Saturday, August 31, 2013

Off the Record - Part 1

One of the big changes Video Editor Jeff Barron has introduced to is a weekly talk show about campus issues.

When he started formulating the idea last spring, Jeff was thinking about putting student panelists in comfy furniture on a set that would be built in The Orion's studio. He opted, instead, for a four-way split screen online presentation with his panelists in different locations. The video tool he's using allows the producer to switch the view to fill the screen with the person who's talking.

Like all trial runs, the first time through Off the Record had some successes and some things that could be fine-tuned. Here's my feedback:

• Jeff has a great voice and camera presence, so the show had a professional feel right from the start. His space is well-lit, and his audio was studio-quality. The panelists -- Allison Weeks, Quinn Western and Ethan Snee -- appear to be using webcams, and the lighting, framing and audio from their feeds are a little rough. While improving the audio will be a challenge, situating the speakers mid-frame and finding locations with better light are both easy fixes.

• The topics addressed on the show have been in the news and were provocative enough to generate interesting debate. Jeff did a good job of pulling his panelists into the conversation, but that shouldn't be necessary. Quinn, Allison and Ethan know they're supposed to offer their opinions and should be jumping in with their comments instead of waiting to be asked. They should be getting the list of issues to be discussed a day ahead of time so they can do some research and be prepared with talking points.

• At a little over 22 minutes, the webcast was long, at least for me. While it's difficult to edit a free-flowing show like this one, I think it's both possible and necessary to move things along a a brisker pace.

• Jeff's introductions to the topics after the initial discussion about the Sacramento River alcohol ban became his take on the topic and turned the panelists into his audience. A better strategy would be for him to pose a question to one of the panelists, who would provide context for the issue (as Allison did on the float topic), then prompt another of the panelists ("Ethan, what do you think about prohibition on the river?") to get the discussion rolling.

• As I listened to the segment about the alcohol ban, I thought how great it would be to see some b-roll of last year's float while Allison provided the background. A little video clip for each topic would be a good way to help introduce its context.

I liked what saw and heard on this first attempt. I'm looking forward to seeing the show improve technically and move along at a better pace.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strong Start to the Semester

Kudos to The Orion news and video staff members who jumped on stories big and small to start the new semester!

Some highlights:

* Liz Coffee and others were on the scene of Friday night's "disturbance" (if it quacks like a riot...) and provided pics and Tweets from the scene.

* New Video Editor Jeff Barron changed things up nicely with the daily webcast, letting the pictures do the talking in a segment that highlighted sights and sounds from last week. He followed that up with a nice feature about fire spinner Jack Ober.

* Bill Hall was all over opening ceremonies on Aug. 22 with live tweets from the $2 million ag scholarship announcement and President Zingg's opening convocation.

* Sharon Martin provided Twitpic coverage of welcome week activities, the sort of photo I was pushing hard last year as a way to a) provide fresh art for home page every day and 2) capture images of the typical as well as the newsworthy and c) get more photos of students in the paper/website/app.

* Bill Hall and Dan Reidel posted a story, photo and video of the fatality Tuesday afternoon when a tree limb fell on a Chico State student. Dan added still more coverage by collecting elements into a Storify post

* News Editor Nick Carr deserves credit for many of these efforts as the guy directing traffic and making sure @theorion_news was retweeting to its audience.

I couldn't be prouder of the effort and all of you!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sneak peek: What the new Orion website might look like

I'd like to get staff members' reactions and opinions about The Orion's new website template. Please post comments to this post with your thoughts. Remember this is a draft I created based on the demo site the template creators put together, probably not the final version.

Here are some of the highlights based on the home page opening screen shown above:
• The small headlines across the top of the page are what's called "sticky posts." The editors will be able to take any story on the website and designate it for that display treatment. One of the positions will be reserved for an ad (if you click on the image, you'll be able to see a larger, more readable version). The headlines link to the full story.
• The breaking news scroll (next to The Orion nameplate) is something the editors were looking for specifically in a new template. The headlines are the actual headlines of stories that appear on the site, which could be news briefs written from the paper's Twitter feeds.
• The big black dot can be used to highlight anything on the website, but it'll be available as a text-only ad. It isn't possible to link the information in the dot to a story or other URL.
• Social media links appear on the right side of the banner and would link directly to The Orion's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other accounts. The Newsletter link could disappear or become an Instagram link (or maybe Videolicious).
• The All Sections tab opens a full menu of inside sections and stories (the navigation could also be displayed in a row across the home page). Here's what the expanded All Sections navigation looks like:

• The main print story section on the left side of the page is a feed of stories placed in one particular section of the website and appear in the order in which they're uploaded, with the most recent at the top. The headlines are the headlines that appear on the actual stories, and the art is the art that appears with the story inside the site. While News is the most logical section to display here, a special section could be created to feature a mix of stories from different sections. The demo displays seven stories in this space, but the settings can be changed to display more or fewer.
• The middle section (with a static shot of the daily webscast shown here) is called the Gallery. It's on a user-activated scroll and, like the breaking news scroll on main news section, based on stories posted to a section. In this case, I created a new section called Gallery and placed coding into the post so a real Orion webcast would be embedded on the page and appear in this home page position. Other gallery posts could be stories on any topic with strong art (video, illustration or video). One of the gallery positions can be sold as an ad.
• The ad on the right side of the page is called a wide skyscraper. Most of the ad will appear when the home page is loaded, making it an extremely valuable bit of home page real estate that the ad staff will sell at a premium. There are no other display ad positions farther down the home page, which makes this slot even more valuable.
• What you can't see (the lower two-thirds to three-fourths of the page) are areas for each section of the website (features, entertainment, opinions, sports, videos) that display an image, headline and tease for two to five stories. Also available to the editors is an instant poll feature, an area with three tabbed display modules for most popular posts, comments and tags (like a Wordle), a menu of the most recent three stories in each section and a more graphically attractive horizontal listing of Orion social media feeds.

Here's what the bottom of the home page looks like in the demo:

So, what do you think?