose of Madison House, its role on campus, or even what it is, identified. Readers not familiar with Madison House might simply say, "Well, why on earth does it matter about Madison House's funding? Why should I care?"

A different problem plagues Thursday's article on the University administration's call for diversification of its faculty. As a brief news story, the article was well-written, but its subject matter raises questions not answered in either the initial article or any follow-up. So, University officials say that all departments have to recruit more minorities -- how will they measure this? What repercussions can be expected by departments that lack sufficient diversity? Okay, the number of women faculty is increasing while minority membership goes down -- what are the best and worst diversified departments on grounds? What departments have the most minority professors? Which have the fewest women?

Finally, the staff needs to be sure that the headlines and article headings accurately reflect what the story actually does. Wednesday's front page displays a headline claiming "New study shows college women risk depression," but then goes on to talk about opportunities to counteract depression at the University without ever identifying several important elements of the headline's topic. Who conducted the study? How long did the project last? Where is the study published?

Similarly, Tuesday's front-page story on pre-trial Honor Committee procedures was confusingly identified as a "News Analysis." The word "analysis" refers to a specific type of examination undertaken by breaking up a whole into its parts and examining their nature and interrelationship. In other words, a "News Analysis" should point to an in-depth news article. The article was a well-written piece of news, but it wasn't an analysis. In fact, the only place the paper can do a genuine news analysis is in the weekly Focus section. After all, that is what is supposed to happen there.

Mistake of the Week: "Republican state senatorial candidate Jane Maddux ensured [vs. assured] students at the College Republicans meeting ... that she upholds basic conservative principles" -- "Local politicians present platforms," Sept. 9.

Picture Placement

While I know it is often difficult to find -- or take -- photographs that genuinely add a special feature to an article, some of this week's photos seemed to have been added simply to take up space. In Thursday's issue, for example, the front page sports an obscure shot of half a building, a dirt road and some trees. I simply have no idea what this picture is trying to convey. What is more, the caption ("Some Charlottesville residents expressed their concern over a land swap that could lead to residential development of park land") doesn't help me at all. At best, the caption assures me that, yes, I'm right to assume there is some connection between this picture and its neighboring story.

Is the photo supposed to show parkland, residential land, or something else? If the strange aspect of the picture is meant to convey the current boundary between the park and the Locust Grove neighborhood that may soon be transgressed, then kudos to the photographer for attempting to make a statement with her work. Truth be told, however, without a good caption, no one can tell whether the photo is well chosen or simply another picture of a building from the paper's photo file.

Speaking of the photo file, is there a shortage of non-football, University-related photos? The "Inside" box is my favorite daily feature on The Cavalier Daily's front page, but four out of five issues sported a football related photo. I find the repeated lead to the sports page questionable in itself, but given the range of sports articles available, I am sure we could at least emphasize different sports during the week.

The Beauty of an Informed Opinion

There are times when I fear that columnists mistake being asked to write an opinion piece for simply being asked to give their opinion. Luckily, both Nick Lawler and Emily Harding were on hand in Friday's issue to assuage some of my concern.

Perhaps it's a fear of dissension or disagreement that results in columns that end up saying nothing at all. Whatever the proposed topic of a column, humorous or grave, the column needs to have an interesting focus. The tendency to use columns as a place to record memories or personal responses is a practice that only weakens the Opinion, Life, and Sports pages and, ultimately, The Cavalier Daily as a whole.

So, thank you, Mr. Lawler and Ms. Harding for writing columns that both presented and examined interesting topics of national interest. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful opinions and reasoned justifications and look forward to more of the same in the future.

Quote of the Week: "to think the problem can be solved with admissions policies is naïve. An affirmative action policy only can admit students -- it can't prepare them and can't guarantee their success." -- Nick Lawler in his Friday column "Band-Aids worsen racial wounds."

What do you think about the paper? The news? The photos? My opinion? Write and let me know. I can be reached at