Monday, December 17, 2012

Some advice from Boise State

Brad Arendt, the director of student media at Boise State, offered a valuable perspective about the direction of student media the other day that I thought was worth posting on Eye on The Orion. His publications have been ahead of the curve as far as digital media go.
We all should be dailies online these days, at least if you plan to rely on any sort of ad revenue I feel strongly a daily online presence is critical. 
While we are not a daily, twice weekly M/Th, we have pushed heavy with our web presence and mobile. 
Online HAS to be a website PLUS apps.  Walk around your campus.  If you walk with your head up, how many students walk past you with their heads down looking at a smart phone or tablet?  If your campus is like ours, it is clear personal electronic devices (PEDs) are growing and most campuses have decent to very good wireless coverage.  So you must have both. 
Building online takes work, but we have students who use both print and online.  You have to build a following and doing so with good, very visual/graphic pleasing content helps.  We have a problem translating graphics for EVERY story online.  This is a goal for us in the coming semester that every story will have at least one graphic - key for web and mobile.
 I think having some kind of art for every story would be a good goal for The Orion next semester, too. That, and making sure all the great reporting on The Orion's Twitter accounts gets turned into stories for the website.

I'll be working on some prescriptions for both the print and online elements of The Orion over the break. Watch this space next month for my suggestions.

See you next year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A social-media rant

I'm not a Facebook hater. Really.

What I hate is the way that Mark Zuckerberg and his shareholders are lining their pockets at the expense of legitimate providers of news, including The Orion.

The fault lies, unfortunately, with those legitimate news providers... including The Orion.

Like commercial news organizations, Chico State's student newspaper depends on advertising to pay its bills. Its ads appear in the published version of the newspaper and on its website.

Why, then, would the paper's reporters, editors and photographers post the result of all their hard work on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram instead of on their own website, InstaFaceTwit gets the clicks and the ad revenue, does not.

For lack of a better explanation, I'll blame it on the lack of a social media strategy. The Orion should be using social media, but it should be doing it in a much different way.

Here's what should be happening:
• Reporters and photographers should post Tweets and Instagram photos from the scene of news or events, but at least one Tweet in the series and every Instagram cutline should include a link to home page (probably by using a URL shortener such as bitly).
• The reporters should then immediately turn their Tweets, Twitpics and Instagram photos into news briefs and news photos and post them (or have an editor post them) to The Orion website.
• Facebook should be used primarily to promote stand-alone stories and stories and with art after they appear in the paper or have been posted on, again using a URL shortener, this time directed to the story itself.
• Slideshows and complete videos should never be posted to social media sites. A taste is fine, but not the whole meal.
• Twitter and Facebook can both be used to encourage visitors to stop by home page to fill out surveys, comment on stories, etc. Again, they should be directed to a specific page via URL.

The strategy in a nutshell: Use social media to promote your own content, don't just let the social media companies use your hard work to drive traffic to their own advertisers. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Meet the managers

The new editorial leadership of The Orion has hired its managers for spring semester and tweaked the organizational structure a bit in the process. Here's the list:

Editor-in-Chief: Jenna Valdespino
Managing Editor: Ben Mullin
News Editor: Quinn Western
Opinion Editor: Carly Caumiant
Sports Editor: Trevor Platt
Features Editor: Katrina Cameron
Photo Editor: Brett Edwards
Video Editor: Nicholas Kinoshita
Chief Copy Editor: Leila Rodriguez
Online Editor: Dan Reidel
Art Director - Scott Ledbetter

The position of multimedia manager, someone to supervise both photo and video work, fell off the organization chart. The video editor will be in charge of the daily webcast and be on the receiving end of footage shot by staff members. He'll also be able to train people to edit video.

Managing the TownNews content management system for the website, creating staff email addresses, creating the Issuu version of the paper, presenting weekly stats, etc., will now be the job of a webmaster.

On the business side, Mitch Engelking will be the new business manager and Michael Kenny will become advertising manager. They are both account executives this semester.

Looks like we have a great team in place for next semester!

Friday, December 7, 2012

The making of OR magazine

Students at the University of Oregon put together a magazine recently that shows off just how versatile a digital publication can be. This video does a nice job of explaining what they did and how they approached the new tools at their disposal.

Here's a link to the actual magazine.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Still more ideas for daily digital coverage

Here are a few more ideas for keeping and the new Orion app fresh:

Run beats. One of the hardest parts about making the transition from weekly to daily is coming up with enough of the right kind of story ideas. A weekly schedule tends to focus writers and editors on "the big story," something worth a week of reporting, writing and editing. The paper still needs those for the Wednesday paper, but it also needs many shorter, more timely stories for the Web. Talking to people in your coverage community is where to find those stories, and running a beat is where to find those people. Everyone on The Orion should be running a beat at least weekly; newsy beats (like cops and courts) should be run more often.  Sports, features and even opinion staffers should also have beat responsibilities so the paper can cast the widest possible idea net.

Plan for daily. Sections teams usually sit down once a week to talk over story ideas and select the best for the next issue of the newspaper. That's a sure path to having the entire content of the paper ready on Sundays and Tuesdays, the usual print deadlines, and lots of content being shoveled onto the website and app once a week. Instead, each section should be planning to produce (at least) one story each day. When things actually happen will take care of some of the scheduling, but section editors need to make it their business to have something ready every day of the week, even if nothing is breaking.

Keep a tickler file. The best lesson I learned as a TV assignment editor was to keep (in the era before computers) a file drawer containing 31 numbered folders for each day of the month. When I sorted news releases, took phone calls and browsed the local papers, I filed each release, scribbled note and news clipping in the folder for the appropriate date. Before I filled out the assignment board each morning, I would pull the folder for that day to check on story possibilities. The Orion managers should be doing the same, using the same pre-digital system I had or one of the hundreds of calendars available for their phone or desktop.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More ideas for daily digital coverage

Here are a few more ideas for making sure and the new app have fresh content every day:

Run the police beat daily. It's great that the police blotter has its own tile on the app home page, but it needs to be updated more than the current once a week. At, I made the blotter a single file that was updated by pasting new entries at the top. A week's worth of reports can be repurposed for The Orion just by copying and pasting.

Feature a photo of the day. Something visual is scheduled almost every day on campus. How about assigning a daily photo that could become a featured piece of art on home page? The police scanner often spits out news on campus, another source of daily photos. The best of these (or other shots from the same events) could be repurposed and used as stand-alone photos in the print edition to help break up text-heavy pages. When I was at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, we featured a full page of color photos on the last page of the newspaper, which was terrifically popular with readers.

Have a briefs mentality. Sometimes I think the requirement that reporters produce one story a week is the reason the paper has so many of those 12-inch text-only stories that few people actually read. What if reporters were asked to write three or four three-inch stories a week instead? Maybe one of those would be reported more deeply to become a story on the front page of the print edition, but the stories that were worth only three inches could be repurposed onto a news briefs page (page A2 or A3?). Calls, emails and news releases that come into the office daily could be reported and rewritten into briefs immediately instead of waiting for a Monday deadline.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Orion's biggest weakness exposed

One of the dangers of adding a new publishing platform (such as the new Orion smartphone app) is that it exposes problems that otherwise might be hidden.

The Orion's biggest weakness is its seemingly unalterable affection for being a weekly newspaper.

A quick browse through the app's home page tiles shows just how weekly the paper remains. Here are the publishing dates of the most recent stories, by section, this morning (Tuesday, Dec. 4):

News - Monday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m.
Opinion - Monday, Dec. 3, 7 a.m. (an article originally published in The Orion Nov. 28)
Sports - Monday, Dec. 3, 9:48 p.m.
Arts - Friday, Nov. 16, 2:47 p.m.
Features - Sunday, Dec. 2, 3:15 p.m. (a review of a play performed Thursday, Nov. 29)
Police Blotter - Tuesday, Nov. 27, 9:03 p.m. (for reports filed Nov. 22-26)
Daily Webcast - Sunday, Dec. 2 to YouTube (today's webcast not yet posted, even though it's usually written to be viewed first thing in the morning).
Weather - Today, 10:47 a.m.

Not very impressive for what one candidate for editor-in-chief termed "an online news service" and the current EIC expects to be the equivalent of a daily newspaper. It's even less impressive when you look closer at the posts and see:
• the sports story published last night is actually a digest of reports from games played Friday and Saturday
• the news story was the only one posted Monday and just one more was posted Sunday
• the one up-to-date section was Weather, which isn't staff generated.

So, how to fix it?

How about a news-flow process that looks like this:

Event or news happens > reporter or writer tweets what's known immediately > reporter files continuous Twitter updates, photographer or reporter tweets photos or video > when news or event concludes, reporter writes three-paragraph, 100-word hard-news brief  > editors post brief with photos or video > reviewer writes review within hours of performance's conclusion >  editor posts finished review with photos or video to the website. Time elapsed: minutes to a few hours. > Reporter continues to report story and files longer, more detailed version in the next 24 hours > story is posted to the web and Facebook > story package with other storytelling elements is prepared for the print version of the newspaper > broader, deeper explanatory story is published in The Orion on Wednesday.

This isn't easy, but it is totally necessary if The Orion is going to make the transition from weekly newspaper to online news service.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Trying out the new Orion app

I was genuinely excited to try out the new Orion smartphone app on my walk to the grocery store this morning. Talk about mobile!

What I saw and read there made me think the staff is definitely on the right track when it comes to pushing news out to readers, but a few tweaks could make it even better:

• The CSU system applications story written by Marisela Pulido was the sort of solid hard news piece people have come to expect from The Orion. The lead covers the Ws except for a specific when, which might have been OK in this case because a specific date doesn't really matter. The story was posted twice, according to my phone, so I'm not quite sure whether new information arrived, a correction was made or someone just hit a button twice. If a story actually is being updated, that should be indicated somewhere near the top to alert readers.
• The WREC emergency is another example of Orion-style shoe-leather reporting, this time by Kat Cameron. The whole story had great information, and the quotation about using "Wildcat" to call an emergency is the type of detail that makes a story memorable. I was disappointed, though, that this rescue happened Monday (according to the story) but the report wasn't posted until Saturday (something the app fairly shouts because it puts the publication time at the top of the story). This feature is there to show readers the publication is on top of the news, but it can work in a negative way if the story takes five days to write and publish.
 • Pedro Quintana also did a nice job with the Town and Gown story, but he does something at the top that Web editors and reporters should be thinking about doing more often. Instead of pegging the story to the meeting itself, Pedro wrote his story like a broadcast script, bringing the story up to date to make it feel fresher. The lede reads: " ready to supply a plan...." Since it doesn't really matter when the group met to make its decisions, and because the meeting is probably a day or two in the past when the story was posted, that shift to the present tense in the lead is a great strategy.
• The weather story is exactly why The Orion has started publishing on a mobile app. This is important, timely information delivered in the most convenient way possible. This story also includes a photo, which should be a requirement for every item posted on the website that's republished on the app. If you look at the screen shot of the phone above, you'll understand how important it is to make the extra effort to have a photo, graphic or some other art with a story.

This is a great start. I'm looking forward to lots more informative walks with my iPhone.