Friday, March 29, 2013

Midterm conferences

Thanks to everyone who came in for 10-minute midterm conferences this week. It was great getting to know those of you who are new to the paper and gratifying to hear how much the staffers are enjoying their time at The Orion.

I learned a few things I'd like to share:
• Almost everyone I talked with said they're part of The Orion because they want the experience of working on a newspaper rather than because they needed the credits or that the class is required for graduating as a journalism major.
• No one said they weren't enjoying their time at the newspaper. That doesn't mean some people don't feel overwhelmed or that everything is wonderful, but it tells me working at the paper is worth the time and effort.
• The Orion continues to have problems with missed deadlines, which leads to people sitting around sometimes with nothing to do or being rushed to finish work. It also is making the paper late to press, which means the printers in Marysville have less time to make the paper look great.
• It sounds as if communication among reporters, editors and photographers is getting better but could still stand some improvement.
• More than one person said they'd like to see the paper become more visually appealing.
• Editors, and section editors especially, got a big vote of confidence from the people who work for them.

Overall, I think the conferences were a success, and I'm planning to keep them as part of the journalism lab classes. If you didn't get a chance to stop in and talk, feel free to stop during my office hours Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I'm in Tehama 345.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another approach to Web news

There's more than one way to present video news on the Web, of course. Take a look at "59 Seconds," The Washington Post's daily webcast and compare it to today's webcast on

They're both about the same length (The Orion 'cast is 10 second longer) but it doesn't feel that way. What could the video staff learn from this side-by-side comparison?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inspiring career advice

If you have a little extra time on your hands during the break, take a look at something called Horizontal Loyalty, and idea Robert Krulwich suggested during a commencement speech at Berkeley a couple of years ago.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Award news

Just a quick update about some recent contest results:

Katrina Cameron has won a Region 11 SPJ Mark of Excellence award for her reporting fall semester about the police investigation into sexual assaults in Chico.

Lexi Brister took first place for best sex column at the recent Apple Awards in New York.

And The Orion ad staff took second place for best ad at the Apple Awards.

Congratulations, everyone! Stand by for more award news.

What I learned from Wednesday's critique

The Orion has had some terrific guest critiques this semester, and Melody Gutierrez's visit Wednesday was no exception. Besides doing an incisive job of breaking down the reporting and writing, she offered some food for thought about a few other issues I think are worth revisiting.

Show us the money - When Melody was analyzing the story on A2 about the new mandatory reporting rules for all CSU employees, she wondered aloud what the rules would end up costing the university and whether Chico State is going to have to hire someone to administer the required training. Cost is always an important element in stories about public institutions and extra important in tight economic times.

Developing story ideas - Melody also mentioned a couple of police blotter items that could have been turned into full stories (RAs dealing with drunks, figuring out what a "cold rape" is, etc.). Even if those items are only turned into 100-word briefs, they deserve the extra attention a regular news story attracts. She also demonstrated the type of critical thinking reporters develop over time when she suggested examining the policy of opening up Meriam Library to the general public, particularly when coupled with the statistic about how many people visit the library. Thinking about stories just a little more deeply often yields more and better follow-up stories.

Longer pieces - She also reminisced about her days at The Orion when reporters would work on in-depth stories for several weeks or more. Those sorts of projects and investigations have been scarce in the paper this year, but they usually have as much or more impact on readers than coverage of breaking news. One story I thought about as I reviewed last week's Orion reporting was a look at plastic bag bans in California, something the city of Chico is in the process of imposing. Pedro Quintana did a good job of covering the City Council's action on the issue, but I think readers would appreciate knowing more about:
• what's prompting these new local laws
• whether they're actually effective at reducing waste or protecting the environment
• who bears the costs and what effect they'll have on shoppers
• which other cities have adopted them, and
• why businesses seem to universally oppose them.
Not a very sexy story, I admit, but the sort of in-depth reporting that helps citizens sort out policy decisions with good information instead of knee-jerk emotions.

The Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard has a great resource for journalists who are looking for project story ideas. It's called Journalist's Resource. Check it out!

Anyway, a big thanks to Melody for her critique. I'm looking forward to having her back next year.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tell me what's happening NOW

It takes a little bit of mental gymnastics and an effort to unlearn some of the rules about writing for print, but putting together a great webcast script is actually pretty easy. Here's a guide to making the switch from newspaper writing to broadcast writing:

1. Bring the story up to date - Rule No. 1 for broadcast writing is usually "write in the present tense," but just changing verb tense isn't really the point. What the webcast should do is make viewers feel as if they know what's happening right now. That's the mental gymnastics part: Instead of reporting what happened in the past, a broadcaster brings the story into the present.

In the Human vs. Zombies story on this morning, for example, the lead:


might look like this for webcast:



This version brings the story up to date, and the present tense verbs just naturally replace the past-tense verbs.

The weekend basketball roundup could have done the same by taking a different angle. Instead of reporting what happened over the weekend, the writer could have thought about what's important today:


Next paragraph: details about when and where the teams will play.
Third paragraph: explain what happened in the conference championships over the weekend.

2. Unlearn some of the rules of print writing - Bringing stories into the present requires some rethinking about what belongs in a lead. In print, the most important story element goes up top,  but in broadcast, currency often has higher value than importance.

The print rule about putting attribution at the end of sentences does a 180 in broadcast. The source of information usually starts a sentence.

And while dependent clauses are often a great way to add explanatory information in print sentences, commas are generally the enemy in broadcast. Short, direct sentences are better.

3. Broadcast writing is less formal - I'm reminded of this when Allison Weeks starts her weather forecasts. She does the polite, formal thing by saying "thank you" when Lacey Vaughan pitches to her, but I can't think of the last time I heard someone in TV news say "thank you." A less formal "Thanks, Lacey" would be the typical, less formal response. The rest of the writing in the webcast should be just as conversational.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Great new look for The Orion website

Just wow!

After a meeting Friday with the top editors and art director, Online Editor Dan Reidel sat down and put a brand new home page template into place, and the results are impressive!

The template features a new and improved interactive photo rotator. Immediately under that, a new panel of three thumbnail photos promote other stories inside the website. The video module moves into the right column.

Farther down the page, Dan has organized the layout blocks to give the page a more modular look, reintroducing a short collection of story teases for each section and combining sports and news Twitter feeds.

Overall, the page feels more organized and, with the additional emphasis on editorial art at the top of the page, it's a lot more attractive.

The trick to making this change a continued success will be for Orion staffers to provide art with every major story, either by making sure to file a photo assignment or shooting photos themselves with the rotator and three-photo panel in mind.

Nice work, Dan!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Not my favorite visit to

A flawed experiment, visual clutter, stale news and missed opportunities on The Orion website sort of spoiled my morning today. This semester, I've really looked forward to getting up and opening my browser to because the Web team has been doing such great work. Today's effort, unfortunately, was a step back.

The experiment

The daily webcast introduced a new feature: a roundup of world news. Of course, there are no Orion journalists trotting the globe, sending back on-the-scene reports from Japan and Venezuela, so the report was information gleaned from the Web, illustrated by still photos taken from the Web.
I have the same problem with this segment that I do with the news roundup that appears on page A2 in the print newspaper: readers are able to get better, more timely reports of news from elsewhere in daily newspapers, TV news and the Web.
The webcast version had the additional problems of:
• using a script written for print instead of broadcast
• using photos provided "courtesy of Google," which means someone at The Orion asked permission to use them (I'm guessing that probably didn't happen)
• using stills instead of video.
With two minutes a day to report the news, I think it's a better strategy to provide campus news, which the audience really can't get anywhere else.

Home page clutter

Although I'm conflicted about criticizing the ad staff's effort to wring as much revenue as it can from the website, the screen I saw when I navigated to home page this morning did not exactly invite me to stick around and read more.
The ad staff has plans to cut down the number of ads that appear in the top third of the home page, but that can't happen soon enough for me and other visitors to the site.

Old news

It appears the staff is back in the habit of dumping news just published in the Wednesday newspaper onto the website in one big shovel-load.
The stories in the photo rotator at the top of the home page were posted on Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday and Wednesday. The "Latest News" stories were posted Thursday, Wednesday and Wednesday.
The solution is something I wrote about on this blog as recently as last week. Editors need to use the white board in the office to schedule content for posting to the website every day of the week, if possible, but certainly every weekday. The whole idea of digital-first is that content goes on the Web before it appears in the paper, not after.

Missed opportunities

I understand that news doesn't break conveniently, so sometimes it's difficult to find great fresh content for the website. But sometimes -- like today -- stale content is the result of missed opportunities. Here are two:
• A couple of people on The Orion staff tweeted Thursday afternoon that Playstation was on campus less than 100 yards from Plumas Hall doing game demos and giving away game swag. That's an easy photo and a fairly easy video story that could have been in the webcast or on the rotator.
• Both men's and women's basketball teams are playing tournament games today, but there's no mention of that on either the home page or the webcast. In fact, it's a pretty full sports weekend, but visitors wouldn't know it by visiting The Orion website.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What a week! My brain's just buzzing

Last Thursday after my Public Affairs Reporting class, I made the three-hour drive to San Francisco to attend the Associated Collegiate Press Midwinter Conference for college journalists. This week, the Chico State Department of Journalism and Public Relations hosted a visit by the social media director for the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore., Ali Manzano, who talked to several classes about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a collection of other online tools and how journalists can and should use them.

My brain's just buzzing.

Here are a few of the things I've started to think about:

• One of the important jobs for a student newspaper editor in 2013 is coordinating and promoting stories on all of his or her publishing platforms. That means encouraging staffers to tell a story a number of different ways, depending on the platform, and helping readers find all the story threads by cross-promoting them.
• Another important job is to engage the audience in stories by inviting participation through online events and invitations to interact with the paper's reporting. That happens by adding a reporter's Twitter handle to the bottom of a story (on the Web and in the paper), setting up Twitter or Web interviews with newsmakers to which the audience is invited, asking witnesses to breaking news stories to be the paper's eyes and ears, etc. Ali Manzano, especially, convinced me that engagement is essential and what's different about being a journalist today.
• The Orion and other student papers should restructure themselves for their new role as instant information providers. If the weekly paper-and-ink newspaper were just one of many ways to deliver news to the audience instead of the only or the most-important way, how would the staff be organized to be most effective?
• There's no substitute for great editorial art, and there's no way for a paper to be great without it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ACP judges: These sites are better than yours

The Associated Collegiate Press today posted the list of large-school websites that finished ahead of The Orion at last weekend's convention in San Francisco, so we have an opportunity to analyze the competition. Here's the list of winners in the best-of-show contest:

1. The Easterner, Eastern Washington Univ., Cheney, Wash.
2. Pipe Dream, Binghamton Univ., Vestal, N.Y.
3. The Daily Targum, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J.
4. The Orion, California State Univ., Chico, Chico, Calif.
5. The State Hornet, Sacramento State Univ., Sacramento, Calif.
6. The Commuter, Linn-Benton CC, Albany, Ore.
7. Highlander, Univ. of California, Riverside, Riverside, Calif.
8. Mustang Daily, California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo, Calif.
9. The Clipper, Everett CC, Everett, Wash.
10. The Oakland Post, Oakland Univ., Rochester, Mich.

The three newspaper websites that finished ahead of were substantially different from one another, so it's reasonable to say the judges found different things to like about each. Here's my own take on what they appreciated about The Easterner, Pipe Dream and The Daily Targum.

I agree with the judges that Eastern Washington's student website was the best of the field last weekend. Its custom-designed WordPress theme uses a dramatic rotating module at the top of the home page that takes advantage of outstanding photojournalism provided by staff photographers.

The theme also makes use of photographic icons just below the rotator to provide easy-to-navigate pathways to content on the rest of the site.

The Easterner Online's homepage has very little text, letting visuals drive both content and navigation. Inside, what stands out is the amount and variety of staff-shot video stories.

While the site seems to be updated regularly, its strength is not breaking news. If this website has a weakness, that's it.

The Pipe Dream from Binghamton University is the polar opposite in terms of visual appeal. Instead of relying on outstanding photo work or video, this site is all about text, though it's presented in a clean, classic, and easy-to-read template that whispers its authoritativeness.

The Pipe Dream tells visitors how many hours ago its stories were updated, so clearly news is its strength and its calling card. Once visitors click the links that take them deeper into the site, the sheer volume of reporting is almost overwhelming, and the template reinforces that by providing a long list of stories and small photo icons to scroll through.

The Pipe Dream is unapologetically a print newspaper on the Web, which is also its biggest weakness. It does what it does very well, but I don't think that plays to the strengths of the Web as an information delivery system.

The Daily Targum, the website for Rutgers University's daily paper, is the closest of the three to, and I think the judges decided it does what The Orion does, only better.

Just like, the Daily Targum has a TownNews theme that crowds the top of the home page with ads. It has a module of rotating photos that teases the featured stories and a Twitter feed that puts the freshest news on the home page. It also uses the standard TownNews home page modules for each of its sections, which are topped with eye-catching photos followed by a list of four or five inside stories visitors can click to read.

The website makes excellent use of photo galleries but has work to do on its video effort. Its latest sports video, for example, was footage from a football game.

My conclusion?

With a more visually appealing home page and template, more attention to keeping news content on the home page updated daily and a commitment to improving its photojournalism, could claim a best-of-show trophy the next time it competes in a national contest.

Monday, March 4, 2013

We're No. 4! Winning bigger in website competitions

I admit it. It's completely unreasonable for me to be even a little disappointed that finished fourth in the large-school website competition at the Associated Collegiate Press Midwinter Convention in San Francisco last weekend. You could call me an ungracious winner, and I'd have to plead guilty.

But I think it's worth at least a few minutes to try to figure out what the judges saw in three other websites that they didn't see in this semester's vastly improved Orion website. It's a speculative comparison, I know, when we don't know (yet) which sites finished one, two, three. But here goes  anyway:

1. The only recent news story on the site Saturday morning was Friday's uncovering of letters at Greek houses. For a print paper that kicks most of its competition to the curb in every contest it enters, that's a surprise, and not a good one. I saw later that the bookstore story was posted Saturday afternoon, but the lack of hard, breaking news on the site was a definite minus. Video that was shot for the Greeks story (and could have accompanied the Web story) didn't make an appearance until Monday's webcast (three days after it happened).

1a. Only one news story mentioned on @theorion_news had been posted on the website by Saturday morning, which also means just one news story was posted on The Orion app. I know the first four pages of Wednesday's paper are going to have news stories worth reading, some of which could have been Tweeted and a short version posted to the website over the weekend. (Tweeting about a story and then not following up with a short version on the Web has been a problem all year.)

2. The outstanding effort the sports reporters and editor(s) made this weekend to cover games, live stream them on Twitter and post stories immediately afterward was short-circuited by the lack of photo coverage (only the rugby story was accompanied by a pair of Michelle Reinmuth photos). (I also noticed that there was no sports coverage in Monday's webcast on a really important weekend for the men's and women's basketball teams.)

3. Photo coverage, in fact, is likely the major reason three websites finished ahead of The Orion at ACPSF. And, no, Instagram does not count. It's my guess most judges would not have found their way to the bottom right corner of the home page to click on a 130 pixel square image. The photos posted there, in their publishable size, would have made great wild art for the top-of-page rotator or displayed with a news or sports story elsewhere on the home page.

4. The March 1 webcast (the one visible on the home page Saturday) did a good job of teasing the weekend sports contests, but the only art that accompanied those stories was a still photo of the men's rugby team. An interview with a coach about one of the end-of-the-season basketball games would have made that segment a lot stronger.

5. One of the essentials of a good news website is reader involvement. Polls, invitations to live online events, asking visitors to comment or submit their own photos are all ways to get more community engagement. The great sites have it. The Orion needs more of it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bringing home the hardware from ACP San Francisco

Jenna Valdespino photo

The Orion made its case for being one of the best college papers in the country by picking up three awards at the Associated Collegiate Press Midwinter convention this weekend in San Francisco.

Hundreds of student journalists, some from as far away as Boston and Miami, attended and competed. The Orion will be adding a Best of Show  trophy to the display case in Tehama Hall for best weekly paper, a second-place  award for multimedia package and a fourth-place certificate for best large-school website.

1st place - Judges looked at a single issue of the paper. Editor-in-Chief Jenna Valdespino submitted the Nov. 28, 2012, edition, which had a front page story about President Paul Zingg suspending Chico State social fraternities and sororities and a front-page editorial about the suspensions.

2nd place multimedia package -  The paper submitted The Orion daily webcast for Nov. 6, 2012.

4th place large-school website for

I couldn't be prouder of everyone involved in The Orion this year. Congratulations!