Sunday, October 1, 2017

Yes, social media does make a difference

September traffic for - Google Analytics

The September traffic numbers for delivered good news and bad news.

About 5,000 fewer people found their way to the website during last month than during the same month a year ago, which translated into about 8,000 fewer web sessions. Those numbers made me think the lack of promotional activity on the part of the PR staff and the failure to use social media on the part of reporters and editors had real consequences. So I looked at the analytics. (Click to make the chart larger.)

Last spring, social was a big driver of Orion traffic. This fall, not so much. In fact, social media traffic accounted for seven-eights of the difference in the number of web sessions between the two months.

Fortunately, users who did show up were big consumers of Orion content.

Pageviews for September 2017 were 67,091. Views for September 2016 were about 15,000 fewer. That shows up in the pages per session -- an industry-typical 1.86 pps a year ago, a very good 3.38 pps this year -- and in the bounce rate: just 5 percent last month, which is unbelievably good. That means 95 percent of visitors to stuck around to read at least one more story.

When I saw the bump at the end of this chart for September 2017 web traffic, I thought it might be attributable to the kerfuffle over Gray Boyer's satirical look at drinking, and that was a factor, but it only accounted for about 4 percent of the pageviews. The list of top stories shows readers were interested in a variety of topics.

Taken together with the pages-per-session statistics for the month, the number of visits to the home page and three of the section pages tell me The Orion is attracting an audience of people who visit the website to find out what's happening on campus and in the community. And that's a very good thing. Add a better social media effort and can look forward to a record-setting semester.

Mobile app traffic was consistent with the other numbers for September, except no surge at the end of the month:

Analytics for The Orion mobile app from GoodBarber

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A fast start for the website

Traffic for the first month of the semester on

Google Analytics had good news and bad news -- but mostly good news --  for traffic on for the first month of school.

Bad news first: Just 16,607 people found their way to The Orion's website from the end of August to this weekend. That's about 6,800 fewer than the same month last year (a 29 percent decline),  evidence that the absence of a hot column or breaking news story -- last fall, a police misconduct story attracted 1,600 page views and a column about abolishing Greek life 6,725 views -- was the reason for the dip.

Good news item #1: The number of pages viewed was actually way up from a year ago, 72,122 versus 53,170, a 35 percent increase. That's still way below pageview averages near 100,000 the website recorded last spring, but it does indicate a strong user base. The top four pages for visits during the month were the home page and category pages, which is further evidence the campus community goes to the website for news even without a big story in play.

Good news item #2: The numbers also show visitors viewed an average of 3.43 pages each visit, which is sky high for news websites and double the rate for the same month a year ago. That's reflected in the bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who leave a website after visiting a single page) of 5.81 percent. That number is also crazy good. Last fall's bounce rate was 78 percent, much more typical of most news sites. Readers are sticking around because they know there's more good content on the site.

Good news item #3: The Orion mobile app downloads have topped 2,000, a little over 11 percent of campus enrollment. That may not sound like much, but at the end of September last year the number was 1,500. Clearly, the PR team's efforts last year paid off.

No single story dominated the pageview results for the first month of the semester. Here are the top 10 stories, based on traffic:
Aza and Tinashe under the same spotlight - 998 pageviews
Chico State hosts eclipse viewing party - 956
Chico Cream grand opening - 896
The silent government dismantling Chico - 763
Sociologist by day, musician by night - 681
Tekken-7 reigns as king of fighters - 674
Man claims attempted phone theft - 561
Police blotter Sept. 11 - 560
Go vegan - 549
Fraternity a no show in federal court - 541

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!