Nine Steps of Creating a Formidable College Newspaper

Chronicle Staff, ca. 1908-1911
Chronicle Staff, ca. 1908-1911 (Photo credit: Duke Yearlook)

The process of creating a great newspaper is… actually a process. Newspapers don’t start and become great. They all pretty much start at the bottom and get better as the staff earns experience and sets precedent. Here is a good grading stystem to find out where your paper is and how it can get better.


1 – COLOR: Moderns newspapers need color. Not spot color. Full color. It does not have to be through the entire paper. Color plates come in four sides, so at least the front page, back page, and two inside pages must have color.

2 – DESIGN: Presentation is key for a college newspaper. Some students don’t pick up their high school or college newspaper because it looks unprofessional. Basic design principals must apply for all college newspapers. This includes the consistency of headline size and font, cutline size and font, and typical body copy size and font. Not only should the design be consistent, but components should be properly used and be viewed as appealing to the reader.

3 – COPY EDITING: All newspapers have errors from time to time. But not every week, and not all over the place. Stories should be clean of lazy spellings and incorrect information. Headlines and cutline errors are extremely noticeable. Take pride in rereading stories and producing a clean product.

Before an adviser or editor can even begin to address editorial issues with a college newspaper, it must at least a fresh and clean product to present.


4 – LEADS: It all starts with how it starts. Leads are the lifeblood to any story. The opening 30 words of a news story (one sentence, one paragraph) and the engaging leads of a feature story will determine to a casual reader how professional this newspaper is. Whether readers hang around for the entire story or not, at least the lead should be able to tell readers the traditional 5W and the H in a crisp, tight manner. If a lead is poorly written, it’s a fair assumption that the rest of the article is poorly written.

5 – ORIGINAL AND ENGAGING PHOTOS: Yes, we already covered color and presentation. But photo journalism can be the difference from someone picking up a newspaper. Most likely, a student publication doesn’t have a team of photographers that are capable or have the resources of taking a paper full of original photos. Some photos will be borrowed from national media websites and company websites. But not all of them can be, and not all of them can be the traditionally boring point and click as five people stare at the camera with a smile. Photos need have someone doing something. Photos need to be tried in different lighting and angles. Take risks with photos. Try something different. Stop using Google Images and printing pixilated  messes.

6 – DIVERSE STORIES WITHIN SECTIONS: There is nothing worse than seeing one story in a newspaper about sports, sandwiched next to a story about gardening. Students need to have a grouping system of what is being written about. News and feature stories should blend together. But finance, opinion, sports, entertainment, education, religion and any others sections need to be designed together. Give the reader a roadmap of what they are looking at. Now within those sections, there should be diverse stories about those topics.


7 – LOCALIZATION: The art of taking national stories and localizing them to one of three topics – the actual college, the location or college life as a whole. If the President of the United States speaks, don’t cover the story the same way USA Today would. How does what he said impact college students? How does it impact your area? Any story can be localized. A story about NASA and space exploration is localized once you contact your college’s astronomy professor for quotes and insight.

8 – ENTERPRISE WRITING: Not every story can be a retread of what the national media is spitting out. Find stories that aren’t so obvious. The psychological effect of date rape on campus or finding students who support themselves financially without their parents. These stories do not need a national publication to set precedent for you to write about them.

9 – SOURCE QUALITY: Impress your readers by quoting national organizations. Call the FBI. Call the FDA. Call the NRA. Odds are, as long as you are professional, their public relations teams will call you back. Your sources can’t always be the same six kids who are sitting around in the cafeteria.


10 – SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPLEMENT: The industry is changing, and you have to adapt. You need a website, and you need social media. That does not mean you to put a dagger through the heart of long form journalism and only write 140 character stories. Instead, use social media to advertise your newspaper’s website. Facebook and Twitter share. Find followers. Stay active (but don’t be overbearing or annoying) The more likely someone reads the college newspaper online or are a follower of it on social media, that means they are a supporter – and that means they will pick up the hard copy.

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