6 comments

  • I really find your lack of embracing video and other online content saddening. When I had transferred from EWU to Western, I contacted the Western Front to ask if you had any videographers on staff. I wanted to know because I had been the lead videographer at the Easterner and figured that the Front would have a similar position.

    Web-exclusives and supplemental content from videos and additional photos would make the paper much more accessible to students and community members who read the paper. People love to see short soundbites and opinion pieces as short videos; they’re easy to understand and can often give context to an article. Even though the video in this article wasn’t the best quality (the audio was really low in some parts), it still worked significantly better than writing line-after-line of quotes.

    Simply getting someone to record a few clips of an event another reporter is covering and having them edit together a short segment could do wonders for the paper. You can even make the videos accessible through short links written at the end of articles, QR codes on the paper, or simply linking to the content on social media.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michael. First I’ll explain how video on the Front works, but then I want to look into the bigger “pivot to video” the industry has experienced in the last few years (which many industry leaders admit was a failure) and discuss how we approach video.

      We actually do have a video editor, who is paid, as well as three visual storytellers, who take the class for credit. Most of the visual storytellers’ work is photo-based, as we need photos for most of our stories. However, they are required to work on some video projects of their own choosing, which gives them the space to work on projects that interest them. For example, one of our visual storytellers recently produced a video compilation of a climbing tournament that can be found in this story: http://www.westernfrontonline.com/2018/02/01/veni-vidi-ascendi-climbing-competition-slated-for-this-weekend/

      We had the video editor give a presentation on videography, and she has offered her assistance to any reporters interested in working on projects. The video you mention was compiled from clips our reporters had actually filmed (hence the inconsistent quality). But while we do encourage all of our reporters to think of how a story they’re working on might lend itself to video, they typically end up being primarily focused on writing. I’ll admit that this can sometimes be an issue, as there are some pieces where video is a more compelling or appropriate format than written word. We are giving reporters the tools to work on video projects, but have emphasized that we don’t merely want short clips that do not provide context, as we want to focus more on video quality, rather than quantity.

      The recent “pivot to video” the industry has experienced hasn’t worked out the way many people thought it would. Video clips that just shortly show something being discussed in the story doesn’t really provide context. Sometimes, they seem like a cheap trick to try to reel in viewers by offering video that doesn’t communicate anything. We used to have compilations of quick reporter-submitted clips of things that happened over the week and while the quality was sometimes good, nobody watched them, even with QR code promotion and social media sharing. This is why we decided to steer away from quick clips and incorporation of video that is not deliberate. We don’t just want to throw video at our readers. We want to think about how we can utilize video to its potential for telling stories and captivating readers. Good video takes time to produce, just like good journalism in any form. However, I will admit that the Front doesn’t frequently produce video and that this is an area in which we can significantly improve.

      If you’d like to discuss this further, or if you have any ideas about video projects the Front should consider working on, email me at asiafields.westernfront@gmail.com.

      Also, here are a few pieces on the failure of “pivot to video”:
      https://www.cjr.org/business_of_news/pivot-to-video.php
      http://www.niemanlab.org/2017/12/r-i-p-pivot-to-video-2017-2017/

  • I was on the front that quarter in 2012. There were many discussions afterwards about the ethics of identifying people, especially in regards to pronouns and accidentally outing people.

    If i remember correctly, the reporter felt terrible about outing someone, and the front changed its best practices, regarding identifying people.

    • Hi! Thank you for your comment. I’m glad to hear that the incident from 2012 sparked discussion and conversation on the Front. I wasn’t able to find anything in the papers from that quarter, so I appreciate you providing more context for what happened after. I know that mistakes are made every quarter and I’m glad they lead to reflection on the staff. We’ve been facing how hard it is to regain public trust after these kinds of mistakes, which is why we’re trying to work on transparency. That way when we have those discussions recognizing we made a mistake and figuring out how to avoid them in the future, they’re public.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  • It seems to me the ongoing problems with the WF have to do with its dual character as the main form of print media on campus while also being an educational tool for journalism students.

    Your comment about institutional memory kind of strikes at the heart of the problem as I see it. With journalism students running the paper and the crew changing every quarter the litany of f***-ups you spell out in this letter are unavoidable. There just isn’t any way to address these problems and improve the quality of reporting/reporter conduct without implementing more insitutional continuity somewhere in the organization — due to WF’s particular circumstances, probably somewhere up at the top of the organization.

    The Western Front gets the worst of both worlds: they are held to professional standards by the student body (rightly so — journalism is very real work that impacts people’s live in very real ways), but they lack the rudimentary tools needed to continuously improve the paper in response to students’ input and their own mistakes. In a few quarters a new editor will take over and they probably won’t read or internalize anything you had to learn from hard experience even if you write it all down and make them read it, and the WF will be back at square one.

    I don’t know the best way to address that conundrum (I’d hire a professional editor, but I am just an alumnus, not a part of WWU currently, so my opinion is beside the point) but that seems to lie at the heart of the problem.

    • Hello! Thanks for commenting. I would agree that the dual roles of the Front make it difficult to provide consistency in quality of coverage. It can be frustrating, especially as reporters grow so much and then editors have to start over each quarter. I think the experience of learning to report and edit by being on the paper is invaluable to students, but I do wonder if there is a way there can be more continuity. I think you absolutely nailed the problems the Front faces organizationally. Student editors have shown tremendous dedication to professional standards over the quarters I’ve been around to witness it, but we are limited by the structure of the institution.

      I’m hoping to ensure more passing on of institutional knowledge to next quarter’s staff. For a while now, the transition has mostly been done in a one-hour job shadow on a production night. I definitely don’t think this is enough, and I will work with whoever is selected to be editor-in-chief next quarter to make this process better, if they are interested.

      I’m not sure what the right answer is, and I know the structure of the Front is not in my hands. I would love to share your comment and any further ideas with the faculty, if you are interested in that. I know they have to ensure there is ample opportunity for students to gain publication experience, but maybe there is a way to ensure more continuity without taking away that opportunity and while keeping control of the paper in students’ hands.

      Thanks again for commenting!

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