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.

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