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 theorion.com 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 theorion.com, and I think the judges decided it does what The Orion does, only better.

Just like theorion.com, 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, theorion.com could claim a best-of-show trophy the next time it competes in a national contest.


  1. It seems like every post you make is already on my radar. Great minds think alike, I guess.
    Eastern Washington's page is absolutely gorgeous. I want to create a photo rotater that is similar. Unfortunately, we work within the confines of TownNews (at least for now).
    Luckily, TownNews released an update that has a block much like Eastern Washington's.
    I was waiting until we had our meeting to decide how to design the site to make a real push for that particular block, because it will require quite a bit of time and effort to get it working right.
    I'm not a fan of the other sites. However, I see what the judges saw, a streamlined effort that often feels clunky at theorion.com.
    My question is: When did the judges judge the site? Was it last year, before we made our improvements, or last weekend, after we had had made major changes to the site?
    The print edition was from last year.
    There is no way we could have overtaken Eastern Washington, even this semester, but I think we could have moved up in the ranks if the judging was conducted in a more timely fashion.
    What I'm trying to say is: Do we need to tweak the website as is or do a complete revamp?

  2. Thanks, Dan.

    The judging at a conference takes place at the conference, so whatever was on theorion.com Saturday was what the judges saw.

    I heard about the new TownNews template in San Francisco. I believe the Red & Black at Georgia is already using it. Here's a link: http://www.redandblack.com

    Here are two WordPress themes I like, though both have their drawbacks:

  3. The Red & Black has the one I mentioned.
    If I remember correctly, the default size on that block is enormous. It would take up the top half of our site. We could shrink it like the Red & Black did, but I like the idea of photos dominating the site.

    I really like the second WordPress theme. It's so pretty. And it has cool ad options. I didn't like the stacked photo rotator until I hovered over it. With the hover, impressive.