Friday, August 31, 2012

More suggestions for the webscast

Here are more ideas for fine-tuning the daily webcast to make it look more professional and be more compelling to viewers:

• Put more news in the newscast. I know it's a tough transition to a daily-news mindset after years of gathering news for a weekly publication, but news does happen on campus every day (or at least every weekday). Once the staff gets in the swing of daily coverage, both the website and the daily newscast should have at least three solid news stories to post. Section editors, especially, need to make short versions of stories available to the online editor, who should edit them for broadcast.
• Write 'em in the present tense. The typical print brief is written in the past tense, but you want viewers of the webcast to feel that things are happening as you're talking about them. That means writing things in the present tense as often as possible (but still be logical). So, instead of reading the print lede:
"A majority of students in Chico State residence halls surveyed last year thought the food in Sutter Residential Dining Center was average or above average..." 
bring the webcast lead into the present
"Food served in the Sutter Residential Dining Center gets a thumbs up from a majority of dorm students.
That's according to a report released over the summer by ..."

• Cut down on the national weather stories and emphasize what happened and what's going to happen on campus. I think the ideal line up would be something like
- 3 voice-over (VO) or sound-on-tape (SOT) news stories from the day's events (60 seconds)
- A forecast of the next three days' weather with a graphic that shows highs, lows and conditions (sunny, rainy, cloudy, etc.) (20 seconds)
- A rundown of events happening on campus or in Chico that day of interest to students: athletic contests, concerts, lectures, performances, important deadlines, etc. (10 seconds or a little more, depending on what's happening).
• Tighten up the frame on the anchor (the shot on the left is what's being aired now).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

EXTRA! The Orion nominated for another Pacemaker

The Orion today was named a finalist for the 2012 Newspaper Pacemaker Award, the top prize in a national competition for college media. The Chico State newspaper has won a print Pacemaker 22 times since 1988. was named a finalist for an Online Pacemaker earlier this year. All Pacemaker winners will be announced in November.

California newspapers dominated the list of national finalists announced by the Associated Collegiate Press, capturing almost a third of the 44 nominations. 

• The Daily Californian (Berkeley) and The Daily Bruin (UCLA) are finalists for daily papers.
• The Orion is joined by The Chimes of Biola University, The Occidental Weekly, The State Hornet (Sacramento State), Golden Gate Xpress (San Francisco State) and The Santa Clara in the weekly category.
• Five California community college papers also were named finalists.

This award is for work in 2011-2012, when Almendra Carpizo and Ally Dukkers were the editors and Glen Bleske and Dave Waddell were the faculty advisers.

Solid first issue

Hope you had as much fun at critique yesterday as I did. If you didn't make make it, the full written critique is available on the course website on BulletinBoard Learn.

Given the time crunch, the fact that just about everyone on the staff is in a new job and the rustiness that comes from not reporting all summer, I thought the first issue of The Orion was pretty good. Here's what stood out:
• Lots of news well reported. This has always been a strength of The Orion and the staff showed it off again in this first issue.
• The nice redesign didn't fix all the visual-presentation problems. The paper looks cleaner and more modern, but the pages are still text-type heavy and have a long way to go visually.
• Photos need to be better and bigger. Remember that news is about people, so photos should be, too.
• Ads are back on track. The percentage of that paper that was ads on Wednesday was just over 40 percent, higher if you add in the Wildcat Survival Guide. That's great news given how much debt the paper is in.
• Copy editing wasn't perfect, but the paper overall was very clean (free of simple errors).
• People are starting to notice that The Orion is reporting news more than once a week. The website, Twitter, Facebook and daily webcast efforts have already changed readers' impressions of what the paper is all about -- delivering news to the community in a timely and convenient way.

There's room for improvement, of course, but all in all this was a terrific first week. Keep it up!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Questions and suggestions about the webcast

Just a quick post today because I have to sit down and do my first Orion critique!

Question: Why does the background move behind Renee Crane? Is she standing in Bidwell Park?
Suggestion: In TV news, seeing is believing (it's what makes television news credible) so using a green screen to provide a fake background just isn't done on professional newscasts. Often, TV producers will put a window into the anchor frame to display a logo and, very occasionally, a larger window to run video for a VO, but it's usually better just to roll the video onto the full screen in that case. The weather often uses a green screen, but that's to pop up graphic information, like the forecast, or to show a weather map that the meteorologist uses to point out features. My suggestion would be to find a nice, quiet place on campus (or Bidwell Park) to shoot the weather report (no green screen) or create a weather graphic that you can display with blank space for Renee to stand in.

Question: Did the producers get permission to use the photos in this morning's webcast? 
Suggestion: "Courtesy of" means you asked the originator of the images if you could use them. If you didn't, it's a copyright violation. Even the photos on Google Images are copyrighted. So, either call the person or organization that posted the images or shoot them yourself. This usually only becomes a problem if you're reporting a story that didn't happen on campus or in Chico, and why would you be doing that?

Question: Why is the daily webcast so far down the home page?
Suggestion: This is one piece of home page real estate that visitors know is going to be fresh every single day, so it should play higher on the page. You might even consider moving it into the first or second position in the right column.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A better home page

It was nice to see some of the news stories scheduled for Wednesday's newspaper on this morning, but seeing the updated home page reminded me that the site is not rewarding readers who pay a visit once a day or more.

Here's what the home page look like when it loads on my screen at school, which is about average for desktop computers.

It's a little hard to read, but the stories in the top right corner are a list of most popular stories, based on a count kept by the site's content management system and automatically updated. The lead story was posted last March. The sex column is from last spring, too. Because this is what most everyone sees when they first come to the home page, a better strategy would be to put the latest stories posted in this position. Those stories now appear just below the big photo at the top of the page, making it impossible for a visitor to see what's new unless he or she scrolls down the page.

Another suggestion: Sometimes an ad appears in all that red space above The Orion flag but not today. It should be possible to collapse that banner module if nothing is scheduled to appear there, bringing more content onto the screen that visitors first see.

 Some of those just-posted stories also appear farther down the
page in News or Sports, an unnecessary redundancy
that doesn't serve the reader at all. If the idea is to
fill up space, it works. But readers don't really like
to scroll down to read stories. They'd rather click
a button, tab or link, which are plentiful elsewhere
on the page.

Better to keep the page short and sweet and let the menus
at the top of the page do their work. (Research shows most
people use those menus to navigate a website.)

Finally, it should be possible to shorten up the list of Tweets
and Facebook posts that fill the second and third positions
on the right side of the screen. Limiting those to three posts
and giving readers the option to click to read more
(on The Orion Twitter and Facebook pages) keeps the page
short and, most of all, fresh. The staff is doing a great job of
tweeting the news as it happens, and having something new
and different on the home page here reinforces the
impression that it's worth the effort to check
several times a day.
Which builds traffic.
Which is what you want, right?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Facebook win, sweet tweets, daily webcast

What a totally impressive weekend for The Orion, and @theorion_news! The whole staff, including the business department, has jumped into a digital-first frame of mind and it's like a whole new Orion.

Kelsy Jehle, The Orion's business manager, got the idea to team the paper's sunglasses giveaway at WRECtacular! with social media. Students could only get a pair of the Orion-branded shades by liking the newspaper's Facebook page, and the list of likes topped 2,000 by Friday (it's down to 1,998 this morning, but still!). Maybe a similar campaign when the new Orion app is marketed later this fall?

Not to be outdone, staffers on the news side used Twitter and Facebook to ask readers to snap Instagram photos for the Wildcat Survival Guide that will be published with Wednesday's paper and to provide information about a recently deceased Chico State student for an obit. Lauren Beaven continued this semester's live Twitter reports with coverage of the honors program on Sunday.

And the multimedia team went right to work to publish's first daily web newscast with Quinn Western behind the mic and Annie Maize producing. That's another giant leap from thinking weekly to thinking digital first!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Using Twitter to report events live

 Ben Mullin and Quinn Western put on a clinic on covering events live with Twitter on Thursday and Friday.

Ben was at President Paul Zingg's fall convocation with more than a dozen posts as the event went on, including quotes and descriptions of what was happening.

Quinn Tweeted from Wrecktacular on Friday and added digital photos to her descriptions of what was happening and who was offering what freebies to Chico State students.

I was in a Journalism & PR department meeting this morning when professor Matt Blake commented on how on top of the news The Orion staff has been this week.

It's exactly this kind of coverage that makes people sit up and take notice of the paper's reporting, increasing the audience and The Orion's value to the campus.

If only these stories had found their way onto the website so readers could have read and seen the coverage, too....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

What are the students who are just arriving on campus this week thinking about The Orion?

If they're returning sophomores, juniors, seniors and grad students, they're wondering when the first issue of the paper is going to come out. But if they're new to campus, they might be picking up a wrinkled, tattered or even yellowed paper from one of the racks that says it was published May 16. They might not even notice the date and spend a few minutes reading months-old news before they figure out they have an old paper in their hands.

Same with the website. While there are new stories on, all of the photos in the slideshow at the top of the home page are from last spring, and three of the five stories displayed in the module/widget in the top right corner of the page are just as old.

Are those the first impressions you want your newest readers to have of The Orion?

Some suggestions:
• Organize a search party to find the old papers, get them out of the racks and recycle them. Replace  with a sign that says:
Wednesday is Orion Day (I love that theme!)
First issue Aug. 29
Read news now at
• Assign two or three photos of what's happening on campus right now (football practice, dorm move-in, construction on the new roundabout, etc.). It doesn't need to be particularly newsy, just new. If it can be tied to a story, so much the better. Replace the old photos in the top-of-the-page rotator with the fresh images. Do this once a day until real stories are available.
• Replace the Popular/Commented widget on the home page top corner with a Latest News widget. That way, all the terrific reporting that's happening right now gets noticed.
• Re-establish the link between the home page Twitter widget and @theorion_news so the newsy tweets that have been posted the past couple of days show up and let readers know you're already on the job.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On top of the news

Imagine my surprise and delight when I opened Twitter this morning and saw posts from @BenMullin and @theorion_news last night reporting stories about Chico and the state university system. Two of the stories, by Marisela Pulido and Aubrey Crosby, also appeared on this morning.

This is great work! It's also a great example of what it means to be digital first. It'll be interesting to see if theorion_news Twitter account's number of followers grows from the current 1,209 as students discover their campus newspaper is reporting news as it happens instead of just once a week.

In the next couple of weeks, the editors will need to figure out a story flow for all the various media the reporters and editors will be using now. It seems logical that Twitter would be the first place a story is mentioned because it's easy to post from a phone. Should a post to Facebook happen at the same time, or should that wait until a more complete story is posted on And where will the new smartphone and tablet app fit?

I almost missed the stories by Marisela and Aubrey on the website (mostly because the art that has been at the top of the page all summer hasn't changed yet, so it seemed like the news hadn't changed). That's something else that needs to be addressed. With more breaking news flowing to the website, should the most recent posts be featured near the top of the home page? 

Also, reporters should be thinking about what kind of art they can turn in with their stories to catch readers' eyes on their social media posts, the website and The Orion paper-and-ink version. In the case of these stories, a simple mug of the outgoing chancellor, people smoking in a park and a crime logo or a map that shows the location of Mountain Mike's would have been good additions.

But this is a great start!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's so easy

The Journalism and Public Relations Department chair, Susan Wiesinger, showed how easy it is to report a story of interest to readers in her Tweet yesterday about students arriving on campus for fall semester. All it takes is some news judgment, a smartphone and a Twitter account.

If Susan had been working for The Orion, this might have been the entry to a bigger website story about traffic problems (construction near campus!), the traditional scramble at the beginning of the year, a slideshow of students moving into housing or a half-dozen other back-to-school stories for the web and maybe next week's print edition.

This kind of reporting can be done even before is up and running and The Orion's first edition hits the street. Are there other stories out there waiting to be told? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

What does 'digital first' mean?

You're going to be hearing a lot about "digital first" this year at The Orion.
Kacey Gardner
Editor-in-Chief Kacey Gardner has made it her mission to bring the paper into the digital age by emphasizing the importance of reaching readers through, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. But what does that mean, day to day, in The Orion newsroom?
The most obvious change from last year will be the presence of an assigning editor in the newsroom every day. Managing Editor Jenna Valdespino each morning will create a coverage plan and assign reporters and photographers to events on and off campus with the expectation that the stories from those assignments will be reported as they happen on Twitter, teased on Facebook and uploaded to the website the same day they happen. Section editors and the website staff will be on hand to get stories, videos and photos ready for posting.
Some of those stories will only appear on the website. Others will be rewritten or repurposed for the newspaper with few changes. Some will also be used for a daily video update on the website. And still others will turn into longer newspaper pieces for The Orion. It's going to be up to the editors to figure out how best to tell those stories and present them to readers.
For reporters, "digital first" means understanding that news needs to be reported as it happens (or soon after), that the photo and video functions of a smartphone are important newsgathering tools and that Twitter will be the way Orion readers first hear about most stories.
Plans are in the works to upgrade and to publish a new, more sophisticated Orion app for phones and tablets.
The ink-and-paper newspaper is not going away, but it needs to become just one of many ways The Orion tells readers the stories that affect their lives.