Sunday, September 10, 2017

Six things you can do to transform The Orion into a 21st Century newspaper

Last week's Orion critique started with this list of suggestions for improving the paper.

Shoot more video: You all carry a video camera around in your pocket. Learn to use it. I saw two videos posted this past week, and one was five seconds long. The Orion will be better and you’ll have a stronger portfolio if you decide to make moving pictures a regular part of your coverage.

Take more photos: You all carry a camera around in your pocket. Learn to use it. I saw seven photos by current Orion staffers in the paper and online this week and four of them were for a single person-on-the-street feature. The paper will never win another award with such a poor photographic effort.

Use alternative storytelling devices: There are so many ways to tell stories with multimedia these days, and The Orion is doing almost none of them. The arts section is doing a good job of linking to other people’s online content, but the paper is creating almost nothing of its own. Think about interactive timelines, infographics, capturing audio from interviews and posting it online, stream live video of events, create a podcast, dream up something brand new.

Saturate social media: With the exception of the Arts & Entertainment section, which is doing the best job in the history of the section, The Orion is practically nonexistent on Facebook and Twitter. Posting on those two social media platforms directly affects web traffic to and enhances your own social media presence.

Cover more things as they happen: Felix and Luke were the sole bright spot this week for breaking news, getting to the DACA protest and capturing photos, video and words from the scene. It’s one of the few times last week I got any sense of urgency, the one attribute great journalists share. They’re competitive. They want to be first with a story. The paper’s Google analytics show news coverage is by far the most popular content on the paper’s website, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority for this semester’s staff. Sports, especially, is an area that should be investing much more time in live coverage. Writing opinions about national sports is fun, easy and ego-gratifying. It’s also very 20th century.

Engage with the audience: Use Twitter to tell readers that you’re going to cover a news, arts or sports event; promote your stories on Facebook and respond to their comments and questions; use social media to ask your audience to help you research stories. The audience wants to be part of the journalism experience, so figure out ways to help them do that.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Can you tell when school started?

Analytics for the past month from GoodBarber, The Orion's mobile app host

The best evidence that The Orion is the news medium of choice for Chico State students is in the analytics from its web and mobile app hosting companies. The chart above shows traffic on the app reviving the same time fall semester started.

Note the number of downloads. The app will probably reach the 2,000-user mark by the end of September.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Managing Breaking News - A New Approach

Probably the toughest transition from a focus on print to a focus on digital media for student journalists is learning to cover breaking news. The Orion has always had a portable scanner in the newsroom, of course, and has usually had a true news hound who loved racing to the scene of a fire or a shooting or a riot to gather the news and get it into the paper. In recent years, that person has been great about tweeting out bulletins and details from the scene, too.

Unfortunately, all that effort hasn't always resulted in stories on the newspaper's print, web and mobile platforms. And when no one on the staff has the news bug, there's almost no breaking news on any of the social media platforms, either.

The Orion took the first stop toward solving the problem a few years ago when it split the news staff in two: an enterprise section for well-planned, longer-form, multi-source stories and a breaking news section for covering news as it happens. Enterprise has been good and even great, but breaking news has been a step-child that hasn't really found its footing.

How to get better? It's time to start thinking of breaking news as content destined primarily for mobile and web platforms, media that are immediate. Instead of a traditional newspaper news desk as a model, the section should be structured like a TV newsroom, a place that produces a couple of news broadcasts a day (at least) and whose staff thinks the ultimate thrill is going live from the scene of something awful: deadly fire, explosion, flood, hurricane, riot.

Professional TV newsrooms, of course, have the luxury of a full-time staff; at least one assignment editor monitoring wire services, email, phones and scanners; equipment designed to get news on the air in a hurry; and a daily staffing structure set up to produce stories in minutes or hours instead of days.

Can a student newsroom do the same, think the same, work the same? I think so.

I'd try this formula:
• empower the section editor to plan coverage daily instead of weekly, setting up stories in the late afternoon or evening the day before. The editor would then check email, phone messages and texts from reporters mid-morning and change or add assignments when necessary as the day goes on
• schedule regular editing time for late afternoon to correspond with the next day's planning time
• set up a Google Sheet available to the whole newsroom to keep track of campus and community events worth covering, which the section editor would check the day before to develop coverage plans
• put up a runsheet visible in the newsroom so other reporters and editors know who is covering what each day and who is available to cover news that breaks, even if the breaking news editor is not around. Be sure reporter phone numbers are posted with their names
• assign reporters to days of the week (instead of individual stories assigned a week in advance) so they're available to pursue stories with just hours of notice AND are able to change plans when news breaks (my assignment board at KMSP-TV in Minneapolis looked very different at 8 a.m. when I put it up and 5 p.m. when I left the newsroom at the end of my day).
• assign each reporter to be available two days a week with the expectation that they'll write two short assignments a week. Given a large enough staff, the editor should have two reporters available at any given time to cover stories (important in case one is in class or otherwise unavailable).
• give reporters the option to turn a breaking story into a longer package (text, video, photos, graphics, other media) if a story warrants it instead of writing a second short assignment
• equip reporters and editors with a smartphone scanner app
Screen showing law enforcement
dispatch channels on the
Broadastify smartphone app
to monitor police and fire agencies and Banjo, an app that aggregates social media posts using geotags, so the newsroom can take advantage of citizen reporting
• post photographer/videographer phone numbers prominently so a shooter can be contacted instantly in the event something big breaks
• develop and post a step-by-step plan to go live on the web using Periscope, Facebook live, Twitter, Instagram or Meerkat when a story breaks or just to cover an event -- convert the coverage later in the day to a story for the website.
• develop and post a written step-by-step procedure to put stories on the website as they break, even if the breaking news editor and copy chief are not in the newsroom
• agree that the photo of the day is a legitimate way to cover an event on campus or in the community, and give both reporters and photographers full credit for a completed assignment (that could be expanded to a slide show or video if it has strong visuals).
• schedule reporters to accommodate school and work schedules, but don't stick the same couple of people with weekend duty every week -- have rotating schedules
• establish active communication (text) among the section editor and reporters, and reporters and reporters (maybe a standing message group?)
•  assign the managing editor or another section editor to jump in a couple of days a week to help with editing and making/changing assignments so the section editor gets dependable time off
• empower copy editors to rewrite the top of stories for the news briefs page in the print edition so they're up to date or to ask the section editor to assign a reporter to update stories.

Done correctly, a staff of five reporters could provide:
• one or two assignments every day for the website
• enough stories and photos to fill the weekly print edition briefs page
• an occasional longer story for both the website and print edition.

Many local TV stations produce three news broadcasts a day with the same number of reporters, so two stories a day should not be a stretch for The Orion.

Need a selfish reason to adopt this approach? Reporters who have breaking news clips in their professional portfolios and editors who can direct this type of coverage are going to have a serious advantage when they compete for journalism jobs after graduation.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spring semester website traffic doubles

Academic year 2016-2017 traffic for

Fueled by a strong effort on the news side and controversy in the opinion section, completed the spring semester with more than double the traffic of the website's two previous semesters. This strong showing brought overall traffic to some very impressive numbers for the year:
Pageviews: 678,035
Unique users: 186,315
Bounce rate: 36 percent

Because The Orion didn't start gathering data from Google Analytics until December 2015, it's impossible to make a comparison to last year, but the numbers for Spring 2017 make look like an entirely different website from the two previous semesters. Traffic this spring accounted for more than two-thirds of traffic to the site for the academic year.

Traffic for Spring Semester 2017
The spring-to-spring comparison shows a dramatic increase in pageviews, sessions and unique visitors.

Traffic for Spring Semester 2016
The numbers for Spring 2016 and Fall 2017 are similar, with last spring showing better traffic numbers overall, but a poorer bounce rate (80.41 percent versus 65.43 percent), which means more people stayed on the website to read more stories this fall. The bounce rate this past semester, though, was an amazing 18.11 percent. (Bounce rate is "the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page.")

Traffic for Fall Semester 2016

With the dramatic increase in traffic on the website, it's counterintuitive that The Orion's mobile app was less popular with visitors than the year before. In every category, more people used the app to read more pages on the app last year. More people also downloaded the app last year.

Traffic for The Orion mobile app 2016-2017 academic year

Traffic for The Orion mobile app 2015-2016 academic year

Friday, May 19, 2017

And the Winners Are...

The Orion editors announced their end-of-semester awards Wednesday night at Woodstock's Pizza in downtown Chico.

Best of...

Sports: Chris Hendrickson
Opinon: Sophia Robledo
Arts & Entertainment: Anisha Brady
Breaking News: Jackie Morales-Ramirez 
Enterprise News: Karen Limones
Copy Editing: Christy Levine
Photography: Cortneanne Campbell
Videography: Carlos Gonzales
Design: Alán Ramirez
PR: Unique Torres
Best Editor: Kayla Fitzgerald

Sunshine Award: Miguel Orozco
Rookie  of the Year: Crystal Jinkens
The Orion Award: Jordan Rodrigues

Congratulations to the award winners and to the rest of this semester's Orion staff!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Strong spring traffic gets even stronger

Spring 2016/2017 traffic for
Traffic for continued its exponential growth in April with 137,107 pageviews, more than doubling traffic for the same month a year ago.

Other April numbers:
• 40,578 unique users
• bounce rate (visitors who viewed only one page on a visit) dropped to 13.47 percent
• average pages per session inched up to 2.9

April 2017 traffic for The Orion app
The Orion mobile app also had one of its best months ever, with more than 9,000 page views. Downloads were 1,864 as of today.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Business manager, managing editor named

Two current Orion staff members have been named to leading roles on the paper for next fall.
Danny Wright

Danny Wright, who writes this semester for news, will take on the paper's top business-side job. He's a freshman business administration major from El Dorado Hills. Danny's also an honors student.
Kayla Fitzgerald

Kayla Fitzgerald will be second in command on the news side under new EIC Elizabeth Castillo. The senior journalism and public relations major from Livermore has done a terrific job with the breaking news section this semester. Kayla has also reported for the sports and enterprise news sections of the paper and was a candidate for EIC this spring.

Congratulations Danny and Kayla!