This is the last of my prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: Suggestions for improving theorion.com.
Rx1: Think daily - have new home page content every day
The one thing theorion.com 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.
Rx2: Have a strategy for all three digital platforms
It’s important to understand that social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), TheOrionApp and theorion.com 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 theorion.com 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.