Monday, September 30, 2013

More Ideas From My Visit to The Bee

My visit to The Sacramento Bee inspired three more ideas for improving The Orion's online effort:
• While the sports staff is doing a great job of posting stories soon after games or matches have concluded, I'm not seeing sports updates on Twitter. I'm guessing that's because I'm not following any of the sports writers, as most readers aren't. @theorion_sports should be retweeting what the reporters are posting.
• It's been easier for the other sections to plan a week of stories in advance than it has been for news, which is still going days without posting stories to News doesn't happen on a schedule, of course, so that's part of the reason. But I also think the requirement that reporters write one story a week is another. Everyone seems to be writing for page one or, at least, writing a longer story to fulfill the requirement. I'd rather see three 100-word stories that keep the home page fresh than one 12-incher that just takes up space on page 3. Those fresher, shorter stories could be written off scanner traffic, previewing a campus event or even reworking a press release.
• Bee Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar suggested that keeping a visual running tally of page views for individual web stories would inspire reporters to focus on producing for the website and mobile app. Orion Managing Editor Quinn Western could pull up the analytics at the beginning of each day and list the top five or 10 stories on the office white board so everyone can see whose stories are reader favorites.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Inspired by The Bee

My visit to The Sacramento Bee offices on Friday confirmed for me that The Orion is on well on its way to becoming a digital-first news organization. I sat through the morning news meeting, met lots of reporters and editors, and had great talks with Tom Negrete, manager of innovation and news operations, and Joyce Terhaar, the executive editor.

What I saw and heard got me thinking about a couple of things:

• The Bee has a full-time person who manages its social media effort and uses real-time data to keep an eye on what readers are responding to on the Bee's website. He even makes adjustments to the home page based on the traffic he sees. I think a job like that would be a good addition at The Orion.

• When I described to Terhaar The Orion's ideal reporting process of Tweeting about an event or story, writing something brief to post on and then writing a longer piece for the print paper, she said that's exactly what they're doing at The Bee.

• Another full-time job at The Bee is a reporter who works primarily with data. Phillip Reese told me The Bee has hundreds of databases reporters at the paper use to develop stories. Both Terhaar and Negrete told me data journalism is one of the skills journalism graduates should be bringing with them into the job world. It'd be great to see The Orion doing more of it.

• The Bee has a photo gallery on its home page called Day in Pictures. Most of the photos I saw capture events in the Sacramento area that wouldn't usually require a print story. It's a great way to get ordinary people in the paper and keep the home page fresh. The Orion could do that, too.

• The morning meeting takes place in a room with a big white board on the wall on which editors have written page-one prospects a couple of weeks out. That sort of planning would be a welcome addition in Plumas 001.

What made my visit extra special were all the great things people had to say about The Orion's latest Bee summer interns. When I told people I advise The Orion, they offered wonderful compliments about Kacey Gardner, Anthony Siino (who is now working as an on-call copy editor there) and Ben Mullin. Joyce Terhaar, the executive editor, made a special point of asking if Chico State has more students like them who could join the paper next summer. That was really good to hear!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Knowing Where Your Audience Lives

Anyone who has walked across the Chico State campus on Wednesday (Orion Day!) has seen, but maybe not noticed, what I see every week:
• Orion staffers at a table in The Gauntlet handing out copies of the newspaper
• Students sitting on benches, tables, retaining walls and other perches with their heads bent over mobile phones
• Stacks of papers in racks waiting to be snatched up by those same students.

There are fewer papers waiting in those stacks on days when there's breaking news (as there was this week), of course, but too many newspapers remain on the racks when the distribution crew makes its rounds the following Wednesday. 

That shouldn't be a surprise. The Orion's primary target audience -- students -- prefers to get its news in digital form. Here are some numbers to think about:
• The Orion prints 5,000 copies every week, but only about 2,000 are distributed on campus.
• Since Sept. 12 (when the new website launched), has had 11,885 unique visitors who have made 22,091 visits and viewed 175,000 pages -- an astonishing 7.92 pages per visit.
• The Orion mobile app, which has been slow to pick up new users, has 429 unique users in the past 30 days. They made 1,968 visits in that time.

(Click on the charts below to see the actual statistics)

Even assuming many or most of the app users also use and some small percentage of students pick up their papers off campus, it's fair to say The Orion's most important audience, students, are much likelier -- maybe as much as five times likelier -- to get their news online.

Can you think of a better argument for making sure the website is updated at least daily, what everyone agrees is what the online audience wants and expects?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Good First Week for the New Website

In the first full week since was relaunched with a new design:
• 3,605 individuals visited the website and made
• 6,671 visits, viewing
• 57,527 pages.

The biggest single day was yesterday (Wednesday), when 1,416 visits were made by visitors who viewed 12,084 pages, according to statistics compiled by The Orion's web hosting service.

I don't have the comparable week from last year, but from Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012:
• 5,918 visits were recorded on the old site and
• 11,716 page views.

That week, a Monday was the busiest day (1,330 visits) of a week  that included news stories about Halloween lawlessness near campus and the beginning of Mason Sumnicht's unsuccessful fight to overcome acute alcohol poisoning after a 21st birthday celebration. So, a pretty big news week.

The Orion relaunch week's biggest day was Wednesday (more typical of last year's traffic patterns) when most of the week's newspaper stories were posted to the website. That says to me that
• visitors to the site increase when there's fresh content to see, and
• Orion visitors have been trained to look for news on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Don't Miss the Video

It's been great to see both the volume and quality of stories being produced by The Orion's video team this semester. Jeff Barron and Erik Walker's short features are often the freshest elements on the home page, and I love the way they're defining what an Orion video looks, feels and sounds like.

I especially appreciate the way each piece has a consistent open and close -- the sections sliding into place beneath The Orion logo and an animated screen shot of how to find more videos and content on the website -- with the occasional twist, usually a funny or interesting closing actuality from someone interviewed for a story.

So far, the two biggest strengths of these stories has been the creative approach of the team and the consistently professional editing.

After looking closely at the last couple of posts, the free-school-supplies story and the Jake Shimabukuro concert story, I think a few simple tweaks would help improve the overall quality of the videos:
• As good as the hand-held shots have been generally, they would have been even better with a tripod. I noticed the concert shots going in and out of focus at the edges of the frame, and I think a tripod might have helped there, too.
• Sound continues to be a problem whenever video is shot remotely. The Samantha Duncan interview, for example, has a consistent echo (probably from all the hard surfaces in that room), while the Eli Goodsell interview had none (probably because of all the things the sound could bounce off of in his office). One good way to make the sound more consistent is to make a habit of using a lavalier mic clipped to a person's shirt, blouse or sweater for interviews.
• Lighting outdoors has been particularly good, but indoors has been a problem. Eli Goodsell, for example, was placed directly underneath an overhead light, so the top of his head reflects a strong white light and his features are in shadow. When deploying a light kit isn't practical, be aware of what's happening with the existing light.
• I'm happy to see fewer zooms and pans, but I'd like to see even none.

To see more work by Jeff, Erik, Emily Bertolino, Ethan Snee and Juan Cisneros, navigate to the video page on

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What My Facebook friends and Twitter followers think of the new Orion website

Overnight, I posted a request on both Facebook and Twitter for comments about the new Orion website. I'll post the reactions here and keep adding as the day goes on. Please feel free to post your own impressions by adding a comment below.

  • Barb Teed Like the layout. Like that you have off-campus news was fascinated by the county voting to secede from CA, but would like more info (i.e. can they do this by U.S. law); like the sidebar for comments. Great addition of the video bar, Headline: Lounge redesign to continue after flood is confusing; when the flood is done, the lounge will be redesigned? Love the top page bar of content highlights. Very well laid out. Great job! Very professional looking; I predict awards...!
  • Barb Teed The Thinning Blue Line good article; relevant off-campus news, populated with interviews, well-written.
  • Barb Teed Chico Chief of Police article was balanced as the writer interviewed supporters of the Police Chief.
  • Shirley Javurek Suggestion: Do you have someone who could write a basic financial column? All Students need a basic understanding.
  • Jonathan Reed At first glance, it is easy to scan, a plus. I think that 6 teasers at the top is too many, particularly since the same words are used in the headline. It's OK to rewrite. Your logo should be larger -- be PROUD! And be consistent: your name is upper and lower case on the home page, page but all caps on the tab pages. Watch teaser length -- the thinning blue line story is too short (but good headline concept, though). Video up front on home page is good placement. if it can't be news, though, then content should be entertaining.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Making the Most Out of the New Website

The Orion's transition to a new web presence is days away, and the change is a good opportunity to get into some web-centric habits.

The new site has a breaking-news scroll at the top of the home page that will run off a special category folder exclusive of the standard news folder. This is the ideal place to run tweets from @theorion_news and @theorion_sports so visitors can see reporters' and photographers' work from the field.

In a perfect world, the editors would find a plug-in that could scrape those Twitter feeds and automatically pop them into a breaking-news folder. If that isn't feasible, the next best approach would be for staffers to access the new content management system, Camayak, remotely and upload photos, brief, 100-word stories and stories with video links so editors can put them in the folder.

Speaking of video, reporters at news events should be capturing 15-second snippets of video with their phones or cameras and uploading them to YouTube so they can be edited and added to or linked to stories. They should also be using Vine or the new Videolicious to create stories immediately available and embedded in the Gallery area on the website.

In the near future, it would be great if reporters or the video team used a tool such as Qik to do live video feeds from events.

This is all going to take communication and coordination with the newsroom. Managing Editor Quinn Western and the other editors need to know when news is happening so someone can edit and post news to the website. Having breaking news doesn't do readers any good if they can't see it on the website.

The changeover would also be a good time to review the news diamond I wrote about last year. It's a process of newsgathering specifically for the web that feeds stories in different forms to the paper's various platforms. I think the most crucial new habit to develop is learning to move a story from tweet to news brief to web post to newspaper story and then to engage readers with other content: polls, Facebook discussions, crowdsourcing, etc. Reader engagement needs to be more than posting on Facebook when something appears in the print edition.

The step of posting a brief story to the website hasn't actually happened at The Orion, to my knowledge.

It's time to start.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Some Ideas for Covering Student Groups

At critique yesterday, I made the observation that stories about campus groups just aren't very interesting unless the club or organization is actually in the middle of a news event.

Still, there is interest in college groups, and letting students know about opportunities to meet new people, be of service to the campus and become part of the university community all have value for readers.

But what's the best way to make the information interesting?

A great calendar - What groups want most is (free) publicity for their events. And one of the reasons students open the newspaper or navigate to the paper's website is to find out what's going on. A comprehensive, up-to-date calendar satisfies both. It's well worth the staff time to maintain if the calendar also becomes part of the day-to-day or week-to-week coverage plan for the paper. If there's not enough room in the newspaper for a big list, highlight a few events and invite readers to check out the full schedule online.

Spot-news photos - Good websites have fresh content daily, and using the event calendar to plan photos of club events is a great way to post something new every day. Photos of club members doing things is also an excellent way to get student faces in the paper. Caution: Lining up club members at an event for a group shot is NOT a photo of people doing things. Get them in action. And get names for those cutlines.

Profiles - A club or group probably isn't interesting in itself, but its members can be. Instead of writing about the Health at Every Size Club (the group in Wednesday's paper), focus instead on the person who started the club, his or her issues with weight and self-worth, and how their struggles led to founding the club. Or how about the student who learned taekkyeon while studying abroad in Korea and interested friends in starting a group?

Briefs - Not everything in the paper needs to be 12 inches of text. If a group wins an award for service to a local elementary school, takes first place in a campus recycling contest or sends representatives to Sacramento to testify before a legislative committee, turn those smaller events into 100-word briefs that you collect on a page of news briefs or in a consistent space for club news elsewhere in the paper or online. Invite the clubs to contribute news items.

Budget stories -
Groups are news when they ask for money from student fees or other campus revenue sources. Capsule summaries of how much they get, how much more they want, how they spend money and what they'd like to spend it on in the future are interesting to the people who pay fees and those who are competing for limited funds. This can be:
- presented as a typical list within a story
- broken out into a graph for comparison, or
- incorporated into an inforgraphic about the allocating the budget pie. 

Previous year-current year or previous year-request comparisons are especially informative.

DO YOU have other ideas for how to cover campus groups? Add it to this column by making a comment.