Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trying some new approaches with video

New video editor Nick Kinoshita and his staff are conducting some interesting experiments with The Orion's video coverage. The daily webcast today, for example, gets anchor Lacey Vaughn out from behind her desk and puts her in front of the Museum of Anthropology. After she opens the webcast from there, she immediately transitions into a story about a new exhibit. The Orion's camera takes viewers inside while Lacey describes the exhibition.

That by itself is a nice change of pace, but what happens next is even more interesting. Lacey pitches to weather forecaster Allison Weeks, saying she'll be back with more about the new space exploration exhibit in a minute. When Allison's done, the camera returns to the museum for an interview with Dr. Stacey Schaefer, who teaches a class on museum design and installation.

Two other efforts worth noting this week are Alex Archuleta's cooking segment and Pedro Quintana's report from the Chico PD with footage from a press conference announcing the arrest of a suspected rapist.

Alex and her producer choose to show the step-by-step preparation of sriracha fries by focusing on Alex's hands, which fill the frame to show exactly how the cooking should be done. The bright yellow-orange butternut squash makes great video.

Pedro's report combined a traditional TV standup with, by TV standards, a very long video segment of a police spokesman describing the suspect's arrest. The details are so compelling that the length of the video isn't a problem. And the camera person has the good sense to find a photo of the suspect that was displayed at the press conference and zoom in.

Every experiment has its glitches, of course, but it's nice to see the video team taking chances and learning from their mistakes and successes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tweaks for home page

It was so nice to open The Orion webpage this morning and NOT see half of Wednesday's newspaper dumped onto the site. The editors deserve a truckload of credit for getting out of the habit of shoveling the newspaper's content onto the site once a week.

I'd like to suggest a few small changes to the page that would result in a better user experience:

• As long as there's a new photo and story available, the previous day's photos (in this case, rugby and basketball) should be taken off the page. It's OK to have just one story in the rotator; that position doesn't have to rotate. Your goal should be to make the equivalent of a new front page every day.
• Instead of "Recent Headlines" over the latest news stories, try "Today's Headlines." As a visitor, I want to know what's happening now, not what happened recently.
• Follow AP style on the words today, tomorrow and yesterday (which is to use the name of the day instead: Tuesday, Friday, etc.) to avoid confusion. The first tweet on today's (Tuesday's) home page talks about a press conference tomorrow at 2 p.m., but the presser is actually today. Using "Tuesday" would have avoided the problem.
• I know some people love the spinning-medal, scrolling-globe red background projected behind the webcast anchor, but I do not. Anything that takes the focus off the presenter should be doing the distracting on purpose (like superimposing a mug over the anchor's shoulder does). Lose the background, please!
• Be conscious of the difference in subject size when you're shooting anchors and reporters. Allison's head, for example, should be about the same size as Lacey's head when you change shots.
• Unfortunately, the "related videos" that display after the webcast is finished aren't related to anything at The Orion, so it would be a good idea to edit a little of the embed code when the video is added to the website. Here's how:
When you get the embed code via the video's "Embed" button on the Watch; uncheck the box that says:
[x] Include related videos.
That will remove the "related videos".
To do so manually, you need to add the parameter:
to BOTH instances of the parameter strings in the embed code. (Thanks to "Klementine" in Google Groups for this tip).

Monday, January 28, 2013

That's more like it!

ME Ben Mullin and Web Editor Dan Reidel are rolling out a great new look for home page. Here's what it looked like this morning:

I really like the wide photo module in the top left corner and the use of Twitter for breaking news at top right. One of the best innovations on this page (you can see it if you look closely) is the use of a URL shortener on the tweets to send visitors to the actual story.

I also like the placement of the recent headlines and daily webcast modules high enough on the page so they're visible when readers navigate to the website.

Great start, you guys!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Website

This is the last of my prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: Suggestions for improving

Rx1: Think daily - have new home page content every day
The one thing did not do very well last semester was keep the home page fresh, for a lot of different reasons. This gateway, landing pad, front porch, front page, or whatever other metaphor you’d like to use for the first thing visitors see when they navigate to the website home page, should have completely new content every day of the week. Some of that can be accomplished automatically with top-of-page display for the webscast and Twitter feeds (or a breaking news crawl or column), but the main display (currently the photo rotator) needs to be manually updated, which probably means a consistent effort to capture a news photo every day or a reconfiguration of the page to put a photo-cutline-story combination there instead. A willingness to put sports or entertainment news in the key display space would also open up more options for keeping the home page up-to-date.

x2: Have a strategy for all three digital platforms
It’s important to understand that social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), TheOrionApp and have different functions and, probably, slightly different audiences. That should mean the paper’s top managers have a clearly defined objective for each and a set of procedures to make them work well individually and collectively. That wasn’t apparent last semester, and it caused some frustrating breakdowns (while at other times, they worked together brilliantly). The first fix: Managing editor, online editor and video editor need to develop a news flow process. How a story goes from assignment to display on the three digital platforms needs to be consistent and communicated clearly to the staff. A flow chart posted in the newsroom wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

What a difference art makes. The Orion app's news page
 without (left) and with art. 
Important: The app and the website have to have some kind of art (photo, graphic, illustration) to work effectively and attract users, so art should be part of the assignment process.

Rx3: Don’t let ads dominate the top of the home page
Do readers come to to read news and features or to look at ads? A few times last semester and over the recent break, the answer to that question wouldn’t have been obvious to someone who landed on the paper’s home page. News and advertising departments need to work together to establish one or two premium ad positions on the home page and no more, or clutter will be the result and neither readers nor advertisers will be served. My suggestion: The banner ad that appears above “The Orion” (called the leaderboard) should be the only ad on the opening screen (the top half of the home page that visitors can see without scrolling). The other premium ad space should be the right column square, but it should appear below a list of top headlines. More ads down the page are fine. The lower leaderboard or banner should only appear on inside subject pages or individual article pages. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Webcast

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: The webcast.

Rx1: Write for TV instead of print
I wrote a little about scriptwriting in Eye on The Orion last semester, and I still think it’s the one single change that would immediately upgrade the daily webscast. Principles to remember:
• Bring the story up to date and tell as much of it as you can in the present tense. If it’s a story about a basketball game that happened the night before, start with “The Wildcat’s women’s basketball squad is celebrating its 10-game winning streak today after last night’s 80-65 win over U-C-L-A.” 
• Keep words and sentences short and simple. Remember that listeners can’t or won’t go back to hear what you just said.
• Be conversational. Instead of writing “
Fisher, a senior construction management major, was taken to Enloe Medical Center after being hit by a Chevrolet truck early in the morning Dec. 8, according to a Chico Police Department press release” write “The Chico State senior was hit by a pickup truck in downtown Chico a month ago and taken to Enloe hospital.”
• Write to pictures, which means shooting more video and writing stories about things that happened on campus or in the community. If you don’t have video, write over still photos. Do the best you can to keep “readers” (an anchor on camera reading copy) to a minimum. It’s OK to start with the camera on the anchor, but then switch to video with or without sound. 

Rx2: Standardize the show format
As much as possible, the webcast should follow the same format every day, just as local and national television news programs do (local programs = quick summary, news, weather, sports, a bright to close). Keeping in mind most visitors will watch the webscast at the beginning of the day (when they get to school or work computers). I’d suggest two or three news stories with video to start, then a sports story or roundup of scores, a longer feature (word of mouth, etc.), the 3-day weather forecast and a bulletin-board- style list of that day’s events.

Rx3: Produce more video features
I know I’m not the only one who looked forward to the Word of Mouth person-on-the-street feature on  Wednesdays last semester. Think about creating a video feature for each day of the week to reward faithful viewers. Some of these could also be posted in the video section of the website after they’ve aired in the webcast. Some suggestions: A sports video roundup (Monday), a feature about a band in town to play a show (Thursday), a feature about an interesting person (Tuesday), a quick tour of a place close by to hike or bike (Friday), etc.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Opinion

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: Opinion.

Rx1: Write less about yourselves, more about the campus and the community
One of the problems in an otherwise solid opinion section fall semester was the identity of the section and its consistency. Was the writing there going to be a collection of personal essays, newspaper-style commentary, editorials aimed at changing policy, humor or what? And like most college papers, it faced (and faces) the legitimate question about why anyone should care what a bunch of 20-year-olds have to say about anything. 

I believe 20-year-olds do have lots of legitimate, interesting things to say. The trick is to figure out what those are and say them in a way that is both authoritative and that reflects their perspective as young adults. The fix, I think, is to make the focus of the writing the issues and situations (bad or good) on campus and in the community rather than the personal lives of the writers. Solid research and the self-awareness of writing as a young, education person (who has a long-term, vested interest in the world becoming a better place) will provide the frame that will make that writing valuable.

Rx2: Develop a cartoon or multi-panel comic with an edge
Harper’s cartoonist Thomas Nast brought down the Tammany Hall machine in New York with his editorial cartoons and demonstrated that the artist’s pen can be just as sharp and effective as the editorialist’s. The illustrations Liz Coffee provided fall semester made the opinion pages of The Orion some of the best in the paper, but I think a topical single panel or editorial comic strip would be a great way to make the pages better.

Rx3: Create a podcast about a specific topic or issue
It’s hard to know exactly what to do and do well with opinions on the non-print platforms at The Orion. The opinion pages in the newspaper are exactly the right place for thoughtful, analytical writing that doesn’t work very well, in my opinion, on the Web and all its various publishing forms (Twitter, Facebook, websites, apps). So, what to do?
I’m a huge fan of both the Freakonomics podcast and Radio Lab from WNYC. They embody serious thinking and storytelling in an entertaining format that audiences appreciate. Rather than shovel columns from The Orion pages onto the website, why not try to develop a topic-specific podcast (the town-and-gown campaign against alcohol abuse or becoming a wiser consumer, for example) for This could even replace the Opinion panel on TheOrionApp.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: News

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: News.

Rx1: Improve beat coverage
Covering a beat is the best way, by far, to generate original news stories with actual value for readers. Without running beats, a news organization is at the mercy of PR flaks and anonymous tipsters with a grudge to define news in their communities. The news editor should decide what she thinks are the most important coverage areas for The Orion and assign them as beats to her reporters, then hold the staff accountable by asking what stories came from beats during weekly story planning. Reporters should physically cover their beats, introducing themselves and leaving business cards on the first visit and then stopping back regularly to find out what’s new or developing on the beat.

Rx2: Provide better daily coverage by writing briefs
Part of the give-and-take of covering a beat is putting information in the paper that helps beat sources (“Could you put something in The Orion about the flu clinic next week?”), but there often isn’t room or time to accommodate that sort of request when reporters are focused on fulfilling a weekly one-news-story quota. The same expectation makes it difficult to generate enough news each day to keep the news on fresh. The fix is to encourage reporters to write 100-word, three-paragraph news stories that can be posted to the Web the same day they’re written. Traffic accidents, announcements, small stories from beat reporting, etc., can be quick to report and write and give readers a reason to visit the website TheOrionApp often.

Rx3: Write it long or write it short
The Tennessean presents
write-it-long stories as centerpieces
I’ve written and talked about his in the past, but it still holds promise as a way to transition to digital-first news presentation and give readers something special on each of The Orion’s publishing platforms.
Write it short: The news briefs in the previous prescription not only improve the website, they also can be collected and rewritten (updated, revised, edited) for use in The Orion. Readership studies show time after time that short, well-written stories attract as much or more reader time and attention than medium-length stories.
Write it long: The Web is an awful place to read 1,500 words of text, and presenting those stories on a website is a design nightmare. The broadsheet newspaper page, on the other hand, is the perfect medium for long-form explanatory or investigative journalism, with the room to present photos, graphics and other storytelling devices in attractive packages (centerpieces, like the one demonstrated at right). Readers (and contest judges) love papers who devote time and space to tell big, important stories.

Long story short: Replace the 12-inch stories so prevalent in the news pages with longer, larger projects and a page of news briefs interspersed with news photos. Rethink the front page (and other section fronts) with that philosophy in mind.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Features

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: Features.

Rx1: Write more stories about people
Some of the most interesting stories in the section fall semester were people features, which readers like and which story subjects like to post on their bulletin boards and refrigerator doors for the world to see. The hard part is finding interesting people to profile. A few ideas:
• Jimmy Breslin, a columnist for several New York papers, used to write off the news, which meant he checked the daily runsheet of story assignments and then went to find the people behind the news. His column about the men who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave became a classic.
• People readers see every day on campus or downtown are often great subjects. No one else has time to stop and talk to them, and often they have fascinating backgrounds. Ask Ben Mullin about his sign-twirler story. Others: The guy who runs the hot dog truck near Bidwell Mansion (how did he start doing that?) or the families that operate the taco trucks around town.
• How about people you’d just like to meet? Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada brewing? Robin Hearne, the female chief of University Police? The chef of a local fine-dining restaurant?
These stories can also result in prize-winning environmental portraits for the staff photographers.  

Rx2: Own arts and entertainment coverage
The Chico News & Review should NOT be the go-to source of who’s playing and what’s showing in Chico. The Orion should be, at least for its primary audience of Chico State students. Who knows better than you what deserves to be hot and who deserves to be covered? Three steps to own A&E coverage:
  • Make it someone’s job to compile the most comprehensive, most useful calendar of performances in Chico and update it daily. Feature it on home page.
  • Create a blog or blogs that report what’s happening in the local arts, music and theater communities. Use lots of names and highlight them in boldface type. Take mugshots of artists, promoters, musicians, etc., to accompany the weekly blog posts. Tie the posts to the calendar with links and vice versa.
  • Write reviews of concerts, plays and art shows immediately after they open (art shows) or end (concerts and plays) and post them within hours to Promote the stories on Twitter (“We’ll be reviewing tonight’s French Montana concert at The Senator. Catch it after the show at ...”) and Facebook (link to the review as soon as it’s posted). Invite readers to supply their own mini-reviews as comments on the website.

Rx3: Develop more video features
The how-to cooking segments Annie Page successfully attempted fall semester are a natural for the Web. Think about other subjects that lend themselves to video storytelling: 15-second video clips of bands that are playing in town this week, subject-only interviews (interviewer edited out) with the lead in a university theater play, how-to play a new indoor or outdoor game (remember spikeball?).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Sports

I’m not a doctor, don’t play one on TV, but after a semester of advising The Orion, I thought I’d write prescriptions for making a good college paper a little better. My Eye on The Orion posts in the next week or so will suggest three ways to improve each of the newspaper’s sections, webcast and website.

Today: Sports.

Blake Mehigan and his team started fall semester with a clear idea of how to use all the publishing platforms at their disposal to get sports news in front of readers and fine-tuned their approach week by week. 

New editor Trevor Platt stopped by for a chat the other day, and it’s clear he’s ready to take the next steps to make the section even more useful to readers. Here’s some of what we talked about:

Rx1: Get more visual
Sports is a visual subject, but photos of actual game and match action were scarce on and in the section last semester. Video was nonexistent, except for interviews with players on the webcast. There are a few ways to fix the problem:
• Make more photo assignments for games, and encourage photographers to shoot both stills and video.
• Equip sports reporters with smartphones or cameras and provide training on how to use them. Encourage them to post from the field or gym for the Web and use their game photos in the paper.
• Make art for sports part of the daily coverage plan coordinated by the managing editor.
• Putting photos on Instagram isn't enough. That makes the audience work harder than necessary to see visual coverage of the games. Photos, videos and slideshows should all be part of stories posted to the website.

Rx2: Do a better job of integrating news across platforms
Adding Twitter, Facebook and soon TheOrionApp content to an already full schedule of stories with fewer people to do the work can seem daunting and even impossible. The trick is to re-use, revise and repurpose content across platforms. For example, a Tweet from a game should be rewritten and incorporated into the game story that’s posted on the Web a few hours later. That same story should be shortened to a 125-word brief and incorporated into the In Case You Missed It aggregation in the newspaper. Another example: Photos taken for a feature story on the sports section front can be used in a narrated or captioned slide show on the website. A tease following the print story can send readers to the Web; a tease at the end of the slideshow can send readers to the print story.

Rx3: Have a regular sports column to put a face on the coverage
Narrowing the width of The Orion pages apparently created a problem with having a sports column on the section front every week. But commentary and analysis are two things print does better than the Web. In whatever layout configuration, an anchored weekly column from a columnist or the sports editor should be a staple of print coverage.