Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ben Mullin named Orion editor-in-chief

Managing Editor Ben Mullin accepts an award for headline writing at last weekend's CCMA banquet.
Ben Mullin has been named The Orion's editor-in-chief for next fall. Ben is the current managing editor of the paper. He and Features Editor Katrina Cameron interviewed for the position on Wednesday, and his appointment was announced at the staff meeting and critique later in the day.

Congratulations, Ben!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CCMA Contest: Lessons Learned

One of the great things about entering journalism contests is that the results give you a chance to reflect on what a paper has been doing well and where it can focus its efforts to improve. Taking home more than a dozen awards in the California College Media Association contest shows that The Orion continues to be one of the best college papers in the state, and being shut out of the website awards shows that could use some work.

So, some lessons learned:

1. Looking at it from week to week, I don't see The Orion as a photojournalism powerhouse, but Liam Turner and Kevin Lee showed that doing a great job on an assignment can result in prize-winning photos. The judges accurately called Kevin's shot of a yo-yo champion the best in the contest's feature category.

2. Page design probably kept The Orion from winning first for general excellence in its category. The judge's comments made it clear they were focused more on the visual than the content (remember that judges are different from year to year and have different likes and dislikes), so the cleaner and more consistent design of The Guardian at San Diego State was probably the reason for its first-place finish.

3. Infographics are a strength of the paper. The time and effort to give readers a visual representation of the news and a strong point of entry to stories pays off in prizes. Lindsay Smith's first-and-second-place showing helped The Orion dominate this category.

4. While writing is a strength of the paper, feature writing was not for the two semesters covered by this contest. Without seeing the competition, it's hard to know what the judges were looking for, but stories that focus on people's lives are usually the strongest entries in feature-writing contests. The Orion's features tend to focus on interesting things rather than interesting people.

5. Concentrating on a few strengths is not the formula for success in college newspaper contests. It would be a good strategy to make a GoogleDrive spreadsheet of the CCMA contest categories and share it with every editor so everyone is thinking about what the paper can enter next year. A strong entry in every category will make a strong argument to judges that The Orion is the best student newspaper in the state.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Orion brings home the hardware from CCMA

Some of The Orion award winners before Saturday night's ceremony: Ben Mullin, Tercius Bufete, Kevin Lee, Jenna Fujitsubo, Editor-in-Chief Jenna Valdespino, Liz Coffee, Katrina Cameron and Adviser Mark Plenke.

The Orion took home more than a dozen awards during this weekend's California College Media Association awards ceremony at San Jose State. Kevin Lee and Liam Turner won firsts in feature and news photography, Tercius Bufete took home two firsts for ad design, and Lindsay Smith took both first and second places for infographics.

Here's the list, along with judge's comments. The Orion competes in the weekly newspaper division:

General excellence, 2nd place:
Nice typography, good use of graphics.
Overall design, 3rd place.
Best non-breaking story, 2nd place, Quinn Western and Katrina Cameron: "Drinking death, hazing allegations suspend Greek system at Chico State" Well written story on a serious issue. Strongly researched with good background information on the Green system.
Best news photo, 1st place, Liam Turner: "Grief" Photographer was able to make a compelling image in a touchy situation. Nice capture.
Best feature photo, 1st place, Kevin Lee: "Yo Yo" Just a fantastic image. Best image of the category! The timing is perfect, composition and lighting all add to this image that is fun and a delight to look at for the reader. Excellent frame.
Best news page design, 2nd place, Jenna Fujitsubo, "Suspended" Nice use of photo, headlines and story for nice design. It's always tough when reversing out of black type.
Best headline portfolio, 3rd place, Ben Mullin, Good touch on harder-news heads.
Best infographic, 1st place, Lindsay Smith: Individual pieces presented nicely and overall composition works well. Good local focus.
2nd place, Lindsay Smith: Nice combination of artwork and information. Well designed and appropriately sized for the amount of information.
Best cartoon, 2nd place, Liz Coffee: Hilarious Cosmo sendup, perfectly accompanies column.
Best special section, 3rd place: Very professional-looking cover. Nice and clean design throughout. I also like the use of a locator map.

Best black and white ad, 1st place, Tercius Bufete:  "Orion Sex Columnist" Dominant photo element grabs the reader's attention and reinforces the headline and ad theme.
Best color ad, 1st place, Tercius Bufete: "The Orion - Hunters of Truth" Excellent color reproduction of the photo really makes this ad stand out. Clever tie in of theme with newspaper's brand.

Congratulations everyone!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thinking Mobile: You Gotta Have Art

As news users, especially young ones, look more and more to their phones and tablets for content and less and less to websites, it's important to be conscious of the visual presentation on those mobile devices.

Just as text-heavy pages repel readers in print, a story list or layout on a phone or iPad makes it much less likely a given story is going to get read.

Here are two screen captures from this morning's version of The Orion app:

The competition for readers' eyes is not even close. The features staff has done a good job of making photo assignments or supplying their own images, so their presence on mobile apps is impressive.

A text-dominated page on a tablet is even more of a problem. Here's the same News line-up from this morning on an iPad:

Ugh! Even with the (very clever) G-spot headline, nothing on this page makes me want to click and read.

The easy solution, of course, is for every reporter to make it his or her personal mission to arrange
art for stories. The easiest art is the mugshot (which works really well at the bottom of the iPad page), but when even that's not possible, developing a graphic "bug" for stories works, too. At right is one I created for my website.
Finally, acquiring even the simplest editorial art takes planning. Photo, graphic or illustration assignments should be part of the discussion for every story during section meetings.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A good weekend at

Lots to like on over the weekend. It's nice to see the newsroom back on its game.

• A casual conversation Friday morning turned into a nice piece of wild art about Choose Chico weekend from Ben Mullin followed by a solid story and photo about the event Sunday by Allison Weeks.
Pedro Quintana cut a professional figure (nice tie, Pedro!) in his stint in the webcast anchor desk and has made great strides in slowing down his delivery and punching key points in his script.
Annie Maize delivered a polished performance on Monday's webcast, rounding up the weekend's sports action and contributing a couple of terrific game-action photos.
Jessica Barber tweeted highlights from the Dr. Drew Pinsky appearance Thursday that genuinely made me want to read her story about the psychiatrist and addition specialist's visit. The story was posted late Friday, and it didn't disappoint.
Emily Duran, Price Peterson and Brett Appley saturated Twitter with game highlights throughout the weekend and followed up by posting timely game stories. Brandon Eiges pitched in with nice summaries from a track and field meet in Stockton.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Brag-able pages: Sports p.2

I've acknowledged on this blog earlier the great job The Orion sports section has done making the transition to a digital-first publication. The paper's sports writers and editors figured out early on that readers and fans are best served by a combination of:
• Live tweets from games
• Game stories published on the Web within hours of the final whistle or out
• Longer-form features, columns and analyses published in the newspaper for print readers to enjoy
• Game summaries in the print version of the newspaper.

On those summaries: With most college sports contests happening on weekends, it just made sense to the sports staff to report early and often online instead of waiting as many as five days to feed the fans a game story in print. So, there are no traditional 12-15 inch games stories in Wednesday editions of The Orion.

Instead, the staff produced abbreviated game and match stories for the paper (called "In Case You Missed It") that took the form of capsule summaries in a single story for print -- until this semester. Sports Editor Trevor Platt and his staff decided to make a big change that falls in a category I (just) made up called "brag-able pages."

"In Case You Missed It" is now a collection of summaries under an appropriate title (not headline), usually -- but not always -- the score. Those stories lead the page. They're accompanied by a capsule profile of a player of the week, conference standings, a collection of significant statistics for the week and schedules of upcoming games. It's visually attractive, easy to read, newsy and convenient. In other words, it's the perfect complement to the real-time coverage the sports staff provides online.

I call it "brag-able" because this idea is the sort of thing I point out when I talk about how the paper is making a successful transition to the digital era and how ingenious Orion staffers are when it comes presenting the news on any platform.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A wild idea for publishing more photos

I've passed along what I think is a great idea to The Orion editors that could go a long way toward making both the newspaper and the website a lot more visually appealing.

I suggested assigning a daily photo of an event not attached to an assigned news, sports or feature story. The editors would look at the calendar for the day and pick out something visually interesting that would only require a cutline, not a full news story. It might be, say, the Chico State Young Cattlemen's Association grilling up tri-tip steaks outside Plumas Hall or students celebrating spring along The Gauntlet.

In fact, those two photos did appear on in recent weeks, but they were buried down in the Instagram collection where, I'm guessing, hardly anyone saw them. They would have been much more useful in the photo rotator at the top of the website home page or even on the front page the newspaper. 

This type of photo is called wild art or a maverick by newspaper veterans. It gives papers an opportunity to:
• add visual interest to a front page
• keep a home page current with coverage of events on and off campus
• give photographers permission to be creative with an assignment
• get more names and faces in the paper and on a website
• show readers that the paper is covering the community every day.

Some papers have made this strategy an art form. The Winona Daily News, for example, encourages photographer Andrew Link to find images that display the character and characters of his small Minnesota city. The Daily News has even collected his photos in a slideshow of more than 100 images on the paper's website. 

When I worked at The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, Managing Editor John Robertson devoted the back page of the paper to a collection of wild art and wire art every day. The paper had a terrific photo staff and the latest Goss press equipment, and John liked to show them off. It was one of the most popular features in the paper.

Mavericks can also remind readers of coming events (a photo at dress rehearsal could promote the opening night of a student play), provide a visual report about nice or foul weather (particularly popular at the midwestern papers where I worked) and capture the rhythms of everyday life on campus or in the city. 

I know space is tight at The Orion these days, but assigning wild art (instead of letting it happen by chance) will offer photographers more opportunities to display their talents, make the paper more visually attractive and provide a systematic way for to keep its content fresh and relevant.