Saturday, September 29, 2012

Neat trick for keeping video framing consistent

The daily Orion webcast has gotten better and better as the weeks have gone by. It's been great to see improvements in the format, sound, content and a dozen little things.

One of the remaining problems has been inconsistency in how the shots have been framed. Fortunately, iMovie makes it really easy to adjust the framing.

In the toolbar, just below the player window, you'll see the cropping tool (it looks like a rectangle with little tails in two of its corners). Select the clip from the timeline that you'd like to tighten up, then click the cropping tool and adjust the rectangle in the player window. Here's a short clip I adjusted using the tool:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are you in the 1 percent?

Following up on what I said during critique yesterday...

Steve Buttry, digital transformation editor for Digital First Media, writes in a post for Nieman Journalism Lab that college papers are naturals to lead the way to a digital-first approach to the news. Their readers already prefer phones as a news platform, he says, and advertisers want to be where the students are.

That prompted a lively debate in the comments section following the post and a response at College Media Matters by Dan Reimold about the obstacles college journalists face on their path to a digital future.

Reimold and Bryan Murley of Innovation in College Media then continued the discussion during an episode of Murley's SoundCloud podcast this week. 

One of their observations really caught my ear: Most student journalists are just trying to master the basics of news reporting and writing, they said, so it's a stretch to get them to take the step into digital journalism.

BUT, says Reimold:

"There are an elite, 1 percent group of both student media and just journalism students that are out there and writing and reporting their butts off, and then also adopting and really leading the way on these digital tools and just experimentation in general."

If you're looking for a goal this year, becoming part of that 1 percent would be a good one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Digital first: It's good practice

I'm a real process guy. I believe that good workflow and organization solves problems, so when I saw Designing Digital Newsrooms on the Online News Association schedule Saturday, I knew I wasn't going to miss it.

On the panel of three was Steve Herrmann, the editor of BBC News Online, who described how the entire BBC newsroom was reorganized when the British broadcaster moved into a new, bigger space in London.

The huge, open newsroom has at its center a desk where all the news for all the BBC services comes in. The desks for BBC World Service, BBC TV, BBC News Online and all the other BBC platforms radiate in spokes from that center desk. News comes in, then goes out to the desks for dissemination.

Here's what really caught my ear: Even the journalists who were used to airing their reports live sent at least a sentence to the central news desk so the story could be posted to other platforms. That expanded the audience for each story and worked to cross-promote it for other audiences that might otherwise miss it. 

It's not an option at the BBC to keep a story on one platform.

The Orion, which created a central assignment desk this fall but not a central receiving desk, is still having problems with sharing. That showed up last week (and this) when Don Gonyea of NPR spoke on campus Thursday night, but the story about his speech didn't appear on the website until Tuesday--almost a week later, when it wasn't news anymore. 

The story that did appear on was the same story that will appear in the newspaper this morning, a Q&A with Gonyea by reporter Sarah Morin. The Q&A was a great approach for a story that wasn't going to be published in the paper until today, but THE WEBSITE PUBLISHES EVERY DAY, including the night Gonyea spoke and the day after. Sarah should have been asked to put together a quick day-of story right after the speech. And she should have Tweeted from the event itself. 

The Orion sports guys have this figured out. They Tweet scores during games, post a game story online as soon as it's over and then run a roundup of the games in Wednesday's paper. Three different approaches for three different platforms. It's a model the rest of the paper should emulate.

Digital first is good practice in two ways. It's a news best practice for the way journalism works today, where stories are served up in multiple forms on multiple platforms to serve the widest possible audience. It's also good practice for young journalists who want careers in 21st century journalism because practice makes perfect.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

USA Today website beta hears the beat

One of the undercurrents at last weekend's Online News Association convention in San Francisco was the focus on mobile platforms, particularly smart phones and tablets, and the consensus that websites are just about to change in a big way.

Some already have.

USA Today, as I noted on Twitter a week ago, rolled out a beta of its new site the day after it unveiled the redesign of its paper paper. As the screen shots below demonstrate, it looks a lot like mobile app configured for a desktop screen.

The top of the new home page looks a lot like what The Orion home would look like if the changes I suggested yesterday were made.


In the bottom half of the home page, a photo grid (which can also be viewed as a list) presents top stories from the standing sections. It also serves as a second navigation tool (in addition to the top-of-page menus).

A click on the News menu or News section photo takes readers to a page dominated by a photo/story and a horizontal, photo-driven menu of other stories in the section.

Like the original USA Today, the design will set a standard that others will emulate (copy), especially the emphases on great photos well played, simplified and intuitive navigation, and the predominance of art as a storytelling method.

Poynter's Julie Moos made a crucial observation in her review of the launch:
"My overall impression: The new site does not feel like a newspaper website, it feels like a news website."
That distinction, and the reality that the audience is moving at breakneck speed to iPhones and iPads for its news, should start being a bigger part of the news consciousness at The Orion, where the staff is still working on the transition from print-focused to digital first. The next big jump--to a new mobile app sometime this fall--is going to take another big leap of thinking if readers are going to be served well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

'How's that working out for you?'

David Wright, NPR's director of design, provided a terrific observation about home page design during his session at the Online News Association convention in San Francisco this weekend.

He put up a slide of some typical pages, cluttered with text, photos and ads, and asked what made the layouts such an ugly hodgepodge of elements.

"Ads," responded the audience.

Media companies are making their online welcome mats into big messes to gain more advertising revenue. 

"How's that working out for you?" Wright asked rhetorically. Knowing and embarrassed laughter from the audience provided the answer. Ads aren't exactly paying the bills these days.

The online team at The Orion did a nice job of cleaning up all the duplicated copy and photos on the paper's home page last week, but welcome mat has the same problem Wright was talking about at ONA. The page that greets visitors (the shot above was captured this morning) is ad heavy and information light, and it needs a lot of help.

Two of the three lead items in the top-of-page real estate are ad positions, which tells me as a visitor that ads are the most important thing on the site. It would be great if they were (we could use the revenue), but there is no money changing hands on this screen shot and there hasn't been all fall. My point here, though, isn't that ad sales need to increase. It's that the design of this page--which makes advertising a priority--is sending the wrong message to its audience.

So, as always, some suggestions:

• Have only one premium ad position on the page, the top banner. Price it that way.
• Get rid of the wide ad module at the top of the right column. Push Recent (could it say "Top"?)  Headlines into that space. Think about text-only news items in that space so you can put four or five items there.
• Be more conscious of the large photo module being the actual entry point for this page, the place where visitors' eyes settle first. The picture rotator this morning had two photos from last Wednesday's print newspaper. That fairly screams "Nothing New Here!" Make it a goal to have something fresh there every day (or more than once a day) and work with the photo staff to make that happen. (This is why it's so important for editors to make sure art is being assigned for as many stories as possible.
• Move Today's Events above the columnists. Your goal should be to make this page useful for visitors every day, so the more you can provide information that's immediately useful, the better.
• Figure out if you really need a place for visitors to sign in. (Do you do anything with user-created accounts? Do you even have them?) If you need this function, move it way down the page. People who need it will find it.
• Move the About Us menu item to the far right. I hope your content is more important than who works on the paper.
• Keep working on using modules that use the layout grid without leaving extra white space. Think about creating ad blocks to help you do that (maybe a space for those little square ad buttons on the left side).
• I really like the daily webcast where it is. The Twitter feeds have been a great addition, and anchoring them in the right column was a great idea.
• Think about making the pdf version of the paper a menu item instead of a visual element. That would also help you move up the weather forecast.

I'll have more ideas from the ONA convention in the blog this week. Watch for them!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rewriting news for the webcast

First, kudos to the webcast team for putting out a couple of very polished editions the past couple of days! Having Quinn, Renee and Pedro all report made today's show feel like a complete broadcast. Congrats to everyone who worked on it!

If you listen to TV news carefully, you'll hear a subtle difference in the voice used compared to what appears in the newspaper. Because TV and radio are called the immediate media, producers and reporters are taught to write copy that brings a story into the present rather than casting it in the past.

That's not as easy as simply changing the verb tenses from past to present, though. The trick is to actually bring the story into the present by updating it.

Here's an example:

Print lede -  Four men robbed the First National Bank of Smallville on Tuesday, escaping with $200 million in small bills.

A broadcaster would update this way - Police are looking for four men who got away with 200-million dollars during a robbery at the Smallville National Bank on Tuesday.

Here's the lead story in today's Orion webcast:

Yesterday, the California State University Committee on Finance recommended that the board of trustees increase each students’ tuition by 150 dollars in case the state cuts higher education by 250-million. The board of trustees will vote on the increase at their full session today.

Yesterday is old news, though. And this story is a perfect candidate for an update:

California State University trustees will decide today whether to raise tuition 150-dollars for every student next semester. 

If approved, that increase and several others would help balance the books if the state cuts aid to state universities by 250-million-dollars.

The tuition hike WON'T be necessary if voters approve Proposition 30 this November.

Notice the shorter sentence, simpler syntax and the shift in emphasis to what's happening today? Also, the process in this story isn't as important as the effect of the trustees' action. Keep that in mind as you're writing copy for the webcast.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Digital last

I know there's a newspaper full of news in The Orion office right now, but very little of it appears on this morning. My guess is I'll see a lot more of it later today, when it's shoveled (as in shovelware) onto the website.

This is The Orion of old, when reporters and editors were completely focused on putting out the print newspaper, which the online staff then dumped wholesale on Tuesday (features) and Wednesday (the news). It's also the antithesis of "digital first," which is where I thought this newspaper was going.

Hard to know who's to blame here, so I won't. But I will make a couple of suggestions:

• Create a GoogleDoc or some other single online file or folder that the copy editors can share with webmaster and online editor. When stories (ALL stories) are ready for print publication, a copy is  added to the file or folder. Same thing for art. The online staff can tweak it for online publication, then post it on the website.

• Even better, create a gmail account for the online editor where a 100-word version of news and sports stories (and art) are posted immediately after an event happens by reporters and photographers. These can be immediately edited and posted.

• Reporters should be Tweeting stories when they've confirmed the basic who, what, where and when. The Orion news and sports Twitter account passwords should be shared with everyone on staff. Smart-phone photos AND VIDEO should be tweeted too.

• It's time to stop thinking of photos merely as illustrations for print stories. Photographers, and everyone with a smartphone or digital camera for that matter, should always be carrying cameras or phones and looking for great shots that can posted immediately on Twitter and Facebook or taken back to The Orion for editing and posting. Online, a photo and a cutline is as good as a regular news or sports story.

• Think about copy flow in a new way. This illustration of the news diamond sees newsgathering as a series of steps that starts with Twitter and Facebook alerts, gets a brief story online, publishes a final version in the paper and then continues the story with commentary or analysis and further development with the help of readers. Keeping this image in mind will help The Orion on its path to digital first.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Two cool tools makes use of YouTube videos and the slideshow feature in TownNews, the website's host and content management system, but there are a lot more tools available for visual reporting.

One I used some at was Vuvox, an interactive slide show program that puts photos and even short video clips on a moving timeline. Here's something Casey Myers of put together after he shot a high school tournament game.

And here's an early one I did to report the Fire and Ice Coronation at Richfield Senior High School:

Another tool that has some interesting possibilities is Qik, a web-based video service that allows journalists to live stream video to a website from their mobile phones. Here's a quick explanation:

Reporter Jeremy Jojola, when he worked at KOB-TV in Albuquerque, did lots of reporting live from the field with his iPhone and Qik. You can read an interview with him by The Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins if you'd like to learn more. Here he gives a live demonstration to a high school class.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Daily webscast is getting better daily

"Hey Wildcats!"

While not a standard way to open a news broadcast, that greeting from Quinn Western is one of the ways the writers, anchors and producers (PR Ortez and Annie Maize) of The Orion's daily webcast are developing their own distinctive tone and style. The minute-to-minute-and-a-half show is starting to become more consistent and more professional with each installment.

One thing that's really helped has been everyone's willingness to experiment in real time to see what works and what doesn't.

The background behind the anchor, for example, has moved from a projected video of students walking away from the camera (last year) to a photo of Kendall Hall projected on a green screen to the current shot from the newsroom. The background for the weather segment has made a similar transition from a projected photo of Bidwell Park to the weather reader actually standing in Bidwell Park or in front of BMU delivering the forecast. Viewers can SEE what it's like outside, a real improvement.

The framing for those shots is changing and sometimes evolving, too. I liked the anchor framing on the Sept. 12 newscast, which lets Quinn dominate the left side of the frame while viewers get to see the newsroom over her left shoulder. Although the outdoor lighting is still a work in progress, I liked the way Renee Crane was framed and Sept. 11, with the forecast projected over her shoulder. I hope the producers keep experiment until they find something they like, then make that look consistent from day to day (even if it means the weather shot moves from place to place, as long as that's done consistently).

The producers also did a nice job of putting Renee outside to do an interview at Grilling on the Grass. More of that, and more video from campus events are the best ways to get people to watch the webcast.

The sound still needs some work, though deploying the handheld and lavalier mics has helped. Using the normalize clip volume function at the end of editing will fix the problem of the clips being recorded at different volumes. (To do that, click on the editing icon that appears at the far right on a video bar that's been placed on the timeline. When the menu opens, select Audio Adjustments. The Normalize Clip Volume button is just below what looks like a football field in the bottom third of the screen. Do that for each clip and all the clips should play at the same volume).

One more suggestion: If the anchor is going to continue reading from the newsroom, it might be time to organize a clean up day in Plumas 001.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Repeatedly repetitious repetition

I pointed out at The Orion critique this week a problem with words and phrases that repeat. If a reporter finds himself or herself writing committee in two successive sentences, it's an invitation to
a) combine the sentences to get rid of one of the mentions
b) replace one of the committees with a pronoun, or
c) replace one of the committees with a synonym.

The same problem pops up on the website home page pretty frequently. Here's a screen capture from the other day:

Notice the duplicated photos. The headline (this time without the photo of the student cleaning up the river) is duplicated again farther down the home page. The photo itself appears in the Week in Photos module, too. One day earlier this week, a photo from the Brett Olson search appeared in the top rotator, the Recent Headlines slot in the top right corner of the page and as the first item in the news section list just below the photo rotator.

I hope it goes without saying that once is enough when it comes to the number of times a photo (or anything else) appears on the home page.

Blame the problem on the way things used to be done on the website. When most of the content was dumped onto on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the chance that a story or photo would be a featured story,  a recent headline and the item at the top of the news section on the home page was pretty slim. But now, as news is posted on the website every day and sometimes more than once a day, the old organizational scheme is a repetition trap waiting to happen.

The solution is to reconfigure the home page modules so they don't contain automatic feeds or placement modules, with the exception of the sports and news Twitter feeds. Instead, lay out the home page the way you'd lay out a new page 1A on a daily newspaper...with completely fresh content every day. It's a lot of work, especially if the home page is going to carry 40-some stories at a time. Which should lead to the conclusion that the page needs to get simpler and less crowded.

I'd be a fan of getting rid of the section modules (News, Sports, Features, Opinion) all together, leaving it to readers to figure out that clicking on the horizontal menu items just under the flag will magically transport them to content pages of the same names.

In place of the home page section listings, I'd position the things websites do best: a video module, a slideslow module, blogs (when you get 'em), polls and anything else interactive. I'd keep the latest news where it is, high on the page, along with the photo rotator and the daily webcast, another bit of content guaranteed to be fresh every morning.

Getting rid of the repetition will have the added benefits of making the page easier to navigate and making it easier to find what's new on the website.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When a sad story is big news

Multimedia Editor Samantha Youngman and I had a conversation yesterday about the conflicting emotions newspeople experience when a big story comes along that's also a tragedy.

Sam's dad was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and his newsroom, like all newsrooms, got excited when a big, tragic story was breaking. I had a similar experience in a Twin Cities TV newsroom in 1986 when the space shuttle exploded, killing everyone aboard.

Gathering facts and racing a deadline to report them gets the adrenalin pumping and makes the journalists covering the story almost euphoric over the opportunity to do what they do best: report the news.

It does feels ghoulish (at least to me) to get excited over human tragedies such as the Challenger explosion or the Brett Olson disappearance. But I think being a journalist in the middle of a tragic story doing a professional job of telling that story is a reason to celebrate what we do.

Here's why.

The thorough and professional job of reporting the Olson story that Orion reporters and editors did meant that rumors were kept under control, the authorities were able to get help with the search and the community learned the facts of the tragedy from reliable sources.

Maybe more important, The Orion's efforts and the efforts of other journalists brought the campus and city communities together to support the Olsons and one another.

I think journalism is at its best when it can create and foster community, even when the circumstances are awful. You should be proud (if not happy) that you could be part of it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fine-tuning The Orion website

It's nice to see The Orion website get better little by little as the weeks pass. Having both the news and sports Twitter feeds on the right column of the home page now guarantees that readers see fresh content every time they visit. Bringing the camera closer to the talent dramatically improved the webcast, as did getting rid of the big-type anchor identifiers and putting Quinn in the newsroom instead of against a stagnant photo background. Adding Instagram posts to the home page was a nice way to get photos into the breaking-news mix in that right column. Keep it up!

Here are a few more suggestions:

• When you have a huge story (like this weekend's recovery of Brett Olson's body), don't be afraid to blow up the standard format of the home page to play it better. The menus will always be on the page to help visitors find the rest of your content, so feel free to make a one-subject splash when you have big news.
• I know I'm already a broken record about getting and using more video, but I thought the police news conferences over the weekend would have been natural additions to the package of Olson stories and would have allowed you to add sound/video to the webcast.
• Great idea to break schedule and have a special webscast on Saturday to update the story. Another special 'cast on Sunday, when Brett's body was found, would have been a good idea, too.
• Start thinking about how you can get more video, even basic voice-over shots, for the newscast. Pictures that move are much more effective on TV than still pictures. Example: The story about Greek rush could have been illustrated with video of the sororities and fraternities tabling if someone had run outside and shot 15 seconds of cover video. That will help you...
• ...stop using the Ken Burns effect on the webcast to simulate motion.
• Is it possible to end each webcast with a two- or three-item calendar of what's happening that day on campus? And by the way, is someone updating the calendar?
• It's important to get old news out of the way when news is breaking. The home page still has stories about the search from last week on it, even though Brett was found on Sunday. That situation emphasizes the need to present a fresh home page every day.
• (Related) It's time for the ed board to sit down and talk about how much content belongs on the home page and what should be out there. Concentrate on what's posted on the opening home screen -- the area equivalent to a TV screen. It's just as important as the real estate above the fold on The Orion's front page.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gold stars for the reporting this weekend!

I could not have been prouder of The Orion this weekend as the paper's reporters, editors and photographers covered the Brett Olson story. The coverage was sensitive, accurate and immediate, adding up to a professional effort on a sad, sad story for the Olsons and members of the Chico community who became part of their extended family during the search.

It also was a perfect example of how important having a digital-first mindset can be on a breaking story. Even without your extraordinary efforts on the website, Twitter and Facebook, almost everyone on campus will have known about the tragic ending to this story by the time the newspaper comes out Wednesday. So producing the breaking visual, textual and social-media reports this weekend was absolutely essential for The Orion to serve its readers.

Lots of people deserve credit for an extraordinary effort:
Jenna Valdespino and Ben Mullin for directing and coordinating the coverage
Lauren Beaven for editing copy and Lauren and Kacey Gardner for putting information up on as it was ready.
• Reporters Quinn Western, Pedro Quintana, Ben Mullin and Katrina Cameron
• Photographers Frank Rebelo and Liam Turner
Samantha Youngman and staff for putting up a special webcast on Saturday.

Very nice work on a very tough story.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Adding video to your journalism toolkit

I was obviously pretty disappointed (but not surprised) Wednesday when I asked during critique for a show of hands of people who had shot video for in the previous week. Not a single hand went up, which was consistent with the amount of video (outside of the daily webscast) that had been posted to the website (none).

Shooting, editing and producing video stories for the web isn't the same as goofing around with the video tool on an iPhone, but there are lots of free resources available that can get reporters up and storytelling with video. Here are a few I like:

Make Internet TV - A Knight Foundation-funded website that gives clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for shooting, editing and publishing video on the Internet. It's also platform-neutral, so if you work on a Windows or Linux system, you can still use this guide. Here's one of the people who put it together:

10 Steps for Shooting Better Video With Your iPhone - The very definition of quick and easy, this is a set of tips with brief, understandable explanations and a big photo of each technique to make things clear. Written by R.J. Bookwalter for Mac Life.

Tips for Shooting Video Interviews - This list seems pretty commonsensical, but it will help anyone avoid some of the most common mistakes people make when interviewing with a camera. The comments that follow are very helpful, too.

Mindy McAdams' iMovie Tutorial -  A journalism professor's step-by-step guide to editing video on the easiest video editing software available. This is a downloadable PDF with a link at the end to more advanced iMovie tips. Part of the Journalists' Toolkit website that has lots of other resources for reporters and editors.

Ten Ways to Improve Your Multimedia Production Right Now - A webpage on the MediaStorm website with advanced tips for digital media production, including examples of what's being described. A great page to look at after mastering the basics.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Where does news come from?

At critique yesterday, I encouraged everyone to be on the lookout for stories that surprise and delight Orion readers, but where do those stories actually come from? The answer is: lots of places.

Other media
Ben Mullin, who wrote the story on 2A about the Bear, found that story in the Chico Enterprise-Record. He didn't pick it up wholesale, of course, but it gave him the idea to call people who knew what was going on with the bar and Chico State and wrote his own story.

Reading other newspapers, watching TV news, listening to radio news (especially public radio), keeping track of local Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and reading people who blog about the campus and community are all good ways to find stories. Sometimes what you see or read will lead you to re-report a story, but often news from elsewhere will stimulate you to think about localizing or adapting the story to fit your readership.

Ben didn't know where the E-R got its story originally, but he guessed it was probably from a call someone made to the newspaper. He's probably right. Sometimes people have an ax to grind, sometimes they think corruption or wrongdoing needs to be exposed and sometimes they would just like to see something in their newspaper. Having the newsroom phone number in the paper and email addresses at the end of stories is a good way to encourage tipsters. So is putting a message on home page inviting people to submit news items.

Keeping your eyes open
I make a joke with friends about the skills I've developed as "a trained observer," but that really is what journalists are. If you notice that video rental stores suddenly have "for rent" signs in their windows, that trash seems to be accumulating behind downtown businesses or an unusual number of dogs seem to be on the loose in your neighborhood, you could be writing stories about a switch to digital movie delivery, a contract dispute between the city and trash haulers, and the sudden firing of the local dog catcher. Curiosity is probably the most important skill a journalist can develop.

News releases
Too much of the news we read is actually delivered to news organizations by public information and public relations people, but it would be difficult to publish a paper or air a news broadcast without these handouts. When someone calls a news conference, it's probably a good idea to be there. And California's public records laws make it difficult to get details from police unless the department issues a press release. Still, few real surprises come from people who manage the news for a living. And remember that all stories from news releases need follow up reporting to find out what the PR people aren't telling you.

Building relationships
The best stories I've covered have come from what used to be called shoe-leather reporting, running a subject-area beat every day. When I covered cops and courts, I personally stopped at the police station, sheriff's office, highway patrol office and county and federal clerk of courts offices every day. After awhile, those people got to know me, learned to trust me and started mentioning things to me that weren't in the files or official reports. It takes time on a beat to earn that trust, but it can pay big dividends in the long run.

If you aren't running a beat of some kind for The Orion, it's time to sit down with your editor and figure out a beat coverage plan. I think that's really the best way to find stories worth telling.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What's a runsheet?

One great way to make sure everyone is on the same page in a newsroom staffed with dozens of people is with a runsheet.

A million years ago, when I was a section editor at the Minnesota Daily, the runsheet was a six-foot page of newsprint tacked up in the middle of the newsroom. It listed every story assigned to every reporter, and everyone was welcome to scribble suggestions for coverage, photos and even editorial topics next to the entries.

Our runsheet at the St. Paul Pioneer Press when I edited there was six or seven single-spaced legal-sized sheets with the stories planned for that day, the line-up for that Sunday's paper and stories planned for the future. Every editor carried it into the 3 o'clock news meeting, where editors pitched their stories for 1A.

Both had the advantage of keeping everyone on the staff informed about what the paper was about to commit to print. Because they were shared documents, anyone on the staff could go to a reporter or editor with suggestions for making our coverage better. Related stories, sidebars and other extras were often the result.

Fast forward to the digital age and GoogleDocs. These days, a newsroom runsheet can be a totally interactive Google document and even include links to related stories, similar stories published elsewhere and anything else on the web (or another GoogleDoc) that would help the reporting.

The ideal person to manage The Orion runsheet is the managing editor, who is already playing air traffic controller in the newsroom by assigning stories each morning for that day's coverage. But the interactivity of GoogleDocs allows anyone on the staff to add story suggestions, making the runsheet a living document. This makes it possible for the online editors to see what's upcoming so they can plan website presentation, the designers can start thinking about elements for a package and everyone can offer suggestions to make the paper, the website and The Orion's social-media effort more compelling and more complete.

The other great thing about using a GoogleDoc is that a new one doesn't have to be typed up, printed and physically shared every day. Once a Google runsheet is created, old stories can be deleted and new ones added, all on a document that was shared once at the beginning of the semester.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Baby steps

It's nice to see the website taking incremental steps toward being a consistent daily news platform for The Orion.

Over the weekend, tweets from the Labor Day traffic stops and a story and photos from the Sacramento River float were up on the site pretty much as they happened. The daily newscast reappeared after being absent Friday with better editing and more visuals to help tell the weekend's stories. Quinn and Pedro both did solid, sober, professional work reading their copy for the camera.

These improvements are bringing the website closer to what it needs to be: the equivalent of a daily newspaper or news broadcast for Chico State students. I think it's important to keep those models in mind as you produce the site, rather than the weekly shovel the website was last year. Samantha and I talked last Wednesday about the importance of making the home page, especially, look brand new every morning and more often if there's breaking news. Monday's home page was a good start.

Here are a few more suggestions for small improvements:

- I noticed a few photos from last week were still in the rotator module at the top of the home page when I opened the page early this morning. That changed after 11 a.m., which was nice to see. It's better to have one new photo in that top-of-page position than three photos in rotation if two of them are old. (Would you EVER see day-old or week-old video on a local TV news show?).
- The video newscast had "courtesy of" photos from the Sacramento River for the float story. Are the staff photographers not sharing their work with the newscast? That should change right away.
- I had trouble finding a slideshow of photos from the river. Did one not get put together?
- An event like the float is the ideal video story because it has both sights and sounds. If a photographer is there to shoot pictures, he or she could certainly come back with 30 seconds of video for the newscast. The reporter could have, too.
- The float was also an ideal opportunity to get students to talk on camera about their experience. You KNOW hits on the site will jump when the people interviewed tell their friends they're on "TV."
- Where's the sports? Tweets, photos, videos, interviews, scores, stats, reactions from the soccer games would have been great additions WHEN THE GAME WAS HAPPENING and shortly afterward for the webpage, and part of the webscast on Mondays. Time to get the sports department off the bench!

Late add: My apologies to the sports department. The writers ARE tweeting during games and posting game results as they happen. But I and anyone else navigating to The Orion home page wouldn't know that because all the content is back on the sports section home and the tweets aren't captured on the website. Any way to get those stories up front?